Are you considering opening your own practice (whether straight out of law school or transitioning from work in a law firm)? And are you wondering how it might be possible to run your own firm while also being a mom or dad (whether you already are a parent or are just planning to become one in the future)? Is it possible to mix these two worlds? Can you be there for your children in the way that you wish to be while also providing zealous legal representation to your clients and managing your own firm?
The short answer? Yes. It can be done.
Will it be perfect? No. It will not be perfect.
Sometimes, life will come at you. And it will come fast. Multiple cases or assignments may come to a head at the same time, necessitating your utmost care and attention to produce the best results for your clients. And, at the same time, your child, or children, need you. Maybe there are a series of school events happening at once, or your child is involved in sports and extracurriculars for which you would like to be—or need to be—present.
As with many things in life, you will best be served on your journey into the noble practice of law and mixing it with the raising of another human being if you are brave enough to carve your own path instead of trying to follow someone else’s playbook step-by-step. What works for one person will not necessarily work for you. You need to be willing to pave your own road that is best for you and yours.
So, let’s delve in.
A Bit about My Path into the Law and Motherhood
To provide some context—and to shed some light on where I am coming from when I share my thoughts with you—I feel it fair to say a bit about my own experience as an attorney-mom.
When I graduated from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, in May 2014, I walked the stage nine months pregnant with my baby girl (now age nine). She was due just a few weeks after graduation. In short, I was pregnant most of my 3L year. Thankfully, I had a healthy pregnancy, and I was able to timely complete all my 3L commitments and graduate as scheduled. Then came bar study, followed by bar passage, swearing-in, and the practice of law.
I studied and sat for the February 2015 bar exam, and I was part of the 39.5 percent of successful California bar passers for that examination. My daughter was a day shy of turning one year old when I was sworn into the California Bar on June 2, 2015—slightly more than eight years ago.
I then worked for a national legal nonprofit organization for about a year before venturing into law firm ownership. So, when I opened my own law firm (March 2016), my law license was a year old, and my daughter had just turned two years old.
Now that I have briefly reviewed my own story, I will turn to the aspects of lawyering and parenting that I believe complement one another well.
What It Takes to Be a Great Attorney
Qualities that come to mind when I think about the epitome of a successful and respected attorney are organization, dedication, and flexibility—to name a few. These will serve a parent well, too.
The quotes below, I believe, summarize some of the many expectations of an attorney on any given day.
The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today. —President Abraham Lincoln
Or how about:
It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready. —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
No splints yet invented will heal a lawyer’s broken reputation. —Paul O’Neil
What the above quotes and ideas mean to me is that the practice of law comes with great responsibility and expectations—to our clients, respective entities, and to our profession, too.
The practice of law is known to be a difficult profession whether attorneys work at an established law firm, at a legal entity, or for themselves. For a law firm owner, challenges on a given day might include deadlines for existing clients in and out of the courtroom, interactions with opposing counsel, concerns about law firm revenue, and countless other issues.
Have you heard about the 10,000-hour rule? This concept was popularized by author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success (2008). In his book, Gladwell posits that it takes 10,000 hours to master complex skills and materials. If we apply this idea to the practice of law and what it takes to be great at it, we can appreciate the investment required of us to reach our professional peak in the practice of law—especially if we are running our own business at the same time.
Parenting in 2023 and Beyond
How about parenting? What does it take to be a great parent—according to your own standards? This is subjective.
Not to state the obvious, but parenting in 2023 is very different than it was even five or ten years ago. Our world is so advanced and complex. We have so many tools at our disposal as parents these days, such as smart devices and other technology, that both simplify and complicate our lives as well as our abilities to parent. Further, we collectively experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought on an onslaught of other considerations, concerns, and decisions for parents or parents-to-be that never had to be thought through before.
My own parenting goal from the moment that I knew I would be a mother until now, nine years later, has always been to be as present and involved as I could in my child’s life. From the moment that my daughter was born, I wanted to participate in her extracurricular activities. I desired to be involved in school activities, events, and field trips. I have remained committed to these goals through the years.
My commitment to be very active in my daughter’s life, I believe, has been facilitated by my decision to be a law firm owner instead of an employee. Law firm ownership is not easy. As the law firm owner, it all starts and ends with you—from bringing in the cases to getting the work done, and everything in between. Your commitments must be honored.
Still, setting my own schedule (except for court matters) has allowed me to chaperone field trips, attend school events in the middle of the day, take my daughter to and from her extracurricular activities, and do almost all of her school drop-offs and pick-ups.
Parenting while practicing law is a delicate balancing or juggling act—depending on the season of parenthood or law practice that you find yourself in at any given time.
What Happens When You Combine Parenthood and the Practice of Law as a Solo?
