Dealing with the Guilt

I thought that lawyer/mothers today were over Mommy Guilt.  Nearly forty years ago, when I was in my first years as a practicing lawyer and simultaneously welcomed my first child to the world, I made a critical decision not to deal with the guilt that I knew could come my way.  I loved my work, and I also loved my husband, my child and the second child who followed two years later.  I may have been mad about some of the circumstances that required me to choose between office and home, but I did not feel guilty about having to choose.  I essentially had two jobs, and I was confident that I could do both.  When, at one point it became clear that billable hours and toddlers did not mix well, I did not experience guilt.  I left private practice and went into the public sector for a number of years.  And when it became doable again, I returned to private practice.  I had the power to work it out without giving in to guilt.

So when I read this article about the pressures on mommy/lawyers to feel guilty, it was disappointing. I thought we were over it.  Although I understand the feelings of the author and respect those feelings, I also see so much guilt on and between the lines of that article.  And that is exactly why I encourage you to read it.  You will identify with the conflicting emotions expressed there and you will understand how common those emotions are when you experience them.  But, hopefully, you also will see the danger of giving guilt the power that seems to be looming and ready to strike for this author.

Here is my message to you:  Guilt from your dual roles as lawyer and mother has no place in your life.  Anger, frustration, fatigue —- those things are to be expected when you are burning the candle at both ends and trying to be all things to all people.  All of those emotions are justified.  Who wants to miss her 6 year-old’s birthday party to be in the office doing trial prep with the team?  Certainly not me, but it happened.  Who wants to be in the hospital with a very sick toddler and taking calls from the office about getting bills out?  Most certainly not me.  But it happened.  And the list goes on.  Those same kinds of things will happen to you also even though workplaces today have progressed measurably in terms of humanity.  (Not to the point of perfection, but surely there has been measurable progress.)

So, expect conflicting emotions.  Just don’t feel guilty about them and don’t let others make you feel guilty.  I am grateful that neither of my children nor my husband ever tried to make me feel guilty about the missed opportunities.  But I also was very careful not to give them the power to make me feel guilty.  All they needed to know was that mommy had two jobs.  At the preschool, when my daughter was asked why her mommy was always “dressed up” when she collected the kids at the end of the day, my daughter’s response was that her mommy was a “worker person.”  She knew I was OK with it.  So she was OK with it.

Recently I had a discussion with one of my lawyer/mentees about her experiences as the mother of a pre-schooler.  In her situation, like mine as a working mother so many years ago, she is in the minority, and it can be challenging.  She cannot volunteer at the school to the same degree as other moms, and she is sure it is sometimes a topic of discussion.  But she deals with it well because she loves to work.  She loves her job, and she is clear that her two jobs define her in a way that gives her satisfaction and pride.  I felt her strength and knew that she was moving in the right direction.

As a lawyer/mother you deserve job satisfaction just as much as family satisfaction.  And you are capable of handling both —- without the guilt.





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Are Recent Law School Grads More Content Than Ever in Their Jobs?

According to a National Association For Law Placement (NALP) and NALP Foundation joint study titled Law School Alumni Employment & Satisfaction, class of 2019 law school graduates actively seeking new jobs is at the historically low level of 13 per cent.  This, the tenth such report focusing on US law schools, is reported in this article and includes information about diverse and first-generation graduates and data related to student debt, mobility, and experiential factors.

I am very pleased to read about this apparent workplace satisfaction.  However, it occurs to me that there may be additional factors responsible for this unprecedented degree of content.  Is it because some law firm managers and other legal space employers have loosened workplace requirements and increased flexibility to make young lawyers feel more welcome and appreciated?  Is it because those changes in the workplace make it possible for young lawyers to navigate the responsibilities of both home and office more easily? Is it because the recent grads have become more realistic about what it means to be professionals after working from couches and coffee shops for so long during the pandemic?  Or is it due to the pride they take in their accomplishments and the recognition of how much they have sacrificed to get where they are?

As one who has counseled many young lawyers over the course of a career, I hope that some of these additional factors, although more personal, also are responsible for the results reported in the NALP study.  It is apparent to most observers that the profession of law is changing in many ways and at warp speed, and I am hopeful that many of those changes, as painful as they may seem at the time, will have lasting effects on job satisfaction.

When I chose the name “Best Friends at the Bar” for my project, that is what I had in mind.  Best colleagues and friends to act as mentors and support systems to create the kind of job satisfaction that raises all boats.  Maybe we are beginning to see the results of those efforts.




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What’s Happening With RTO and Hybrid Work At Law Firms?

