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Five Questions (and Answers) for Navigating Parenthood While Working in Big Law

On Wednesday, November 1, 2017 at 12:00pm, the DC Bar will host "Big Law and Babies", a panel discussion about starting or growing a family while working in Big Law.  It will address pregnancy, parental leave, returning to work, carving out family time, and utilizing the various resources firms provide to help parents navigate careers in Big Law.

Speakers

Maureen Hardwick, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
Michelle Kallen, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton Garrison LLP
Tracie Bryant, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Ravi Sharma, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton Garrison LLP
Tom Spiggle, The Spiggle Law Firm (Moderator)

The program is available in person at the DC Bar (https://www.dcbar.org/marketplace/event-details.cfm?productCD=171806LLDCS&type=event) and via webinar (https://www.dcbar.org/marketplace/event-details.cfm?productcd=171810LLDCSW).

In anticipation of the program here are five questions (and answers) for navigating parenthood when working in Big Law.

Question Number One:  You found out you are expecting a baby!  Who do you tell and when?

There is no right or wrong answer about when to reveal that you are expecting a baby.  If you are pregnant, you might experience symptoms that impact the quality of your work (sickness, exhaustion, etc.).  This might give incentive to disclose your pregnancy early.  However, you might not want to reveal that you are expecting before you know that the pregnancy is healthy.  If you feel like your symptoms are harming the quality of your work, you might consider disclosing to HR or to someone in your office you trust.  Other attorneys who recently had children might not only be supportive, but may also have some helpful advice.  The key is that you should do what makes you most comfortable.  Pregnancy drags with it many uncomfortable situations, but disclosing your pregnancy at work does not have to be one of those situations.

Question Number Two:  Who will look out for me to make sure work does not put me in challenging conditions while pregnant?

One person: yours truly.  Even the best meaning co-workers cannot strike the right balance for you between working hard and a healthy pregnancy.  If you are pregnant, you might feel like you need to work extra hard to prove that your pregnancy will not impact your work.  But your pregnancy will probably impact your work; and if your pregnancy does not impact your work, parenthood will.  If work is requiring that you fly well into your third trimester, or pull all-nighters, or otherwise push your body to a point that is not safe, you cannot trust others to look out for your and your baby’s best interest.  Be clear about what you can and cannot do.  If it looks like  your case will have depositions well into your third trimester, speak up in meetings and try to volunteer for depositions that will take place before you might be facing a travel restriction.  If your client often demands that you travel, don’t be shy about revealing your pregnancy and due date.  This might be an opportunity for your client to see you as a person and not just a worker-bee.  It is important to be clear about what you can and cannot do so that your teams can adjust ahead of time.

Question Number Three: Is parental leave only for moms?  Even though, on paper, my firm’s leave policy is not specific to moms, no dads have taken the full leave.  Does that mean it is not open to me?

Just because no dad has yet taken the full leave does not mean that it is not open to you.  In fact, it would likely be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for your firm to discourage men from taking leave. But being a trailblazer can have consequences, good and bad.  Progress is made when people (like you) take risks to follow through with the programs our employers offer.  However, making those choices can indeed make others think differently of you, especially if those people made other choices.  You should do what works for you and your family and do so with confidence!

Question Number Four: How do you get it all done?

Having a child is―surprise―a lot of work.  In addition to the childcare, there is a long list of chores involved with having children: cleaning bottles and putting them back together, and diapers and toys and mess. And on and on.  The non-child related household items don't stop either.  If both parents work, it is near impossible to keep your household afloat and get any sleep.  Try to outsource what you can.  Use Care.com to find a “mother’s helper” to do some of your chores.  Try TaskRabbit to find someone to fix that broken window and mow your lawn.  Check out DoingLess.com, a site that―as its name suggests―teaches people how to do less by outsourcing and automating all kinds of tasks, including ones related to childcare.  This site also has a membership area with separate discussion groups for parents trying to figure out how to have children and stay sane. 

Question Number Five: Does it stay this hard?

No, it doesn’t.  The early years with children, while certainly magical in many ways, can seem like you're in a dark tunnel when it comes to your career.  But, of course, children don't stay young forever.  One day your child will sleep through the night, being able to get dressed without assistance and then, before you know it, he or see will be sending you text messages asking to stay at an after school event after which a friend will take them home.  So, enjoy the early years as best as you can.  With that in mind, you might want to give yourself a break and take a rest on the corporate ladder for a couple of years.  Time will come soon enough when you will not have to get home before six, and you think back nostalgically for those days when your toddler needed you there.

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