Practicing law can, at times, be grueling. It requires ambition, grit, and often long hours of case study and research. As an attorney, you aim to move quickly through the ranks, make partner, or start your own firm. However, what happens to these dreams when you become a parent? One thing is certain, everything changes.
According to the Thomson Reuters Institute 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market, the modern family structure is changing. Men are becoming more active in parenting, while women are flooding the professional workforce. Combine this fact with the now almost even split between male and female lawyers, and it becomes clear that unless flexible working conditions are more widely adopted, lawyers who choose to have children may be absent from the workforce for longer spells.
As attorney attrition continues to climb in many firms, we are beginning to see much more lateral hiring, which results in attorneys finding more flexible working conditions, better positions, and higher remunerations. This is good news if you’re an attorney with children looking for a better fit.
Lawyers with children experience unique challenges
To say that parenting is hard is an understatement. It’s possibly the most challenging job you will ever take on. But add to that a full-time legal career, and the difficulty level elevates substantially. Lawyering, by nature, is seldom a nine-to-five job. It’s a demanding career that often requires long hours, affording little time for a personal life.
Yet some attorney parents not only find that elusive balance, but they also seem to thrive. So, what’s their secret? To assemble the clues, let’s peer into a day in the life of a successful attorney parent.
Mornings in the life of a lawyer with children
One of the steps that successful attorney parents take to avoid a total breakdown on the home front is preparing as much as they can the night before. They set out theirs and their kids’ clothes for the morning, pack lunches and backpacks, and place everything they’ll need for the next day by the front door, eliminating the possibility of forgotten essentials. A sticky note on the door serves as a reminder to grab lunches from the fridge. Then they are off, necessities in tow, ready for the day ahead.
It’s often tempting to skip this preparation when exhausted from a long day of client meetings and practicing law but come morning they are grateful they took the time. By preparing the night before, they’re free to spend precious quality time in the morning with their kids, sans the rush and the frustration that often accompanies it.
How a lawyer with children finds workday focus
These parent attorneys still need to face the work environment. To maintain their balance, they explore legal technologies that make work more efficient and save them time.
They opt for flexible working hours to be available to attend to their kids should an issue arise. This means they may pass on firms with a strict billable-hour model in favor of those that offer more flexibility. These attorneys also build a support base of colleagues in the office and other parent attorneys who understand their situation and schedule.
Lawyers aiming to improve their work-life balance and facilitate adequate quality time with their children engage in a number of useful techniques. Among those strategies included checking in with themselves daily, scheduling time for meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other mindfulness techniques.
These attorneys also benefit greatly from adopting techniques designed to eliminate burdensome distractions, reduce unwanted stimuli, and make the most of the time they have actually dedicated to their work. It’s always easier to create opportunities for family time when the work gets done correctly and completely the first time.
Wired Magazine took a deep dive into some important focusing techniques as professionals began reconvening at their offices post-lockdown. One of their most poignant suggestions was to cut down on ineffective multi-tasking. So many of us, be it at work or in our personal lives, try to do everything all at once. Science, though, disagrees with this approach.
Our brains have limits to what they can process and output. Putting unneeded strains on our minds, like asking it to do three separate, unrelated tasks at once, has been shown over “hundreds of studies” to be detrimental to productivity, per psychologist Nicholas Gaspelin, who was cited in the magazine. What actually happens, he says, is our brains continuously switch back and forth between the tasks rather than adjudicate them simultaneously. This doesn’t work.
Among some of the other suggestions cited in the piece include evaluating personal motivations, emphasizing the benefits and value of your work, and incorporating some dopamine boosting activities like moderate exercise, cycling to the office, or taking regular lunchtime strolls as ways to improve focus and productivity.
Lawyers, like every other parent-professional, must be sure to take time for themselves. Self-care is a necessity, and it is important to remember that taking care of your own mental health and well-being is not selfish, it’s mandatory. As the old expression goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
Time to ourselves is (thank goodness) an inevitability of our children’s biological need to get lots of sleep. We will, of course, have at least a little bit of time in that interim between their bedtime and our own. But it is also helpful to take a minute or two before heading home to compose our thoughts and get ready for the next, and final, phase of the day.
When possible, arrive home with a clear vision of the post-work schedule, and subsequent recreational time. Whether listening to a podcast, hitting the gym, or simply putting on some television, we must actively prioritize planning and executing our mental health and well-being strategies in order to thrive. Take a second to mentally map out what this might look like each night.
Further, lawyers who have children often benefit from enlisting help. Especially in cases when demanding, unpredictable hours might interrupt routines, a reliable childcare professional may help provide a comfortable way to transition children between the parts of their days. Outside of childcare, cleaning services and other professionals can take on some day-to-day tasks that cut into post-work family and recreational time.
Lastly, we must touch on another extremely important element of the lawyers’ evening—the end of it. Sleep is absolutely critical for a high-functioning attorney and parent. According to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are a number of ways to improve sleep hygiene and ensure a good night’s rest awaits.
A consistent bedtime and wake-up routine, even on weekends, is an effective way to regulate sleep. Additionally, aim for a dark, quiet, and temperature-controlled bedroom. Lastly, put down the devices and avoid alcohol and caffeine during the evening, adds the federal agency.
Successfully balancing work and home each day in the life of a lawyer with children
Support systems, healthy habits, flexible work (where attainable), and daily routines can turn an otherwise chaotic life into a fully functional one. Lawyers with kids have unique struggles, but neither your career nor parenting needs to suffer if managed well.
The above-stated remedies are a great starting point for any lawyer looking to improve their work-life balance, but remember, everyone’s home and professional life is different. See what works for you, be willing to make adjustments when needed, and keep a close eye on the results. The most important thing you can do to ensure the best possible balance for you and your family is to simply be aware of it.
To learn more about balancing your career with family life, read our white paper, Striking the right balance between home and work.