As pointed out in one of the sources below, September marks a kind of reset for law practice.  More relaxed summer schedules are behind, and it is “back to work.”  But, what is that likely to look like this particular September?  The quote below, from Above the Law, gives us one perspective from a law firm consultant and should give law firm management some degree of pause.

Law firms are different from other businesses—they just are. Lawyers don’t want to be told what to do and when to do it.

We are professionals. We know that if we want to be in that office with our colleagues then that office is doing a good job.

[A]nything that is an unnecessary order can create resentment.

— Law firm consultant Alexa Ross, in comments given to the American Lawyer on the concept of “core” hours within law firms operating with hybrid work policies. Lawyers should “look forward” to coming to the office, she said, rather than being required to do so. “That increases productivity tremendously,” Ross said, “it also decreases attrition.”

And the following article adds insight into the responsibility of law firm managements in meeting the challenges of changing times after the pandemic upended much of what law firm managements believed in.

Captioned as “Did Labor Day Make A Difference For The Legal Profession?”, the article explores how the pandemic changed how work was accomplished, the meaning of “hybrid work”, and how law firms of the future are going to be different, including the impact of AI, and recommendations for management on dealing with the reluctance of lawyers to return to the office and the importance of the impact on productivity and how that impacts the various players.

One of the concepts addressed, “Colleague Connect”, is not on my list of favored methodologies.  A little too Big Brother for me!  I think we can do better.


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Why are Women Lawyers Leaving Law Firms?

Have you ever wondered why women lawyers leave law firm jobs?  It is written about a lot, and sometimes over-inflated statistics accompany those articles.  It also is often reported that women lawyers leave their jobs because they prefer to stay at home with their children.  But is that correct, or do women lawyers leave law firm jobs because of the failures of law firm policies to address their challenges?

It is an interesting question, and my interaction with young women lawyers leads me to believe that they enjoy working.  The problem is that law firms still need a lot of help understanding the challenges for young women lawyers and how to address those challenges as incentives for women to stay on those jobs.  I have written a lot about that in my work at Best Friends at the Bar, including on this Blog, and I know how complicated it can be.

Here is a recent article that addresses the issues to help you decide how you would answer the question:  Why do women lawyers leave their law firm jobs?


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The Summer Associate Drinking Etiquette Debate

This heading is the title of a recent article on Above the Law. It is a full-blown discussion with multiple sources. It is written by an experienced lawyer and includes a variety of opinions.

Maybe you think that you do not need advice about drinking at professional events. It is easy to throw away things that looks too basic, but that is not always a good idea. The basics are often the building blocks of success.

So, take a look at the debate. See where you fall in the “to drink or not to drink alcohol at professional functions” discussion. Think back over your recent experience as law clerk, summer associate, associate or young partner. Think back over the recent July 4th firm-sponsored event, and review your behavior. Were you pleased or disappointed with it the next day? Have you suffered replays of it from colleagues since? How might that change your behavior the next time?

I have not forgotten my days as a young lawyer and the temptations that existed in the law firm social environment. I also remember bad decisions by many law firm members which followed them for years. Upon reflection, I am confident that the best position in the debate revolves around responsible behavior. It is not really a strict choice between “to drink or not to drink”, but, rather, how to drink responsibly in a particular setting.

A similar discussion is included in my new book, New Lawyer Launch: The Handbook for Young Lawyers (Full Court Press, 2022). Here’s how my contributors and I address the issue there:

Avoid trouble. As one of my contributors points out, don’t try to be the life of the party at work events. Another contributor reminds you to be careful how much alcohol you drink at work events, including office lunches, dinners and parties. Drinking alcohol in excess can create big problems, and there are plenty of career-defining stories to back that up. Every lawyer knows at least one of those stories, and most lawyers love to tell those stories over and over and over again. Those episodes are very hard to escape.

Be appropriate in every way, and do not try too hard to be one of the cool people. Just be yourself — the best version of yourself.

Too conservative for you? Maybe. But I will take conservative behavior over unwise risk-taking any day —- especially where careers hang in the balance.

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Big Law Is Pulling The Plug on Promises for Blended Approaches to Back-To-Office

All legal news outlets are bursting with the news that Skadden has announced a backtracking of its prior blended model for return to the office in favor of a mandated four days in the office. And, to date, Davis Polk has followed suit.

That is not a huge surprise because when Skadden talks starting salaries, Biglaw often says “how high?” on the way up. It is proven that Skadden sets the bar in that fact setting. But, as pointed out by several reliable legal commenters, approaches to back-to-office differ from salary announcements — because the former is integrally related to law firm culture and involves issues of work-life balance that often attract lawyers to a practice. As a result, changing policies on these issues can have serious backlash effects.

