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Finding Work-Life Balance as a Military Reservist Lawyer

Amanda Renee McNeil Williams


  • Each attorney who serves in the reserve or national guard is uniquely managing both a civilian career and a military reserve career in addition to a life outside of work.
  • Consider what reserve job is going to work best for you and when.
  • Take care of yourself. When we get too busy, self-care is often the first thing to go.
Finding Work-Life Balance as a Military Reservist Lawyer
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We regularly hear about achieving a mythical work-life balance in the legal profession. While we imagine that some lawyers manage to attain this goal, there is no clearly defined path to success. And indeed, it is even more complicated when you add in a reserve military career as well. Each attorney who serves in any branch of the reserve or national guard is uniquely managing both a civilian career and a military reserve career in addition to a life outside of work. This article is the first in a series to be written by a variety of military attorneys offering suggestions on forging some degree of balance.

I agreed to start off the series because I am terrible at the most common tip you will hear, which is to say “no” when you already have too much on your plate. And I do. It is sometimes hard to keep track, but currently, I believe I have five jobs: (1) parent of three boys under six years old, (2) federal prosecutor, (3) judge advocate in the U.S. Army Reserves, (4) executive director for the Judge Advocates Association, and (5) professorial lecturer in law at a law school in Washington, D.C. My husband is also an attorney and a reservist. But, as I was talking to a JAG Corps mentee (while sitting in my car eating a lunch she picked up for us because my schedule was so hectic that by the time we finally could meet up, it was pouring rain and there was no parking in D.C.), she said something that really stuck with me: “It’s fine to say we want parents to be able to manage civilian and military careers, but there are not a lot of examples of people actually doing it effectively.” And I was really touched that she said I was one of them. So, I feel a duty to try to share what has helped me.

First, try to find other reservists in your civilian job and see how they approach the balancing act. They can help you in a variety of ways, such as explaining how to get your employer’s human resources department to give you the reserve hours you are entitled to each year and helping you figure out coverage for the times you will be on reserve duty. These reservists can become mentors—they speak your language and share your values.

Second, get to know other reservists in your unit who work in similar positions and get their advice as well. Someone who knows what they are doing can save you an incredible amount of time on the Catch-22-esque administrative requirements of being a reservist. Coming from active duty, I have found this to be the hardest part of the reserves, and it seems like I have learned a number of lessons the hard way. Instead, I should have purposefully cultivated relationships in each of my jobs from the beginning. This network is invaluable. Now, as new people are introduced via email to my office, if I see any military connection, I make it a point to reach out and make myself available for questions that come up.

Third, building on the same principle, create a professional network that includes other parents. Having the support of such a group has been indispensable as my family has grown. While I was on active duty, I had a hard-charging boss who had two children under two years old and set the example for me. She was not secretive or apologetic about her childcare responsibilities, and now I believe we owe that to the parents who come after us. Someone without young children may not think it is a big deal to call at 17:30 on a Friday evening, but another parent knows what it is like to try to get from school pickup to dinner on the table to bedtime operations. So, find your people. The emotional support is necessary.

Fourth, make a plan for your reserve year and include all the stakeholders, which may include your reserve rater and chain of command, your civilian supervisor, your coworkers, and Household 6 (i.e., your partner). Consider the fiscal year for funding purposes and when your reserve year starts and ends for point purposes. A good plan will take into consideration busy seasons in each of the parts of your life and create as much harmony as possible because it will not always be balanced (the foregoing was stolen from Brigadier General Ronald D. Sullivan’s address to a group of veteran law students). This allows you to manage expectations and prioritize appropriately. Even with proactive planning, know that everything may change with very little notice, so being adaptable is essential. Try to set aside a reoccurring time when you will get caught up on each of your jobs, whether it is on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Fifth, consider what reserve job is going to work best for you and when. In my experience, young children and a busy civilian job do not mix well with a show-up-for-the-whole-weekend-every-month kind of unit. Talk to your mentors and sponsors and see how to trade off and on from demanding jobs. In your situation, it might make sense to look for a remote, bill-your-own-hours type of reserve assignment while your civilian job has the focus, with the understanding that in the future, you may try for a mobilization to have your reserve career take more of the center stage. Take into account the timing of your promotion boards and required training and similar requirements with your civilian career. For our family, this meant my husband working incredibly hard to finish his military education requirements before I had our third son, and we have discussed when it would make the most sense for me to start the same. (Not yet!)

Finally, take care of yourself. When we get too busy, self-care is often the first thing to go. For example, I asked my law students how they fit in a workout when they are really busy, and when a few of them said they did not think it was possible to make the time, I explained that they will likely be even busier as practicing attorneys, so they need to set their priorities now. Whether it’s finishing my book club book on the exercise bike or just pushing a stroller with three boys (adding up to 90 pounds) around the neighborhood, I know it makes a difference in my mental health. And to this end, do not be reluctant to outsource. While it’s often difficult to acknowledge that you are beginning to get overwhelmed, it is important to ask for (or hire) help when your to-do list threatens to keep you up at night.

Balancing a civilian and a military career is not easy, but for me it is worth it when I reflect on the things I get to do and, more importantly, the people with whom I get to work. Having even just a couple days of training with my military unit reminds me what accountability, professionalism, and working toward a shared goal look like. Mine is just one experience, and I will be followed by others with different experiences and different advice. Please reach out and join the conversation if you have advice for other reservists trying to find work-work-life balance.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author in her personal capacity and should not be understood as representing those of the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Justice, or the Judge Advocates Association.