Disclaimer

This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ask a Mom in Law School: Balancing Schedules, and Interviewing

Cross-posted at Ms. JD.

Spring Break has come to an end! I'm seven weeks away from completing my JD, and I have a rambunctious toddler who will be reeking havoc at graduation. Life is good. So, I've been asked to impart more wisdom concerning being both a parent and a law student. Readers have asked both about balancing schedules while in law school as well as when to talk about your kids.

1.) Do you have any tips for balancing law school and family life? How do you schedule your day?

Like a true Libra, I crave balance. If I do too much of anything, I’m completely off-kilter. Fortunately, I have an amazing support system that has helped get me through, but often times it’s a matter of realizing what you can and can’t get done, and just prioritizing.

My husband and I practice co-parenting, which helps tremendously, because we equally share parenting and household responsibilities. We have also depended a lot on my mom and friends who are kind enough to baby-sit. Having a good support system makes things considerably easier! Also, make the most of your time, wherever, whenever. When my daughter was a newborn, if she needed to eat at 4am, then I pulled out my textbooks and read while she ate. There are never enough hours in the day, but you can still get most of it done if you manage your time well. Flexibility is important too. You have to just understand that certain things aren’t always going to get done and that’s okay too. (The heaping piles of my laundry everywhere are a testament to such philosophy.) And don't let other people make you feel guilty because you can't do everything. That includes your partner, and your kids.

But, the big thing for me has been to focus on each thing as being a vacation from the other. When I’m at school/work, I’m there with other adults, discussing legal matters. I chat with my law school friends, I get to do real legal work at my job(s). Just overall, I get a break from home and get to be a member of society. There are no diapers to be changed, no toddler clinging to my leg and screaming for no apparent reason. No dishes to clean, no floor to sweep, no laundry to fold. Then I pick my daughter up from daycare and I go home. I get to snuggle with my kid, my husband and my Labrador (my rabbit isn’t a snuggler). We eat dinner, play with toys, go for walks, take baths, read bedtime stories, all sorts of fun stuff. We tuck the kid into bed, open a bottle of wine and solve the world’s problems or just watch some TV. There’s no one there calling on me and drilling me with questions about some case I barely read. No idiot classmates constantly volunteering to talk because they’re in love with the sound of their own voices. No one asking me to research some area of law of which I have absolutely no comprehension. Each is a refuge from the stresses of the other, making me appreciate each one more. I honestly have hated law school a lot less since having my daughter, and I would definitely be a lot less happy being a mother if I never got a break from it. Is it tough to balance both? Of course. But I’ve never been really good at focusing all of my energy on one thing, so it has worked really well for me.

This semester has been pretty mellow for me schedule-wise, and has worked out to be 9 to 5. My school day starts at either 9 or 10 and ends at noon. Then I either go to work (where I get paid) or to the internship (where I don’t get paid). I’m out before 5pm, then I pick my daughter up from daycare. My husband takes her to daycare in the morning. (I’m very spoiled in that regard, because I’m doing good to make it to class on time just by myself!) I think the toughest thing is getting the reading done. I don’t do homework until my daughter’s in bed, so starting homework at 9pm can feel pretty exhausting and makes for a long night. (Probably why I struggle to make it to class.) Also, my husband works weekends, so I don’t get much done then. But it usually works out. Last semester I had two night classes, and those were really tough. Three nights a week I’d barely make it home in time to tuck my daughter into bed, which really sucked. But it balanced out because the rest of the week was really light and I was home more during the day.

I think as long as you carefully schedule your days, it makes it more manageable. Also, it’s about quality of the time, not quantity. If you only have three hours with your family in the evenings, then maybe you don’t turn on the TV, or talk on the phone, or check your email. If you give your family your undivided attention, the time is more worthwhile.

2.) Is it appropriate to talk about your children to co-workers, potential employers, bosses, etc.?

I would recommend never ever ever discussing your children in a job interview, with very few exceptions. Mostly, it’s just not relevant to the job. When you’re at work, you’re an attorney and your work doesn’t change whether you’re partnered or not, or whether you have children or not. Employers aren’t even supposed to ask the question. But having children can certainly make a difference in the way someone views you as an applicant. They might immediately be thinking that this is a person who’s going to be taking a lot of sick days, because not only will they get sick, but their kids will get sick too. This is a person who might need to leave early to pick up kids from school, attend PTA meetings, go to soccer games and ballet recitals. And if the applicant is a woman, the presumption is that she is the children’s primary caregiver and therefore will be taken away from her job by her family obligations. Most importantly, this is a person who is devoted more to their personal life than their work. Granted, not every employer thinks that this is a bad thing. Partly because of the high attrition rate of female attorneys, and also the increasing role that modern fathers have in childrearing, many firms are beginning to recognize that work-life balance is important for their employees. Also, many employers are smart enough to realize that a happy and fulfilled employee is a productive employee, and one that is willing to stay long-term. So, they might not view parenthood as a red flag that you won’t be the ideal employee, but who knows, old prejudices die hard. You want to be judged by your skills and achievements, not someone else’s opinion of, or past experiences with, parents in the workforce.

