Transition to practice (or, why I cried at law school)

April 20, 2010 at 9:17 am | Posted in law school, little bug, Little O, not yet written, politics, read this, tax law is sexy, the firm, the media | 9 Comments
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My triumphant return to my law school last week as an alumni speaker was somewhat compromised by an emotional hiccup. Namely, crying. If you have been reading this blog for the past few (say, ten or 11) weeks, you’ll know that since the birth of my baby boy in February, I’ve been doing a lot of crying. This time, however, the tears were decidedly not hormonal, but, instead, passionate.

If you have been reading this blog since its inception, you’ll know that I had my first baby in between my second and third years of law school. When she was six weeks old, I returned to campus, armed with a breast pump and lots of coffee. “How did you ever manage law school with a newborn?” I’m often asked. Here’s a secret: by your third year of law school — at least, in 2007-08, when the legal hiring market was still running at pre-recession speed — you can pretty much coast. I chose my classes based on when they met, as opposed to content, for a flexible schedule. I had friends who supported me with notes from missed class and law review offices in which to pump milk. And I had a few professors (all women…) who were stalwart champions of motherhood and the law. It was one of these professors who asked me to come speak. And because one is always flattered to be asked for one’s expertise, I blew out my hair, put on a suit, heels, and lipstick, and, feeling vaguely like the lawyer I only so very recently was, I set out for Newton.

The topic was transitioning from school to practice. My professor also had asked me to speak specifically on transitioning to practice with a child and after a maternity leave. I had typed a few thoughts into my iPhone on the transition in general:

  • Ask questions.   No one expects you to know what you’re doing for the first year. If a more senior associate or partner is giving you an assignment and asks you, “Have you heard of the 40 Act?” you may nod yes because you kind of remember skimming that part of the 750-page text book, but you don’t know the 40 Act. Better to pipe up and ask, “Well, what specifically about the Act as it applies to this matter?” then to be stuck in the office at 11 p.m. not knowing what you are supposed to be doing when the client wants an answer by 9 a.m. I’d argue that asking questions makes you look like a thoughtful, careful — indeed, intelligent — lawyer.
  • Worried about work/life balance? Let it evolve organically. It will become clear fairly quickly how different partners/supervisors expect assignments to be completed and how you can assess the urgency of a task. If I’m given a new task on top of a full plate, I’ll tell the partner, “I have this memo due for so-and-so tomorrow and an upcoming filing deadline. Do you think I can still get this new assignment done in the timeframe you need?” You kind of put the ball back in the senior lawyer’s court. In short: don’t freak out before you start that you won’t have a life. If you want a life, you can make it happen. But that’s a whole other post (and blog, dare I say tantalizingly?)
  • Find a peer group. As I’ve discussed previously, I found a support system of other lawyer-moms at my firm. I relied on them  heavily, on matters both professional and personal. But I think this advice can apply to new attorneys no matter where you are in life and no matter what your professional situation. Are you newly engaged, juggling wedding planning  amongst your billables? Find another attorney in the same situation. Are you single and married to your work? I’m sure you have coworkers who would love to have a beer with you at 10 p.m. after along workday.

Oh, wait, you want to hear about the crying part, don’t you. Eventually, my professor asked me about my maternity leave. She asked if I worried about taking it, and whether I was worried about transitioning back. I was prepared with tips for others, not to discuss my own situation, and she caught me off guard. Yes, I worried about going on leave, I answered:  Was I too junior? Would all of my great clients and assignments, which I had worked hard to cultivate, be given to others? Would I forget everything I had learned about tax law? When I returned, would I be able to ramp back up quickly enough to bill enough hours? Should I return part time? Full time? Flex time? In a BigLaw environment, did any of that even matter (which I sometimes suspect it does not…)?

