GPSolo Magazine - April/May 2004

IN THE SOLUTION
Choices

I was already a single mom of a two-year-old and a four-year-old while in law school, so I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t. I knew I was going into family law, that I needed flexibility in my schedule—and that no law firm would want me because of that. But my knowledge didn’t stop me from making a mistake right out of school by accepting the first position offered.

That painful experience ended a year later when I picked the children up from their school after-care program. It was January, the days were short, and it was past dusk as we raced to the car to go home. “You pick us up in the dark, mommy, and we can’t even play,” my son cried. It broke my heart, and I realized I didn’t like the job enough to sacrifice my kids for it. The next day I announced that at the end of my one-year contract, “we” would be leaving.

I went into solo practice with little experience, no connections, and a lot of fear. But, oh, I had hope. There were tense moments as the balance in the checking account declined; as I sweated out each mortgage payment, car payment, and astronomical student loan bill. But each month we made it, and little by little it became easier. Before I knew it, we were living the good life—at least my version of it.

I didn’t drive an expensive sports car (that’s what my twenties were all about). I loved my tract home in its less-than-fashionable ZIP code, and I especially loved getting the kids off to school each morning and being there when they returned. I loved my pro bono work at the courthouse while I developed my practice, and I grinned when I sat on the bleachers at Little League games at 4:00 in the afternoon. Playing hooky was fun.

This routine served us well for seven years. Grade school was behind us, and I didn’t have to watch the clock as I once did, fearing I wouldn’t get home before the kids. With one child in high school and the middle-schooler practicing cheerleading in the afternoons, my need to carve the career choices around them wasn’t as strong. That was what I told myself, at least, when on a whim I responded to an ad for an experienced family law attorney to come join the big leagues. Even as I set the interview appointment, I asked myself, Are you crazy? Why change what has worked for you? You know, the old “if it ain’t broke” . . . .

Nevertheless, I told myself the experience would be fun—what did I have to lose? I put on the interview garb, got in the car, and joined the lines on the freeway. I mentally added up not only the miles but also the time I would spend in gridlock. After riding around the vast parking lot looking for an available space, I entered the big glass box, got in the elevator, and felt like choking.

I will say the young attorney who interviewed me (or was it I who interviewed him?) was very pleasant and sat in a corner office that had a commanding view, if you like freeways and cars. At some point I guess I let slip that I really was just checking out the market and not exactly desperate for work. Like going to look at new cars once in a while or touring a model home. As he discussed billable hours, a few perks, and base salary, I heard a small voice say, “Let’s go, we’ve seen enough.” Suddenly it seemed more like he was trying to sell me instead of vice versa. We pleasantly agreed to think things over—I think he was going to do so with the hiring partner, but I had the committee in my head.

Returning home, I checked my messages. I smiled as a collaborative divorce client said he really appreciated my efforts as we headed into the final stretch. Throwing off the suit, I switched to shorts and T-shirt and did what family law attorneys do—returned messages, wrote letters, and drafted documents. One of the best things about converting my practice to collaborative divorce and mediation is the little time I now spend at the courthouse.

I work steadily in my home office until the front door swings open. The dogs bark, and my eldest child walks in: “Do we have any Coke?” I am suddenly so glad to be here for that question. I guess the interview was a huge success.

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