Keep your eyes open for other firms that follow suit with Skadden. My hope is that is will not be many. I am a big supporter of the blend of “in office” and working from home. I know that a certain amount of in office is necessary for effective mentoring and client development, but I also know that commuting at the high cost of mass transit and dedication of time does not make sense in our current professional environment and the advances in technology. When boards of directors are meeting over Zoom, and depositions and hearings are being conducted in similar spaces, it is hard to argue that the business of law cannot effectively use this same technology to successful ends. At least part of the time.

And any talk of a “ding” to profits from a blend that includes working from home is not supported by the facts. Let us not forget that Biglaw INCREASED profits during the pandemic when working from home five days a week was the rule rather than the exception.

Greed should not be driving decisions that are so central to the success of young lawyers in an increasingly complicated world that includes two working parents and very demanding schedules. I have to believe that we can do better.

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Biglaw Defection: Is This Only the Beginning?

I know young lawyers who have done what you will read about in the link below —— and others who are thinking of doing it.  Their family and personal/professional values no longer align with Biglaw values. Making money for those who already have too much of it — at the risk of fulfilling family values —- does not appeal to many young lawyers today. And family values have never been high on the TO DO lists of Biglaw firms.  

It is a new day —- a very complicated new day for men and women in law practices, especially those with children —- AND law firms are loath to change the way they do business.  The oft-repeated justification for resisting remote practices and demanding 2500 hours or more of billables a year is to increase profits and create new clients.  

There was a time when that may have sufficed as an adequate justification, but then came the pandemic. The pandemic demonstrated that, with the technology available today, those justifications are no longer valid.  Profits in Biglaw did not suffer during the pandemic and, in fact, increased. There was more than enough in the profit pie to keep equity partners in very comfortable lifestyles.

But, as the link below evidences, the importance of profits can be eclipsed.

Case in point is this story of an associate lawyer, who played the Biglaw game for years but turned his back on Biglaw partnership to save his family life.  It is inspiring for me to read this young man’s words.  As a young lawyer/mother, more than 40 years ago, I had no apparent choice. And neither did so many other women lawyers. We took a step back from our professional goals to meet the needs of our families. And it did not end “in the day.” It has been happening to so many women lawyers since.

But, as you will see, decisions like this are no longer gender issues.  They are values issues.  They are family issues. They affect men as well as women. Men also want to spend time with their children. They want to get home in time to kiss their children goodnight. They want to witness as many “growth moments” as possible.

The first word. The first step. Today’s young men understand, just like women have for years, that those moments are precious. Women always have realized that “firsts” are just that and will never be repeated. Thinking that every first can be experienced is unrealistic. But creating a life where experiencing it is more likely than not is, indeed, realistic. It is all about values and tradeoffs.

Here is the link:   

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Young Lawyers Should Avoid Personal Comparisons

My friend Jezra Kaye is a consultant and author about all things to improve communications and public speaking. In her recent newsletter, she worte about the dangers of “comparison-itis”. Comparing ourselves to others has become an epidemic. Here’s how Jezra explains it:

How many times today have you compared yourself to somebody else?

Depending on what time of day you’re reading this, the answer might be once, or twice…or way more.

After all, there’s no limit to how often we can put ourselves down by finding people who do something “better” than we do. There’s:

  • The colleague who speaks more fluently than you;
  • The sibling who has more money than you;
  • The friend who’s always been cooler than you;
  • The classmate who’s more “successful” than you.

Then there’s the really tough one: The person you should have been if you’d just been able to meet the “perfectly reasonable” standards of your parents, your school, your social class, even yourself.

Do you recognize yourself in Jezra’s words? You know you do. We all indulge in personal comparisons more than we should. And it is not healthy, and we all should stop it.

Put away Facebook, Instagram and all other social media toys that lead you to the bad place of PERSONAL COMPARISONS. That black hole. The not-gift that keeps on giving.

In my experience, unhealthy personal comparison is especially true for young lawyers. A young associate may be making great money that provides him/her with all that person needs, but SOMEONE is always making more. That same associate lawyer may be on the road to partnership, but SOMEONE just made it a year early. Or that young lawyer may have won a tough case, but the recovery was less than SOMEONE else got. And the list goes on and on, seemingly forever.

Shake off that burden. No one needs pressure like that. Just be your own wonderful self. Have confidence and love the way you look and all that you have accomplished. Know your own unique value and be proud of all that you have done in the past and can look forward to in the future.

It will save you a lot of wasted time. And, last time I checked, an abundance of time to waste is something that most young lawyers do not have.

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