Many women experience the same fear of returning to work after they have a baby. Even the most driven women are surprised to find the drive to succeed has vanished after the baby's birth. The maternal instinct to care for your baby kicked in a lot harder and faster than expected. What to do?
Everyone is different. Do not compare yourself to others and be honest with your feelings. The greatest disservice to your child and family is an unhappy mother. Look deep inside and figure out what is the right path for you. There are sacrifices to be made on both ends. If you cut back on work, then your career will be affected significantly but to the benefit of your child. And if you return to work, you will likely feel guilt for leaving your child. Whatever you decide, go in with full force and have no regrets for your decision.
The full-time working mom.
Many women need to work and return to the workforce after maternity leave ends (if not sooner). Or, perhaps they need the break from a crying baby and want to return to work. Or, the drive to succeed never left. For these women, your career is truly your second child. Your supervisors are going to wait and see if you will be able to handle the same kind of responsibility you had before the baby’s birth. Although employment laws protect mothers, the reality is many women do not return to work with the same intensity and are not as “valuable” as they once were. The first year of life for your baby is also going to be the most difficult one for your career. Figuring out the balance between career and baby and even family is a real challenge. If your dream is to become a partner in a law firm or obtain a high-level in-house position like General Counsel or an equivalent high-powered position, you truly have to leave your home life at home. You need to put the same amount of dedication into your profession as you had before the baby.
What does that mean? If you are an associate, that means you need to accept every assignment that is offered, work the same amount of hours as before (if that’s nights and weekends, then it will be nights and weekends), interview and train junior associates and staff, meet with new and existing clients, write articles, etc. etc. While you are at work your focus is advancing your career and doing everything possible to ensure it happens. Do not put pressure on yourself to resume where you left off. Ease into it by setting goals for yourself for the first, second and third months back at work. For instance, during your first month set the goal of working 80% of the number of hours per month as your monthly average. So if you typically bill 185 hours per month, then make sure to bill at least 150 hours during your first month.
You must compartmentalize your life. There is a time for being a mommy, and there is a time to be an attorney. If you have a nanny or take your child to day-care, instruct the person who is watching over your child to call you only in the event of an emergency, such as a high fever, terrible rash, etc. You owe it to yourself to have as little distraction as possible. What that means is that you need to do the groundwork to make sure you trust the caretaker 100%. You have to understand no one is going to take care of your child like you. That being said, there are plenty of people who will take very good care of your child and make sure that s/he is happy and healthy. Spend a lot of time with the caretaker prior to returning to work so that you are comfortable knowing your child is in good hands. Ideally, in the event of an emergency, there should be another person (parent/grandparent/friend/partner) who can assist in managing the child until you return home. If you have a solid support system in place before returning to work, you will be much more effective at work.
Once you leave work, the same level of focus and attention should be put into your family. It will be difficult to juggle career and family for the first year or so. Be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to experience guilt for leaving your child and for leaving work.
All of this will pay off in the end. Statistically, women who are capable of balancing their career and family are the most fulfilled. Furthermore, they will not have to take a step back in their careers as a sacrifice for their family. These women understand and accept no situation is perfect, but the family will thrive as long as the mother is happy and setting a good example for her children.
The part-time attorney.
After having a baby, many women try to work part-time and or do not return to work until their children are in school. If you are one of the rare cases of women who can work part-time, that is terrific. But, you still have to understand that you are compromising your position within your law firm or organization. Many firms/organizations offer the same level of health care benefits to their part-time employees. When times are tough, you will run the risk of being one of the first people to be let go since your cost is the equivalent to that of a full-time employee. Further, law firms tend to let go anyone not considered a “superstar” in tough times. And while you might be a brilliant and talented attorney, you are still only able to work a certain number of hours per week and your position is compromised within the firm.
On the hand, there are firms who tout themselves as being highly supportive women working part-time. Working Mother magazine lists the top 50 Best Law Firms for Women (http://www.workingmother.com/BestCompanies/node/1421/list/271). I do believe there are some very rare cases where a woman can work on a part-time basis and not have compromised her career. She is still on partner track (although it would take a few more years) and has the same respect as her full-time peers. This is not the norm and difficult to achieve. If you can work part-time in such an environment, you too will be happy and have made a wonderful sacrifice for your family.
The full-time mom returning to practice after a hiatus.
Many women do not want to return to work, and do take a hiatus from practicing law for several years. When you decide to return to practice, you must understand you simply do not have the same skill set. And while you were away, associates junior to yourself are now at your level and are your current competition. The market may have changed, and the need for someone with your experience may have diminished dramatically. For instance, if you were a corporate attorney in 2007 and now returning to the practice of law after a two-year hiatus, you will be surprised to find that it is VERY difficult to find a job as corporate attorney. You will need to be very patient with the job search as it could take many, many months – even years. You must be open to the type of work you seek and do not expect to be compensated at the same level you were. As with the corporate attorney example, this person needs to apply to all kinds of positions - litigation, real estate, employment, etc. In an interview, not only do you have to prove your enthusiasm in returning to work but also your dedication to practicing law. Employers will be weary of hiring you for fear you really are not dedicated to practicing and will quit to return home. And once you do start working, even in a position you are less than thrilled with, you must put 110% of your energy into your career. If the firm expects you to bill 160 hours per month, you should work 180. Immediately make your presence known in the organization and reach out to every supervisor with whom you may work. Accept all assignments offered. For the first 6-12 months of your career, you must be a superstar and prove your value. The effort will pay off. Even though the type of work is less than ideal, your supervisors will respect you and treat you very well. And, eventually you will be able to shape your career.About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.