Mary Nienaber-Foster

My Mommy Wants to be a Lawyer

By Mary Nienaber-Foster, a 1L at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio Everyone thought I finally lost it. The kids or my husband's job had driven me to the brink of insanity and I had officially gone bonkers. I stood up in the spring of 2006 and announced to the world that I was going back to school. Law School. Fulltime. Granted, thousands of people around the country were announcing the same thing, but somehow, my little cluster of friends and family thought this was an earth-shattering announcement. After all, I wasn't a fresh-faced 22-year old. I was a mother. Of two. Toddlers. Not to mention, my husband was in the home-stretch of completing four years of medical school. The roller coaster of endless exams, tests, and long rotations was coming to an end, but we still faced three more years of residency and mounting student loans. It takes a village to raise a doctor and I had carried the heaviest load as his spouse. I worked fulltime, gave birth to two children within 17 months of each other, and organized the selling of our condo and the buying of our new house. We were exhausted. But something was nagging at me. There seemed to be a little pilot light at the back of my head that never went out. It glowed "laaaaaw schoooool". It had been there since the sixth grade, when a teacher suggested that I would be a good lawyer. It came up again in high school when I competed in moot court and felt the thrill of arguing before a judge. And when I got to college, I loved being an English major. I was told that lots of English majors went to law school. But something held me back. Well, not something, someone—me. I kept convincing myself that I couldn't do it. Even though I would order admissions material from local law schools, I had talked myself out of it by the time they arrived in the mail. Those glossy brochures were promptly dumped in the trash. The LSAT would be too hard. I didn't take the right college classes. They'd find out that my good grades and academic accolades were just a farce. I wouldn't make it. I still can't say exactly what it was that pushed me over the edge. Granted, I spent a few years after college working and knew that I didn't want to stay at the company I was with. I took some time off to stay home with the kids, but quickly discovered that I lacked the patience and grace to be a full-time stay at home mom. Oddly enough, I don't even think it was something professionally or academically that made me feel confident about registering for the LSAT and sending in my applications. I think it was my children. There's something about nurturing and growing a little being in your belly for nine months and then seeing the fruits of your labor day after day, as they learn to walk, talk, and kick a soccer ball. It makes you feel unstoppable. Invincible. Like you can do anything you set your mind to. So I pressed on. My husband supported me whole-heartedly and I leaned on a friend who works as a guidance counselor. She treated me like any typical high school student trying to decide what to be when they grew up. What interests you? What makes you happy? Where do you see yourself in ten years? I knew then, as I had for so many years, that I wanted to be a lawyer. I won't lie to you. This law school business is tough stuff, with or without kids. Anyone who's been to law school knows that you spend all night reading, then go to class the next day to find out that you didn't actually understand anything you prepared the night before. The day after that, you find out that everything you learned yesterday can be reversed due to the ten new cases in the next chapter of your casebook. It's a mental marathon. But if you can hang on and get into the groove, you find out that all of that work, dare I say it? It can actually turn out to be a lot of fun to learn. After all, who would actually commit themselves to law school if they didn't really love it? But that's just law school. We don't go to classes in a vacuum and everyone has a "life" outside of school. And mine happens to revolve around two little toddlers named Ethan and Maggie. But no matter how much time I spend at school, I'm not a law student that has kids. I'm a mom that happens to attend law school. After all, the vanity plate on my mini-van reads "MOMTOEM", not something clever that's related to becoming a lawyer. I will admit that during the week when I'm swamped with reading, it's hard to keep that perspective in mind. If the kids would just go to bed a little sooner...if James wasn't on-call tonight...if I could just eliminate that pesky task of sleeping six hours a night...but no. I'm lucky to have my family and I'm lucky to have the opportunities regarding my schooling. It's just hard to remember when you feel like you haven't taken a deep breath in three months. I don't think that I necessarily have it any "harder" than my classmates who don't have children and/or a spouse. Everyone has other responsibilities in life besides school. I just have it...different. When my friends head out to the bars on weekends to vent, I usually chill out with a cartoon movie and coloring with the kids. Classmates stay up late studying and roll out of bed just before class. But I have to get the kids organized before I head out the door in the morning. We all stress about money, but I'm adding on the worries about our mortgage, and the kids' 529 account, and having enough loan money to cover our "worth absolutely every single cent" nanny. But I shrug away all of those "I don't know how you do it!" head shakes. Any added worries I have because of my family wash away when I get home and see two little kids dancing in the kitchen window, ecstatic over my return. At 3 and 1 1/2, the kids don't know it yet, but they are my inspiration. I have made every effort to incorporate them into my activities at law school. They have visited the school to see where it is that Mommy goes all day, eaten lunch with me and my friends in the commons, and every night, they help me "study" by sitting next to me and quietly playing with my school supplies as I read. I smile every time I open up a casebook or legal pad that has been lovingly scribbled in with my highlighters. And although my little boy has soldiered through a year of therapy for a speech delay, if you ask him what his Mommy is going to be when she grows up, he will exclaim, "A LAW-YUR!" I have big plans for the future. I don't have the details worked out just yet, but I have ideas. I want to give other moms the confidence that took me so long to find. Another mommy schoolmate and I want to endow a scholarship at our school one day to help out crazy moms like us with tuition and childcare costs. I want to help people as an attorney. I want to teach. I want it all. It's an attitude that's worked up to this point, so I'm going to keep pushing forward. And I'm really excited about my future in law. I know that I made the right decision. Others may have had their concerns—Who will watch the kids? What about your husband? When will you study? How will you have time? What about money?—but I think we're doing just fine. And I can't help but be motivated by the thought of hearing my two little sweethearts say one day: "My Mommy is a lawyer."


