Susan Smith Blakely

Family Planning For Women Lawyers

Last week's blog addressed the realities of non-equity partnership.  As pointed out in that blog, there is a lot of difference between equity partnership and the increasing non-equity partnership cohort.  If you have to refresh your memory, this might be a good time to do it because family planning for women lawyers builds on some of the themes of that blog.

For example, even though non-equity partnership may not include all that women lawyers are seeking, it could be a fine landing place for them while they are trying to make motherhood and lawyering work.

When making that decision for yourself, the first thing that you have to understand is that reconciling those two roles is not just a matter of who takes on the responsibilities of childcare.  Typically that is a decision for you and your partner, but that decision is too often made on an uneven playing field.

That is because some of the important considerations going into that decision start long before you and your partner share parenting roles.  Specifically nine months before.

Once a woman becomes pregnant and is carrying a child, a strong bond develops that is not easily broken.  By the time that bond has developed over the period of gestation, the bond between mother and child is so strong that giving birth is like feeling the earth move.  It is the ultimate defining moment, and the responsibilities of that bond are not easily handed over to another --- not even a partner.

At least, that is the way it worked for me and for so many women I know -- Boomer Moms, Gen X Moms and, now, Millennial Moms.  Age does not seem to make a difference when it comes to the strength of the bond between mother and newborn.

As a result, often new mothers feel like they are the only ones to properly care for their babies and toddlers, especially.  Call it instinct.  Call it the bond.  Whatever you call it, the feelings are almost uncontrollable.

And these feelings do not always lend themselves to an equal division of childcare.  Although domestic partners, who both work outside the home, are sharing much more of home and childcare responsibilities today, the issues of childbearing are not shared.  They are personal to a woman --- and not any less so for a woman lawyer.

So, I encourage you to read this article from Law.com addressing how women approach family planning in the legal profession.  It will give you critical information to help you make the best decisions about motherhood and your career when the time comes.

Here are some topics that are addressed there:

  • The legal profession is based upon a rewards system that values the attorney who is always at work and has few outside obligations --- AND that does not describe women with family responsibilities;
  • The best time to start a family on the road to partnership;
  • The impact on a woman's physical being during pregnancy while practicing law;
  • Whether having children affects opportunities to make partner;
  • Whether being able to work remotely "without judgment" has a bearing on making maternity/motherhood and law practice work;
  • The importance of a generous maternity leave; and
  • The importance of knowing yourself well enough to set realistic goals and make good career decisions.

Many sacrifices have been made in the careers of women lawyers for the sake of families.  In the day, I gave up my partnership for the privilege of practicing part-time after my baby was born.  Yes, it impacted my career, but it also enriched my life.  And I never have regretted waiting longer for partnership.  It was a choice I was willing to make.

And you will have to make similar choices.  Know yourself, know the facts, and be prepared.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com, Georgetown Law Magazine, Legal Toolkit Podcast, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016”for her work on behalf of women in the law. 

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

 

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