For eight years, I worked as a full-time litigation attorney at a medium sized law firm in downtown Fort Worth while raising my three small children. It felt like a disaster. Every day I felt like the obligations of my existence were busting at the seams as I tried unsuccessfully to balance the demands of being an attorney, a wife, and a mother. About two years ago, I left firm-life for what I thought would be a utopian existence of being a full-time mother and a part-time attorney. My image of paradise was almost immediately shattered by reality. Instead, I found myself juggling the demands of being a full-time mother and a part-time attorney.
Did I make the right decision? Absolutely. It was definitely the right decision for me and for my family. But, I’ll admit that not everything turned out the way I wanted it. For example, I’m typing this article from the waiting room of my daughter’s orthodontist. The term “multi-tasking” has never meant so much to me before now.
In the old days at the firm, I would drop of my kids and head to the office, where put in a full day of billing in addition to a business luncheon here and there, before I met the nanny at the house and took over my part-time parenting duties. My days are now more complicated, different everyday, and not at all what I would have expected. Today’s schedule is just a mere glimpse into my strange and segmented daily life:
This morning I dropped off my kids at school around 8:00 a.m. and then headed into my modest law office to meet with a client for fifteen minutes and check email. At 9:15 a.m. I drove back to school to pick up my daughter for her orthodontist appointment at 9:45 a.m. After this appointment, I will drop off my daughter at her school at 10:30 a.m. and then arrive back to the office around 10:45 a.m. to catch up on emails and begin working on a will for a new client. An hour later, I will leave the office to meet a colleague for lunch. At 1:15 p.m., I will likely pop back into the office to check email and continue working on the will and ancillary estate documents. At 2:30 p.m., I will grab the files I need to work on this evening and drive back to the school to pick up my kids. After I pick them up, I will swing by the post office to drop of mail and check my mailbox. The kids typically whine and groan about having to get in and out of the car, officially marking the end of the professional part of my day, except I have a conference call at 4:15 p.m. Eventually, I will arrive back at our home around 3:25 p.m. with a car full of hungry children. We immediately start with homework and snacks. Luckily, they are all in school and able to entertain themselves and do their homework almost exclusively on their own, so I can sit at our dining room table and continue working on the estate documents I had in front of me this morning. At 4:15 p.m., my client will call, so I have to wave my arms frantically in the air and yell to the kids, “Everyone be quiet! I’m taking a client call!” By this point in my legal career, they understand what I mean and they all zip their mouths as I press “Accept” on my iPhone. After the phone call, I will hang up the phone, jot down some notes on my pad of paper, and close my laptop. I still have to check homework, read a book with my kindergartener, and then start on dinner while fielding additional questions from my kids about snacks and permission to play video games. Of course, my housekeeper side will also jump into action at this point, and I rotate laundry, do the dishes, set the table for dinner, and order the kids to clean their room before playing any more video games. From this point forward, my life was actually pretty similar to my days as a law-firm attorney, except we ordered dinner to be delivered more than I ever cooked, and to be honest, we still order in more than we should. After my husband arrives home (somewhere between 6 and 7), we will have dinner, do dishes (again), and then get kids ready for bed. That leaves me just a couple hours before bed to either spend time with my husband or to work more on my laptop. I haven’t decided which choice I will make at this point. Oh, and let’s not forget the hours of sports practice, scouting meetings, and music lessons that usually follow our daily homework. Add those into the mix, and the day just becomes messier and more demanding, while I squeeze in a phone call here and an email there.
The purpose of detailing my fluctuating daily routine is to show you that my image of paradise is not as perfect as I originally thought. Being out on my own (even with a partner) means that I’m the number one child caregiver, the number one client contact, the number one household organizer and housekeeper. My husband contributes, don’t get me wrong, but if we need to have the plumber come by or a kid is sick, I’m the one that can most conveniently work from home. I’m the one who has a flexible job. I’m the one who juggles the client meetings and makes it all work. This is a wonderful gift and one of the main benefits of becoming my own boss. The problem is that there is no safety net, and the demands of clients are still very real and very urgent.
If you add up the time during my day that I spent working, you will see that I only have the opportunity to solidly work for approximately three hours the entire day. Of course, not all of that time is billable, and I recognize that there are other opportunities for me to take phone calls and respond to emails when I’m not at the office. Nonetheless, the truth is that I work just as hard as I did before to make all the demands of being an attorney and a mother work together as a perfect symphony of tasks and obligations.
It should probably go without saying that not everyone’s experience is the same as mine, but being a part-time attorney is definitely not a walk in the park when you add in all the other demands of life.