August 16, 2019 Article

How Constant Connectivity Helps and Hurts Working Parents

While there are benefits to flexible work arrangements, there are also costs.

By Lindsay McCormick

The rapid technological advances over the past two decades have made significant impacts on the legal industry and the practice of law. There is also a new generation of lawyers who have been raised in the high-tech era and demand a career that embraces the flexibility of these advances. The legal industry has embraced laptops, smartphones, electronic filings, and remote work spaces. So many of these advances offer the working attorney much-needed flexibility to allow for a level of present parenting not previously possible for prior generations. We are now more easily able to attend doctor appointments, soccer games, and gymnastics practice. We are home for dinner and able to take those amazing vacations with our families. We are more easily able to fit our work around our life, as opposed to fitting our life into the time our work allows. But that’s not to say the flexibility we are afforded comes without a cost. In fact, the cost of this level of flexibility is significant and constant connectivity. We can be reached by our offices and clients at any time on our cell phones. We get emails instantly on our smartphones. We have remote work spaces that allow working from home, airplanes, or really anywhere. Immediate responsiveness and access are expected and generally required. 

The benefits of the flexibility now available in the legal industry are immeasurable. At least for this working parent, I know it has enabled me to be a better and more present parent than I thought possible at this level of my career. I am thankful to be present at my young children’s wellness visits. To be able to be home and comfort them while they are sick. And to be in attendance at school programs. All without missing full days of work or risking missing important emails or phone calls. However, to maintain the benefits of the flexibility provided by this level of constant connectivity, it is imperative to regulate the burdens as well. To be present for all of my children’s needs, there comes a time when the work must be made up. I respond via email while at doctor appointments. I work from home while tending to a sick child. I take a quick phone call before a school program. And most nights, you can find me on my computer working remotely after my children have gone to bed.

I am thankful for this flexibility, but it can also feel like I am always working. The constant connectivity means that we can work anytime, anywhere, and more often than not, we are working, all the time, everywhere. We are working late after our families are in bed. We are working early before our families are awake. We are working on vacations and from soccer fields. We are working in the spare moments whenever we can. And the constant working can easily wear on anyone. It can easily cause an attorney to burn out, because where is the down time? Where is the self-care? We give to our work and we give to our families, but when are we giving to ourselves? How do we fit in what we need personally while still remaining good parents and good attorneys? The truth is, many times, we sacrifice ourselves.

So what is the problem? Do our firms require this level of connectivity? Are our practices really this demanding? Or does the pressure and motivation come from something more internal? Truthfully, I don’t know the answer. And I don’t believe there is one answer for everyone and in every situation. But for me, above all I am thankful for the flexibility technology has created in my legal practice, though I have to work hard to maintain balance. I cannot work late every night after the kids are in bed. I cannot work early every morning before my family is awake. I cannot work every weekend or in every spare moment. I cannot feel the pressure to work whenever possible. If I am not careful, I will endure parental burnout, at which point both my family and my work will suffer. I am not going to say that I make the time for a monthly massage or girls’ night out. Honestly, remembering a date night is a challenge. But I do remember to put the phone down, to put the laptop away, and to enjoy my family. Also, I remember to enjoy myself. I take time for myself, to recharge, so that I can be the present parent and hardworking attorney my family and my clients deserve.

I know I am not alone in my struggles. I have spoken to countless fellow attorneys who endure these same problems. And while so thankful for the flexibility, they bear the burden of the constant connectivity. We all must make ourselves a priority, and in doing so, we are tempering the expectations that we are always on call. The connectivity can easily get away from us, and if we are not careful, the legal industry will expect 24-hour service. So let’s commit to maintaining balance in our practices and in our lives. We owe it to ourselves, our families, our clients, and each other. 

Lindsay McCormick is an attorney at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Tampa, Florida.

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