PARENTS AT LAW
Life Is What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans
By Diana L. Moro
During the years I practiced law full-time, I was described as a pit bull by my adversaries, and often by my clients. This was precisely why those clients hired me—they wanted a no-holds-barred litigator who would bury their opponents in paper, file endless rounds of motions and be the bad guy. Then, in the spring of 1998, I found myself in an unusual position.
I was a senior associate with a midsize firm in the mid-Atlantic region and thought I was fairly happy with my employment-based practice, doing both litigation and corporate counseling on employment issues. But as each new litigation matter crossed my desk, I became more and more distressed. Civility seemed to be nearly nonexistent in the courtroom and during the litigation process. I realized that what I truly enjoyed doing was counseling my corporate clients on employment-related issues, particularly risk management.
My growing sense of professional dissatisfaction was compounded by both joy and crisis in my personal life. I‘d recently married a wonderful man and was happier than I’d ever been. And we’d decided that we wanted to start a family. Yet I was tired all the time. After what seemed to be endless visits to doctors, it was determined that I needed to start a medication regimen and monitor a nodule on my thyroid. Suddenly, life seemed too short to spend 2,500 hours each year making money for someone else.
After much soul searching and many long conversations, my husband and I decided that I would strike out on my own, starting a consulting business centered on employment-related risk-management issues. My focus would be on small to midsize employers who were unlikely to have human resources professionals on staff. On August 1, 1998, the offices of Policy Professionals, Inc. opened. I found there was enough work to keep me busy and enough money coming through the door to pay the bills—and I had the choice of which assignments to accept or reject. To keep my license active, I became of counsel with a small law firm, the principal of which I’ve known for all my years in practice. Then, in February 1999, I found out I was pregnant.
Completely Career-Driven No More
Nothing in my life up to that point could have prepared me for what I would experience starting on September 30, 1999, when Michaela Wylie Peterson was born.
I’d always envisioned myself as one of those people who would take six weeks of maternity leave, then start right back to work full-time. But when I held my daughter in my arms in the delivery room, I knew that would never happen. After the baby’s birth, I moved my consulting business office into the house and told most of my clients that I was planning to take at least six months off.
When, however, Michaela was about four months old, I realized that I needed to work at least part-time for my own sanity. While I love my daughter, I knew that to be a good mother I had to get out of the house, speak in full sentences and wear clothes without elastic waistbands at least once a week. It was as if the client gods had heard my prayers when I received a call from a new client who had been referred to me by an ABA colleague. The first file was sent by overnight service the next day. While I had not intended to return to the practice of law so quickly, it gave me a way to get out of the house two days a week and keep my legal skills sharp. This seemed to be the best of both worlds. Indeed, on my daughter’s first birthday, I was able to look back on the preceding year with pride at what I’d accomplished.
My consulting business continues to flourish, including recently landing a significant risk management services contract for an insurer. My law practice is what I want it to be—some litigation but complete control of my schedule and caseload and I determine who to take on as clients. An independent-minded little girl, my daughter is the light of my life, and my desire to keep her in adorable outfits is part of what motivates me to work at all.
I’m a much happier person than I was when I was in practice full-time. Maybe it’s the sense of control that I have over my work and my life. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m only in the office two days a week, that on Mondays we have play group; on Tuesdays or Thursdays we go to the zoo or a museum; and on Wednesdays and Fridays I dress like a grown-up, drop her off at preschool and take the train to Center City Philadelphia to be a lawyer.
A Very Different Path Taken To Joy
As I explain to people, I am a mother, a small business owner and an attorney who is of counsel with a law firm in Center City. It is precisely in that order that I see my roles and value their importance. I don’t see myself returning to full-time practice anytime soon.
If someone had asked me when I started practicing law whether I envisioned myself in this position 12 years after passing the bar exam, I simply would have laughed. But life is what happens when you’re on your way to a career. I’m very happy and don’t regret a single one of the decisions I’ve made. Working part-time has made me a better wife and better mother, a better businesswoman and lawyer. What more could I want?
Diana L. Moro ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the principal of Policy Professionals, Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her firm provides employment risk management and counseling services to small and midsize businesses.