“But I’m grateful for my firm’s generous maternity leave policy,” I said. And as I sat there, dark circles under my eyes, sleep deprived, my mind suddenly obsessed with all of my fears about returning to work, the tears arrived. I’m so, so tired (have I mentioned?). My baby is 10 weeks old and not sleeping through the night. Neither is my two-and-a-half-year-old. What if I, like most women whose companies’ leave policies are not even half as “generous” as mine, were back on the job already? What if I had to worry about keeping up with my coworkers and my assignments and my clients operating on four or five hours of sleep, worrying about who was taking care of my newborn?

Why do I have to qualify my maternity leave with the word generous?

I love being a lawyer, and, for the most part, I really like working, as I suspect many mothers who work do. Perhaps some women drop out of the workplace after having a baby because, instead of the oft-cited, “I just can’t leave my baby,” their harsh reality is that they only have four weeks maternity leave. Because society pressures them to breastfeed but doesn’t allow them the time to get their babies on a schedule, nor provides the space and time to pump milk at work. Because, even when they are senior executives, coworkers refer to their maternity leave as “vacation.”

My maternity leave shouldn’t be thought of as “generous.” It should be standard. Hell, it should be a starting point.

I cried because I’m angry.  I’m passionate about my children, and I’m passionate about my career and my education, and why won’t society support this duality?

If you haven’t read Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness, and you care about these issues, please read it. I know Warner has her critics, and I realize that she’s writing about a particular sliver of the population (highly educated, professional women), but I happen to fall into that sliver, and her book has resonated with me to a degree that surprises me in the passion and anger it has inspired. We need a movement. We need quality affordable day care. We need realistic maternity leave. And no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Maybe I can. Maybe we all — I say to you, my small but perhaps similarly inclined readership — can put our collective heads together and do something.

Stay tuned.

Asking for (hiring?) help

March 10, 2010 at 10:46 am | Posted in little bug, Little O, SAHM, Starbucks | 4 Comments
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I have an unflattering admission: I judge people. Remember how I judged those women sitting around the table at Starbucks? I immediately labeled them stay-at-home moms whiling away their mornings at Pilates and coffee while their kids were at school. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but they made me feel uneasy because while I felt slightly superior that I, a busy and important lawyer, normally had no time for sitting around at coffee* I also really wanted to be one of them. Similarly, when I lived in the city, I’d go to the playground and I’d see nannies chasing after children whose mothers I knew did not work. I can’t believe so-and-so has a full-time nanny, I’d think to myself. Almost like, why have children if you’re not going to work and yet you’re not going to take care of them? But I suspect some of my judgment masked an underlying jealousy.

Judgment isn’t pretty. Ever. And when I judge, I do so because something about the situation makes me uneasy and insecure about my own choices. Perhaps these women had nannies for an extra set of hands, enabling them, as a mother, to focus on one child at a time. Or maybe these mothers knew they were not the most patient of souls, and the nanny helped them be more calm and present. Or perhaps they just spent their days at the gym and shopping, who knows. But I get it now: if you can afford some help with your small children, why not have an extra set of eyes and hands around? An extra lap for reading stories? An extra pair of arms for hugs?

Case in point: Last night, at 6 p.m., I was wrangling Little Bug from the table to the bath, while the baby, who has in general “woken up” and now at five weeks is somewhat colicky at the end of the day, wailed away. I handed the baby to Lisa, our graduate student babysitter, who rocked and bounced him while I washed Buggy’s hair and let her linger in the tub and then got her ready for bed. Lisa then read Buggy a book while I nursed the baby, and then she burped the baby while I read to the toddler. And then it was 6:30, and everyone was relatively calm: I had not snapped at Little Bug nor sent her to time out for restless behavior. I did not spend the earlier part of the day dreading dinner and bathtime. It had been a pretty good day.

And yet, I feel a tinge of guilt. It’s not the expense — I have a very generous maternity leave and am getting paid for several months still, not to mention that the cost of a babysitter a few hours a week is literally a fraction of what we paid our wonderful, full-time nanny. It’s the admission that I can’t do myself without feeling overwhelmed. It’s the realization that I judged so many other women’s choices without knowing their backstories. 

Let’s be honest: if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t work and I’d hire a lot of childcare help.

