Is it possible to be both a Full time Mum and a Successful Solicitor?
16 May 2019
by Jude Stevenson
Family lawyer Jude Stevenson reflects on the work-life balance in her inimitable style!
As you all know, only women can have babies, men have the fun part, two weeks’ paternity leave and then go back to work leaving us with the screaming baby! We fill time on maternity leave bonding with our newborn child, ‘relaxing’ with our new mummy friends and switching off from reality… that eventually we will probably have to return to work, as our mortgage company will shout if we don’t.
Nine months later (or 12 if you are more organised than me and have saved money or holidays) we drop our child off at nursery, sob uncontrollably, ruin our make-up and head to the office, to a computer that doesn’t know who you are, clients who don’t know who you are and then 90 minutes later receive a phone call to say your child has vomited everywhere and needs to be collected immediately!
The transition from full time lawyer to full time mum can be fraught. It can be riddled with guilt and restraint. Guilt that not enough time is spent with our child and guilt that we dashed off bang on 5pm to collect our son from nursery before the fine is imposed and guilt that we didn’t return Mrs H’s call at 4:57pm.
While traditional law firms offer some flexibility in theory, there’s really no release from the pressure to bill. The billable-hour model, under which productivity is measured by time spent on a case or file, creates an inherent conflict between the objectives of a firm and the objectives of a mother, or any lawyer who values time outside of work.
A solicitor friend told me – “Mums are probably the most efficient workers in the marketplace,” “But the way some law firms are set up, that efficiency is not always rewarded”.
The most common way mothers handle this conundrum is by taking on part-time schedules or flexible working hours but that comes with costs. Speaking with part time lawyer mums, I have heard:
“I don’t like feeling like I’m being sorted into a ‘not ambitious’ group. I’m swallowing my pride in order to take advantage of the opportunity to have a better work-life balance,”
Many infer that having a child makes a woman less serious about work. Not the case, at all. I hate to admit it but I have been the first to throw my son into nursery with a raging temperature and race into the office as I have a client to see who has an urgent statement to file with the court.
Finding a good work/life balance is hard for lots of us, financial demands are greater than ever before and the expectations of our law firms are and should be high too. It is vital I work. I was not cut out to be a stay at home mum regardless of how much I love my children. It is important to me to have an income and I take pride in my career.
Maybe the time has come for some law firms to be more focused on their highly trained devoted solicitors and be less client driven. [Editor: We agree!!]
Perhaps the time has come when working parents can select a schedule that works for them, without compromising the high-level nature of the work they desire. Maybe work remotely, work from home, work at 2am when you wake up and can’t settle back down when someone has wet the bed! Other professions are beginning to acknowledge that they will get more from their employee if they are more flexible to their commitments to family life.
There are not many working parents of children who aren’t riddled with guilt and most of my professional mummy friends are very much looking for a robust career with all the responsibility and high-level work that comes with that. Often it’s just a matter of knowing they can leave at 4pm to pick up a child. This seems like such a simple thing to ask for, yet it’s a privilege for few of us.
Your honour, I rest my case. (Seriously, I’m done. Where’s the remote? Turn Peppa Pig off!) [Editor: “I love Peppa Pig – more, more more!!]
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