Legal Eagle

I am pulling for you 100%.
You said, “I don’t think that I necessarily have it any ‘harder’ than my classmates who don’t have children and/or a spouse. Everyone has other responsibilities in life besides school.” I appreciate your generous spirit. (Although it is hard for me to think more highly of any law student than a law student who is juggling parenthood, as a hands-on mother or father!)
My motivation for law school is a little different. I haven’t found a partner to share my life with. I don’t have kids yet. I have struggled with depression for years. So many times it has been hard to get out of bed in the morning, or out of the apartment and into campus. On the toughest days, I think about the stability a J.D. can provide: a set of skills to earn a salary and to manage a life, sufficient to support me and a child, whether or not I ever find a partner. Plus, it is work that I love. Surprisingly enough, I want a law degree to <i>improve</i> my work-life balance.
You are an inspiration to me. You pull yourself forward with the thought that Ethan and Maggie will say “my mommy is a lawyer.” My strength comes with the thought that somebody will point at me someday and say, “that lawyer is my mommy.”


As another law student mom I thought I’d echo the sentiment that kids bring you down to earth and bring some humor to the law school situation which is usually anything but humorous.  Additionally, the things they pick up on are a window into how law school has changed us for the good or the bad.

First, my 5 year old got me higlighters (from the dollar store) for my birthday last month.  He checks up on me periodically to make sure that I am using them for my studies and also likes to use them for his “studies” which is pretty much math workbooks at the kitchen table. My 3 year old has started to tell people that she’ll be going to law school when she grows up—but only after she is Cinderella and Prince Charming finds that the shoe fits her!  Sometimes, I’ll look in on her playing in her room (when the silence is suspicious) and find her with a very serious face taking notes on a My Little Pony pad of paper and telling her stuffed animals that she is “studying” and “not to bother her”.  Not sure this is one thing I’d like to rub off on her just yet!


What a fantastic post.  Your reasoning behind choosing to attend law school is a lot like mine.  And if not now, when?  It’s always exciting to read the stories of other mothers in law school, especially those with young children.  We can do it!

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