Being a great solo attorney and being an awesome parent have some commonalities. The trait that I feel serves me best as I am navigating being a mother and a solo attorney is adaptability. I find that it goes best for me when I adopt a mindset to remain prepared for the unexpected and to embrace the unexpected—with grace.
The more that you are comfortable and able to handle your office or court calendar going differently than anticipated (depending on your practice area, of course), the happier you will be. The same is true for parenting. It will not always go according to plan, and I think the better you are at accepting or surrendering to that, the more positive your parenting experience will be for you and your little one (or little ones). Let me illustrate with some recent challenges that I encountered this past summer.
At the start of the summer, my co-counsel and I prepared for a contested court matter surrounding heirship rights for our client. Our court date finally arrived, but after a two-hour drive to the courthouse and several additional hours waiting there for the case to be called, we were informed that there were no court interpreters and translators available that day, so our case was being assigned a future court date. We had witnesses ready to go who had also driven across several counties to be there and participate. Opposing counsel had witnesses who had flown in from out of state. This had never happened to me in my eight years of practicing law. It was something that we were not expecting. There is a first for everything, though. In this case, I spent hours on the road to and from the courthouse that day. I had also cleared my office and phone calendar of meetings and had made arrangements for my daughter’s transport to and from school, along with after-school care for her, because my court calendar would not allow me to be there. All that preparation, only for our case not to move forward. This was just another one of those learning moments for me, reinforcing the lesson that the ability to cope with changing circumstances is one of the ultimate strengths of an attorney—and a parent.
This past summer, I was also in a car accident. It threw me off as any unexpected event might. I had to take some time off to attend to my health and well-being, but I still had obligations and commitments to fulfill for my law firm, for my clients, and for my daughter. Shortly after my accident, and after three-plus years of not catching COVID, I caught it this summer—the cherry on top after the accident. This also required me to take some time to get well and keep my household healthy, too. I had to do some maneuvering to make sure that everything stayed afloat—keeping all balls in the air, as the idiom goes—while I nursed myself back to health. I pulled through. Like adaptability, resiliency also serves us well as attorneys and parents.
The Three Keys for Successful Lawyer-Parents
To be triumphant in parenting and the law, you need three things: your tribe, aligned values as a parent and lawyer, and hobbies and outlets.
In both the practice of law and in parenting, you will likely feel most successful when you have others to turn to for support—your tribe. As a single parent, my tribe through the last nine years has remained close and constant. Aside from my daughter’s educators, I am fortunate to have my family nearby; they love and care for my daughter, and I trust them to help fill in for me when I cannot be there. To be candid and transparent, this circle includes my mom (Grammy), my siblings, and the spouses of my siblings. As an attorney, I have a few close friends and mentors whom I often reach out to for encouragement and support. And, when I can, I do my best to return the favor. My circle, albeit small, makes all the difference and is so important to me.
As a parent who practices the law, I think that your parenting values and your values in the law must align. What I mean by this is that you need to know what is non-negotiable to you as a parent and what is non-negotiable to you as an attorney. You need to know what you will and will not do as a parent and what you will and will not do as an attorney. Above, I noted how important it is for me to be present and involved in my daughter’s life, and I have been. Still, there are times when my legal practice requires more of me. During those times, I have to step up my attorney game. The beauty of owning my practice is that I can mostly choose the days and times that I will be putting in extra effort. I say mostly because some court cases can take unexpected twists and turns—maybe you are suddenly entertaining an ex parte or other emergency filing. On this same note, I am careful about the court matters that I take on. I try not to overdo it—for my and my daughter’s sake—with litigation matters. As a small law firm owner, I wish to handle only so many litigated matters at any given time. And some cases I will simply never take on as a matter of choice and being true to myself.
Hobbies and Outlets
The busy practice of law and the art of parenting necessitate that you make time for outlets, hobbies, and breaks. Scheduling time for you can help avoid or minimize burnout, and it will, hopefully, allow you to enjoy your life regularly and unapologetically in the present moment and not rely only on vacations—and certainly not retirement—to take time off. The time to do it is now. Parenting is hard. It is rewarding and worth it, but it is not an easy feat. Practicing law also comes with high points and plenty of moments and opportunities for growth through challenges. It is healthy to take time and space for yourself and to give yourself a break from the daily responsibilities of parenthood and law practice. A break and space can be as simple or as planned and detailed as you require or desire. It can be a nap, a walk, a favorite book, music, travel, exercise, a night out dancing, a concert, binge-watching movies or a series, a meal or activity with a friend or significant other, a meal or activity by yourself, and so much more. These guilt-free moments for recharging are there for you to be regularly enjoyed, and you need them to best show up for your roles as both a parent and an attorney.