Or would I? As I drove home from Starbucks the other day — solo, because Lisa was at home — I saw a young mother pushing an infant in a stroller and dragging along two other small children, both under 3. I was overcome with guilt and sadness — why wasn’t I out strolling my babies in the spring sun? Was grabbing a chai and writing a few thank-you notes at Starbucks while someone else held my baby the right thing

I know a lot of people reading this will offer support for hiring babysitting help. Indeed, many of my coworkers were surprised that we were not keeping our nanny through my maternity leave. But I’d also love to hear from others who feel as torn and guilty about hiring help as I do — or who perhaps have not hired (for whatever reason) some help while staying at home with children. I keep thinking: my mother did it without babysitters (she might argue that her sanity suffered?); my mother-in-law hired help only when her twins, my husband and his sister, were born — but I should add here that she already had SIX OTHER CHILDREN, the oldest of who at that point was 8 (she might argue that her sanity suffered as well!)

As I write this, Little Buggy is at preschool. Little O is home for two hours with the sitter. I have edited the resumes of my sister and aunt, signed up to be an alumni mentor at my law school, answered a dozen emails, skimmed the Times, and have written this post. Were I not doing this now, I’d be thinking for the rest of the day of getting these little tasks done. And I wouldn’t have had the chance to write. Arguably, this time will make me more focused and present this afternoon. But do I deserve this? Are the other women at Starbucks judging me? 

*This is of course not entirely true because as any regular reader knows, I hit Starbucks with my colleagues all the time.

New Beginnings

January 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Posted in little bug, Starbucks, the firm | 2 Comments
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My “vacation memo” has been distributed; my out-of-office message is on, directing all inquiries for the next six months to my secretary. And, in a stroke of brilliant timing, my firm announced on Tuesday that it finally would support iPhones, so I was in line at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning at the Apple store to (finally! finally!) acquire one.  The tech guys finished configuring it literally five minutes before I left yesterday. I’m not due back until mid-August (though I was told that if I wanted to push it until after Labor Day, that was fine too!). It felt very strange walking out that door, toting seven volumes of Tax Code regulations (which I’m sure will sit untouched in my home office for six months, but you never know…). I felt sort of — dispensable. But I am, and that’s OK. I’ll miss my work friends quite a bit — a group of smart, interesting people who have kept me laughing and functioning for the past year and a half. I won’t miss the not infrequent uncertainty that comes with the job: self-doubt and second-guessing — all self-imposed — about my abilities as a tax lawyer. In the end, though I truly like my job and my firm and being a lawyer. I’m grateful I graduated from law school in 2008 (and not 2009!) and was fully and gainfully employed during the past year-and-a-half of utter upheaval in the BigLaw world. And that my firm has such a generous maternity leave policy. I’m so lucky, I know, to have this upcoming time, this new beginning.

Now what? I guess I wait for this baby, but I’m actually not at all impatient. I vaguely remember labor and labor pains and think I’ll be ready for those this time around. The baby’s room is set up, all his little clothes have been washed in Dreft. But he’s not expected for another week or so. I wanted to begin my leave early, however, so that I could have time with my Little Bug. A week or so to focus on her, read her books, make her lunches, ballet dance around the family room, etc. I’m trying not to feel too emotional about uprooting her from her position of absolute adoration. I know she’ll love her brother, and as many of my friends have told me upon having a second child, “Your heart expands.” I know this will be true, but I can’t quite comprehend it yet. 

I’m a bit at loose ends today, then. No one has any expectations of me today, other than my family. No assignments are due, no clients or partners await me. Our beloved nanny, Janet, had her last day with us yesterday. She, too, is moving on, to a family with a newborn who will thrive in her love just as my Bug did (a family who can give her more hours than I possibly can over the next six months!) She has been taking care of Buggy since she was six weeks old (and I had to begin my third year of law school) and Buggy loves her immensely. I am so grateful to her for enabling me to walk out the door every day to work without a second thought about my daughter’s care. But for now it’s just me, and Buggy, and Tim, waiting for our little boy. 

