GP Mentor
Juggling Act: The Parent-Lawyer

By Ellen Rappaport Tanowitz

Juggling family and a career is no easy task for a lawyer. I feel like I am constantly struggling to keep all the balls in the air. Although it may not always be easy, it is extremely rewarding to have a career and a family. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are contemplating the juggling act or if you are in the midst of it.

First, if you can, think about your career and the direction you want it to take before you have children. To successfully manage career and parenting, you have to make sure you don’t resent one because it is interfering with the other. Let’s face it: You decide to have a child because you want to be a parent. And once you have your child, you are going to want to spend time with that adorable bundle of joy. If you work in a firm, speak to some colleagues there and find out whether you can really make partner working less than full–time—and exactly what the firms considers a less–than–full–time schedule. Perhaps you need to find a new position that is more family friendly. If you are early in your career, perhaps you need to switch to an area of the law that is a little more predictable or easier to schedule.

Second, get good, reliable help. It is nearly impossible to focus on work if you are worried about the care your child is receiving. Similarly, you cannot focus on a career if your care provider calls in sick every other day. Whether you choose a day care center, home–based child care, or a nanny, take the time to find the help that fits you best.

Third, remember that when you have children, their needs and demands are fluid. For example, when I left my firm to go out on my own six and a half years ago, I had a three–year–old and a newborn. I only wanted to work three days a week. I took on contracting and freelance jobs that permitted me to have more control over my schedule. I planned to stop doing contract work somewhere around year five, when the then–newborn would start kindergarten. Well, in year two of the plan, my husband and I decided to add to our family once more. Our daughter joined our family at 13 months of age, and I continued working three days a week. All the while, I worked out of my house, and my kids went elsewhere for day care.

About two years ago, I had the opportunity to take office space with some colleagues. The time was right for me, and I took a chance on the new work setting. I also increased my hours to four days a week. Last year, my youngest started a five–day preschool program, and my middle child started kindergarten (my oldest was already in elementary school), thereby permitting me to return to a five–day schedule for the first time since 2001. I was able to find balance by doing contract work and taking on small amounts of additional work. I have kept my hand in the legal profession and built my business slowly. At the same time, I feel that I was able to be there for my kids when they were very young.

There are no easy answers and no magic formula to the juggling act. There are days when you will feel as if it all is in sync and it is so easy to do everything. And then there will be days when you feel as if you can do nothing well and nothing is working. All I can say is to relish the former because they are few and far between. And when those bad days come, take a deep breath, try to parse out the problem and deal with each piece, and hope that tomorrow will be better. And remember why you took up this juggling act in the first place. 

Ellen Rappaport Tanowitz is a sole practitioner in Newton, Massachusetts, focused on the areas of estate planning, civil litigation, and legal research and writing for other lawyers. She may be reached at .

Copyright 2008

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