10 Tips for Women Lawyers who want “enough”
10 Tips for Women Lawyers with young children who want “enough”
By: Alison McLean, Associate, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP
1. Once you have children, your career becomes a family project, not an individual one. It is easy to say “have a supportive spouse” but the truth is, to make it work, having a spouse who is willing and able to work his or her schedule and career around yours is essential. That does not mean that he or she does has to sacrifice his or her career for yours. But it does mean having some potentially difficult conversations about where you are both headed in your careers, and how your family life fits into that picture. It also means that you need to take practical steps, like keeping an up-to-date calendar, and keeping your spouse up to date on your work load and schedule.
2. Think very carefully about your child-care arrangements. The day-care does not care whether you have a motion record due in the morning, or if you have a closing on the day your child has the flu. They want you to pick up your darling by 6 p.m., and somebody will have to stay home when your child is sick. If you work long hours, unless you have a spouse who has more flexibility, choose child-care arrangements that can accommodate sudden changes.
3. Stay in touch with other parents. Join a book club. Go out for lunch with other mummy lawyers. Find someone you can trust to commiserate with, and share best practices. Think of it as part business development, and part sanity management.
4. Understand that after you have kids, you need different mentoring from different people. The mentor who understands the politics of your law-firm, and can give you advice about the best practices for the “path to partnership” is unlikely to be the same person who understands how to hire a nanny, or the politics of French immersion. Just as you should seek out people whose work you admire and who are supportive of your career, seek out the other colleagues who have young children, and try to find out how they manage their lives.
5. Plan your vacations a long-time in advance. You will never, ever go if you do not block it off in your calendar. Buy a ticket, book a cottage, commit to your family.
6. Don’t hit the snooze button. Pregnancy, maternity leave, and planning for your next pregnancy and maternity leave (and so on, and so on) are a great way to avoid making important career decisions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’ll worry about that when you get back to work, or when you are finished having babies. The problem is, when you get to the end of that last maternity leave, your contemporaries have been working away, and have already made some of these decisions. You need to give your career some care and attention during this time period.
7. On the other hand, don’t hit the panic button if your career trajectory slows down, or changes. Many lawyers, regardless of their family status, have lulls in their career, or are forced to make major changes to their practice areas. Give yourself time to get your practice back into gear, and polish your substantive skills. Don’t make any massive career decisions in your first months back at work, until you give yourself a chance.
8. Be prepared to compromise. If you have billable targets to reach, it is pretty difficult to also be at the school for drop-off every morning, or dinner with the kids every night. On the flip side, if you realize those dinners at home are really important to you, then consider working remotely in the late evening, finding a few hours on the weekend, or picking one night a week to stay late (a colleague of mine and I quite enjoy our take-out on Late Night Thursdays). If at the end of the day, you really do not want to work the long hours required of this job, then you need to think about a different set of compromises. The compromise might be a flexible work arrangement, a lower salary, or a different job.
9. Be prepared for your priorities to change. Perhaps it goes without saying, but once you have children, how you define success may change.
10. But, don’t feel guilty if your definition of success does not change. If you and your spouse decide that you are heading for equity partnership or up the corporate ladder, then stick with your decision, accept the compromises you have to make, and get on with it.
Alison McLean is an associate in Gowlings’ Toronto office, practicing in the area of advocacy. Alison’s practice focuses on civil litigation, primarily in the field of insurance and product liability, defending claims on behalf of insurers. Her practice also includes class action and commercial litigation matters.