Maybe you want to discuss your role as a parent during the interview because you’re concerned that this job might be too many hours and you don’t want to work that much and never see your family. But there are other ways to make that determination without bringing up your offspring. For example, you can ask what the average workweek is like for an associate. How many hours will you be expected to bill? How late do associates work? Do they often work weekends? Will you be expected to travel? Are there a lot of after-hour client-development events you will be required to attend? These are reasonable questions that people ask even if they have nothing to go home to except an empty fridge and an Xbox. Also, sick time, vacation time, health insurance options… those are all valid questions that all candidates want to know about, not just those of us who are parents.

So when is it appropriate to mention parenthood in an interview? First, perhaps you have a significant gap in employment on your resume because you took a couple years off to have kids and stay home with them. Just plainly state that’s what you did; there’s no need to explain much further, or give the ages of your children, etc. Second, in smaller southern cities like mine, personal connections often get you the job. If you have good connections to your potential employer through your children, maybe through church, school or sporting events, some subtle name-dropping can be beneficial. Finally, maybe you just don’t need the job that badly that you’re willing to work somewhere that isn’t enthusiastic about you being a parent. If you’re in the position to put all your cards on the table and say, look, my kids come first and I’m looking for a job that can accommodate that, then kudos to you! You’ll be able to hold out until you find the perfect fit. Unfortunately for most of us though, we don’t have that option!

Ultimately, once you get the job, there's no reason to hide the fact that you have kids. At the same time though, don’t be That Person that always talks about their kids. Of course it's okay to talk about your kids, but just like all topics, know when it's appropriate and when you're scaring people away. Total strangers don’t want to see a bunch of pictures of your kids, they don’t want to hear about Timmy’s mad softball skills, or Suzie’s straight-A report card. Certainly, if a coworker asks you in casual conversation about your kids, and you in turn ask about theirs, show pictures and swap a few stories, it might help you bond. But overall, keep kid talk to a minimum with casual work acquaintances until you actually consider that person a “friend” who honestly wants to talk about your kids. Kid talk can be a springboard to bond with others, but don’t let it be a crutch to developing professional relationships. You love your kids, you think they’re totally awesome. But trust me, no one cares as much as you do! Even other parents!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Finding Satisfaction


http://www.classictvquotes.com/gallery/ted.html

Before I started law school, I had this idea that I was going to be a brilliant, rich and important international business lawyer, jet-setting around the world, furthering the goals of American imperialism through its capitalist endeavors. Drinking bottles of Roederer Cristal in a private jet on the way to 5-star resorts... Okay, so maybe those were my wildest dreams. In my more conceivable dreams I thought I'd be working as in-house counsel for some local corporation with an international market. Even knowing that probably wasn't as sexy as my wildest dreams, more like working in some basement cubicle reading thousand-page contracts by the light of a single dim bulb, but hey, I'd still be brilliant and rich, right? Heh.

Then I went to law school. I soon realized that my brilliance was quite doubtful, I'd likely be taking a pay cut from being a secretary (and have tripled my student loan debt), and I will never be important whatsoever. (Also, I realized I hate corporate law in all respects.) Anyway, law school has a way of either over-inflating your ego if you're at the top of your class, making you believe you are some sort of demi-god of jurisprudence, or making you feel like you should drop out and pick up a job application at a burger joint if you're in the bottom 90% with the rest of us. Most of the time it's somewhere in the middle of those two feelings (and usually closer to the latter), but it's a constant roller coaster. However, if you let it get you down, you end up feeling like Ted from Scrubs (pictured above), standing on top of Sacred Heart Hospital, wondering why you don't even have the balls to jump, ending the misery of your pathetic existence. (No coincidence that the vast majority of my law school chums are on prescription antidepressants.)

When I was pregnant, a friend brought up the subject of the potential for post-partum depression after delivery, and I replied that I'm in law school, how would I even tell the difference? Would I cry less? Seriously though, I've struggled during law school to regain my self-confidence. I used to be a pretty confident person, certain of my abilities while still aware of my weaknesses. Balanced and zen-like. (Okay, maybe not zen-like.) However, law school overall has made me feel like Ted, awkward, lacking confidence, not feeling like a worthwhile individual capable of contributing something meaningful to society. Not to the ledge-jumping point like Ted, but still pretty damn demoralized with many more failures than successes.

