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The Making of a Lawyer: Work-Life Balance while Raising a Family

August 18, 2011

I’m now back in Philly (home sweet home), and the beginning of the school year is just around the corner. This week has been a flurry of activities for orientation for the incoming 1L class.  I’m serving as an orientation leader this year, and yesterday’s theme for our small group discussion was: “Creating a Healthy Lifestyle.” Often, students come to law school and they can quickly develop many unhealthy habits due the stress of 1L year. Those habits can continue throughout your law school career, and even into one’s future legal career.

So how does one find that elusive work-life balance? Does it exist? And what are the challenges that face today’s students? And the extreme: is work-life balance possible with a family?

Today, I was informed about an article that appeared on the Philly Inquirer regarding Philly-MAMA, Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association of Philadelphia. Tanishka Cruz of Drexel Earle Mack School of Law ’12, was highlighted in this article as she spoke about her experience raising a child while attending law school.  

Cruz learned she was pregnant as she got her acceptance into law school. Although she deferred her entrance for a year, she jumped into 1L year with both feet running while her son was less than a year old.  Recently, she was awarded a diversity scholarship through the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. When Cruz discovered Philly-MAMA, she began attending as a forum to network and seek support from other mother attorneys in the community. According to Philly-MAMA’s website, the group was founded in 2009 in an effort to empower mothers and encourage them to succeed while celebrating their roles as attorneys and mothers. Currently, MAMA chapters exist in MAMA chapters exist in Austin, San Diego, Honolulu, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and the founding city, Seattle.

When speaking with Cruz earlier, she mentioned that the group is exploring how the previous culture that existed in the legal community was one that encouraged long hours and face time with senior attorneys; however, that culture/perception is starting to shift, and as future attorneys, law students should consider how this culture/perception is changing. Personally, I think that in many ways, the legal community is undergoing a series of growing pains/shifts: one of which is this greater emphasis on work-life balance. Attorneys are human beings as well (even those who are super moms), and they need to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in order to help themselves, their families, their communities, and all the way to their clients. Everyone wins.

Although there’s a section in the aforementioned Inquirer article that mentions Cruz’s experience at a summer placement job fair, she qualified that statement to me by stating that, “I’ve just gotten to the point in my life where I have decided that if I have to try to hide the fact that I am married or that I have a child, it’s not a job for me.” When I commented that it was unfortunate that women have to face these sort of choices, she gently reminded me that men are not immune to the struggles/pressures of maintaining a work-life balance while raising a family. In reality, men who choose to take time from work through the FMLA or even just spend extra time with their families are often criticized and considered to have committed career suicide. Although there is greater awareness and a lot of talk regarding work-life balance within the legal community, it is difficult to find employers who can ‘walk the walk’ regarding work-life balance.

Is it possible to be the best possible lawyer while being the best possible mom or dad? I feel like in today’s society, the two goals are not synchronous. Are there any mom-lawyers or dad-lawyers (or lawyers-to-be) who can provide some feedback?

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