By Judith P. Meyer, Esquire
Prominent ADR neutral Judy Meyer from Philadelphia offers 12 excellent tips and sound advice on how to effectively manage the demands of a busy law career and parenthood.
- Cut yourself some slack. Working and mothering ideally should take place at different times in your life but they don’t. Moving ahead in a career and becoming a mother are likely to all happen in your 20’s and 30’s. Don’t beat yourself up because when you are at work, you feel guilty that you are not at home, and when you are at home you feel guilty that you are not at work.
- It is easier to relax and focus most productively on work if you have excellent help in the home. Remember childcare expenses decrease over time – not talking about college tuition here – and there is no point in stinting on childcare. A well-cared for, happy child will make you a much happier mother and lawyer, and decrease the potential for friction with your husband or significant other. Buy the best care you can afford. It is a cheap investment in the long term.
- Do not overload your child’s caretaker. No caretaker will do for money what a mother does for free. Caretakers, like mothers, get tired and need a break. Your child’s welfare should be the caretaker’s primary, if not sole, focus. If your child is not in school and your caretaker’s only break is your child’s nap, do not ask her to fill all that time with house cleaning or meal preparing. You may want to hire a separate house cleaner and figure out creative ways to prepare meals. Your food should be simple, fresh and nutritious.
- If you can, try to keep a regular dinner schedule. Dinner with family becomes a ritual of shared time. Children love rituals.
- Consider that sometimes your caretaker will – just like you – be under-the-weather or just too sick to work. I faced this as a young lawyer, and the not being able to handle a deposition or argue a motion because my caretaker could not make it to work terrified me. I figured out a plan: I found wonderful surrogate grandmothers – women in my neighborhood who loved childcare, wanted extra income, but did not want a full-time job. I would hire one of these women for an afternoon a week to do some special projects with my son. It was an additional expense, but it enriched my son’s life and gave my nanny a break. Then, knowing my need, if my regular nanny was ill, I could call on this special person to cover. I always had a list of two special caretakers who could cover on a moment’s notice.
- Avoid the temptation to overindulge your child because you feel guilty you are not at home. A happy child is a child with boundaries and rules, not one whose every whim is rewarded. Discipline your child according to your values, not your guilt. You value your work. Your child will value your work also, provided, again s/he is well nurtured while you are away.
- Bargain, if you can, at work for a day you can work at home or the possibility of working 3 or 4 days a week. There is a trade-off here, however, that you must consider. At law firms there can be a “Mommy Track” which gives you interesting work, but sidelines you as “likely not equity partner material” for the long term. This is something you need to think about and weigh. Also, do consider that if you work part time for reduced wages, you may end up working closer to full-time for part time pay.
- Keep your eye on the prize. You want to move ahead, make partner, move up your career, go in-house – whatever, but discipline yourself to use your time well. Go to lunch with your colleagues, but don’t hang out with them every day. In some firms there is the “lunch bunch”, but these are typically guys with at-home wives, or singles who make up for lunch time by working until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. Do not feel pressured to join them, unless there is a valid work reason to do so. You want to plan your work day around work, so that you do not have to be in the office through evening, and miss dinner and bedtimes with your kids.
- Consider the kind of law practice you want. Employment and domestic relations are, in general, friendlier and more receptive to women. Women are in numbers in the work force and in the Human Relations department of every company. Trusts and Estates also works well. There are a lot of women planning their estates and widows who are trying to manage them. In-house jobs can have more regular schedules than private law firms. If you want to be a litigator in a private law firm, plan for the unevenness of schedule. There will be the motion for preliminary injunction that comes in on a Friday afternoon with response due Monday afternoon. There is the partner who remembers late on a Tuesday that a piece of research was to be completed and explained to the client on Wednesday morning. Look at the number of hours a private firm expects you to bill. If it is 2200 or higher, just hire someone else to raise the kids.
- Do not hesitate to schedule depositions and hearings around family needs. Men do this all the time. If you need to pick up a child, notify counsel that the deposition must conclude at a certain time. If you have a parent-teacher conference on Thursday morning, ask counsel to not schedule a discovery motion hearing on that day.
- Make sure that you have an understanding spouse or significant other. Your spouse needs to respect the fact that you work, that you are committed to your career, assume co-responsibility for arranging/managing child care, and be ready to help out in a pinch.
- Learn to handle inappropriate remarks and advances in the world of work. If it is not someone who controls your destiny, i.e. a senior partner, brush it off with humor or with “thank you for the compliment” but ABSOLUTELY NOT. If it is someone who controls your fate – let’s talk.
Judith P. Meyer segued from working as a commercial law trial lawyer to working as a commercial law mediator and arbitrator. Settling complex commercial and employment claims, through mediation or arbitration, is her profession and her passion. She taught Negotiation, Mediation and Arbitration at Cornell Law School for fourteen years. She serves on numerous mediation and arbitration panels, is a Referee, Judge Pro Tem and Discovery Master for the Pennsylvania courts, a Distinguished Fellow in the International Academy of Mediators, a Member of the College of Commercial Arbitrators, and a Fellow in the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. She is a member of the California, Idaho and Pennsylvania bars. There is not a dispute she has met that she does not want to settle.