Biglaw And Balance For Working Mothers? Yes! | Above the Law

by pregnancy journalist

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at . Welcome Advocatus Matris to our pages. Click if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.

It was 5:01 on the dot and I was, once again, headed down the office elevator with the same crew of support staff that clock out at 5:00 every day. I had exceeded my 5.6-hour billing target for the day, and was heading home to spend time with my husband and baby.  It was a Wednesday (pre-pandemic), and I telework Thursdays and Fridays every week, so I would not be back in the office until Monday. I had no plans to log on to Citrix that night.

As an associate at an Am Law 100 firm in a top-of-market city (not New York City), this reality often felt much like a dream. I had a simple desire, yet one that is elusive to so many Biglaw attorneys: to spend meaningful time with my family on a near-daily basis while continuing to excel at my job.

Biglaw is, unfortunately, not known for being family-friendly, and it can be especially challenging for new mothers. But the horror stories you hear are not a universal experience. While I don’t claim to have all of the answers, my experience balancing motherhood and Biglaw for nearly three years now has been a success story. Of course, my idea of “balance” may not be yours. But I hope my story inspires you nonetheless.

When I was in law school, a Biglaw partner once tried to sell me on the family friendliness of his firm by explaining that an associate with whom he worked left at 5 every day and “just got right back online” after her kids went to bed each night. So … family friendly is working an eight-hour day, taking care of children for a few hours, and then working for a few more hours? Every day?  That sounded miserable.

Flash forward a few years, and I was pregnant with my first child. It was a miserable pregnancy. Among other issues, my doctor kept sending me to the hospital midworkday for hours of monitoring and testing. Thankfully, my office was very accommodating; the message I received over and over again was to do whatever I needed to do to take care of myself and the baby.

While on maternity leave, I thought a lot about how to balance working with family upon my return. Ultimately, I decided to propose an alternate arrangement to the firm in which I would work at a 70% capacity and telework two days a week. If it worked as planned, I would be able to leave at 5 p.m. most days (instead of 6:30 or 7 p.m., as I had before), and work substantially reduced hours on my telework days to spend more time with my child.

Several people cautioned me that my plan was unwise. The risk, of course, is that I would do just as much work as before, but at 70% pay. Some friends suggested I would be better off in-house; others suggested sticking with a regular schedule and just mysteriously finding a way to make it all work.  Thankfully, my experience has been quite positive. Often, when things are busy, I do log onto the computer after my kids go to bed to knock out the rest of a project; but it is (usually) with a feeling of enthusiasm for the work, rather than a compulsion to squeeze more hours into an already-long day. Other times, I take whole afternoons or Fridays off. And it is as marvelous as it sounds.

My advice to anyone considering an alternate path (whether a mother, father, or just because):

Ultimately, Biglaw will always be a hard job. Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding balance. But, in my experience, finding this balance provides the greatest reward.

Advocatus Matris (a pseudonym) is a senior associate at an Am Law 100 firm. 

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