Thanks to the new iPhone (again: hooray! I know everyone else has had one for months/years but can I just say how amazing it is?), here’s a bit of a photodocumentation of Day 1 of my new life:

Extra snuggling in mom and dad’s bed, watching “Little Bear” (as I didn’t have to be out the door at 7:30!)

Preschool drop-off

Then mom heads to, where else…

New Year’s, again

December 30, 2009 at 7:00 am | Posted in gastronomy, little bug, running, Starbucks, the firm, Uncategorized, weekend, wine, yoga | Leave a comment
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Last year my resolutions were regimented and ambitious and accompanied by this photo:

Unabashed self-improvement, complete with a killer bod. This year, when I’m quickly moving into end-of-pregnancy, out-of-breath lethargy and clearly will be starting my new year at a decided fitness disadvantage, I almost have to laugh at last year’s idealism.

So I’ll be a bit more realistic. I really do love making New Year’s resolutions — I love a challenge, and I love self-improvement. I love setting goals and diving head-first into meeting them, even if they are forgotten in a few weeks. The planning and that initial, exhilarating dive energize me.

Gretchen Rubin, who writes a blog called the Happiness Project (and has a new book out by the same name, which I pre-ordered, of course!), had some thoughtful suggestions for die-hard resolvers such as myself:

  • Ask: “What would make me happier?
  • Ask: “What is a concrete action that would bring about change?
  • Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?”
  • Ask: “Am I starting small enough?
  • Ask: “How am I going to hold myself accountable?”

With these tips in mind for 2010, I considered not that which would make me better (e.g., eat healthier, lose weight, etc.), nor anything rigidly goal-related (with a baby and a six-month work hiatus rapidly approaching, I just have no idea how anything career-related is going to sort itself out — and I’m not going to try to force anything, e.g., “bill more hours” or “turn blog into advertising bonanza”). Instead, I considered that which, simply, might make me happier.

What does actually make me truly happy? I didn’t consider the obvious yet existential stuff — such as my daughter laying her head on my shoulder or my husband rolling over and putting his arm around me in the early early mornings for a few more minutes of sleep. But almost guilty, materialistic pleasures — what if I tried to embrace these with the resolution to be, well, just happier

What makes me happy:

1.  Very very long very very hot showers. 
2.  Saturday morning yoga with Claire or Rhea at Baron Baptiste.
3.  4.5 mile runs when the stars are aligned (pleasant conditions, before breakfast or as the sun sets, a good running mix)
4.  Starbucks grande soy no foam no water chai (oh, but these are SO bad for you, so perhaps they are best saved for an occasional indulgence of which that I will try to be mindful in the moment — see #9, below).
5.  Opening a new bottle of red wine — from the sound of the cork popping, to that first swirl and smell, to pouring another glass. I love the ritual as much as anything else.
6.  Afternoon naps on the weekends (especially if they follow either #2 or #3).
7.  Friday nights, with wine, in front of the TV and a good dinner of something with pasta and cheese with Tim (though depending on how much wine, #2 or #3 may not be as pleasant).
8.  People and US Weekly.
9.  Catching myself in the present, as brief or startling as it may be: hearing a song in the car that links past to present; running; yoga; wine; reading a passage in a book or magazine or blog that strikes me as true and real. 

My friend Lindsey has been featuring a series on her blog called Present Tense, in which she asks bloggers about the moments in which they are truly present. It’s interesting to read about what the idea of “being present” means to others, and it’s also nice to know that it is as difficult for others as it is for me.

As for resolutions, then (and thinking back to last year’s), cleaning up the house and cooking  — while I enjoy the results of both, and am learning to love the process of the latter, especially with a glass of #5 in hand — don’t necessarily bring me immediate pleasure, as aspirational as they are.  Maybe, then, all of these things that do bring real relaxation and happiness serve as subconscious conduits to #9? Is that the point?

As I embark on a year that promises a few changes, the clean house will happen or it won’t (remember this post ?). Perhaps clearing a path for some of these less lofty moments – and acknowledging how much I enjoy them – can lead ultimately to #9.

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