But this semester, I think I've recovered from the brutality of law school on my surprisingly-fragile psyche. Part of that has to do with actually having a job lined up after graduation (and a job in areas of law I'm actually excited about practicing), and part of it has to do with the internship I've done this semester with the prosecutor's office that I've absolutely loved, but I really feel like I've just gotten excited about practicing law again. Today really brought all of that home. I was working on this new med mal/nursing home negligence case we have [at my current clerking job], a rare case for us because we do products liability almost exclusively, and it just struck me that I know what I'm doing, I'm pretty good at it, and best of all, I was enjoying it. I know tort law, I know med mal, and I've read enough medical records over the years that I know what I'm reading and I know what to look for. And it felt good. No, I couldn't handle the whole case start to finish and be absolutely brilliant. But I don't have to be. I just have to know what I'm doing, and continue learning as I begin my career. It's a good feeling. I'm feeling much more balanced and zen-like, and less unhinged and Ted-like.

No, law school didn't really teach me that, not completely. But maybe it's like being in the military, where they break your spirit in boot camp, so they can build you back up to be a soldier. (Only without the building-you-back-up part, they just send you out into the world to practice law, doped up on antidepressants, probably having some sort of chemical dependency problem. Anyway.) So now I dream about being a "grown-up lawyer": someone tough and smart, quick-witted and articulate, who stares down her opponents with an icy glare and bends them to her will. Maybe I'll never be that, at least not completely, but hopefully I can just be a good lawyer. Maybe I'll make some money, maybe I'll go into public interest law somewhere down the road, but for right now, I'll take being a "baby lawyer," getting that "Esq." after my name and getting my feet wet. A steady paycheck don't hurt, either.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Spring Break!


Hat model


Toys


Tormenting Bella with her love


I'm posting at 3am. Why? It's Spring Break! And I don't have to go to class. Yippee!

I actually made it out to see a movie tonight. I went for the geek choice (Watchmen), rather than an Oscar pick. Awesome movie, that stays very true to the graphic novel. (And I totally want Silk Spectre's f- me boots.)

Cora is so much fun these days. We had a really great day, where she was in a really good mood and giggling and just a joy. That really isn't most days lately, however. She's usually full of toddler angst, where she throws her head back and loudly laments my poor parenting skills/the unfairness of life in general. I think the terrible twos have come earlier than expected. But oh well.

This week I'm going to work, going to trial, going to Boofoo to finalize my employment deal with Boss Dude and throwing a baby shower for a friend who's having her first baby. I have two other friends who are having second babies, and two others who will be starting to try to have babies here soon. I, however, am happy with one. Husband's biological clock is ticking again, but he can wait until he grows a uterus. I have a bar exam to take, a new job to start, and I'll be living by myself (or alone with a toddler) most of the time.

Anyway, hope everyone's having a happy spring break. I guess I should go to bed now. I do have to be at work at noon!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Decisions

I had the lunch interview today, which was interesting. We had lunch at this really swanky restaurant that I haven't been to in over 7 years (I actually met my husband at this place, the location of our friends' wedding reception). Lunch was quite good, and I really like the attorney. He's a really chatty guy, there were no awkward silences, that's for sure. And I have lovely table manners, thanks to my etiquette training. Anyway, he said I was the only person he's interview so far and he hadn't planned on making a decision for a couple months. I plan on calling him up the beginning of next week and letting him know that I have an offer, so if he plans on making me an offer, speak up now. Honestly though, unless he makes me an offer I couldn't possibly refuse, I'm taking the original offer.

I emailed First Dude on Tuesday, expressed my excitement about the offer and asked a few questions about the benefits package (I wanted to know more about the insurance policy, what it covers, etc., and about the retirement plan, so I can properly value the offer he's made me). I also did some checking on him, and he has an excellent reputation in the legal community, both out there and with the defense attorneys (who are mainly in our city). So I feel really good about the job. I also explained the situation with Husband having another year of school, and told him that while I really hope this will be a long-term commitment, there's the possibility that Husband might not find work in the area (even though he'll be a nurse practitioner, his specialty is really narrow). I wanted to disclose that possibility so there aren't any surprises, and definitely not hard feelings. It would be one thing if it were some mid-size firm that has a revolving door of associates. But the guy's a solo practitioner, and he's about to invest a lot of time and money into me, so I don't want him to think I'll definitely be working there for the next decade when I might only work there one or two years because Husband ends up with a job somewhere crazy. I know I probably shouldn't have said anything about it, but that's something that really pisses lawyers off is when their associates up and leave. Since the legal profession, at least here, is so much about reputation, I don't want to risk bad blood with my first boss. I didn't tell him that I'd still be willing to commute or anything, I just wanted to throw the possibility out there that Husband's job might take us somewhere else.

Anyway, I haven't heard back from him yet, but we're going to take a trip out there next week during Spring Break and tour the area, get to know it a little better. One of my law school friends just introduced me to a 2L she's friends with who's from the town. She said she'd be there over the summer and could help me find an apartment, etc. I'm pretty excited, I think I'm really going to like the job. Husband is going to try to do his clinicals at a hospital out there and even if he can't, he only has 12 hours of clinicals a week, so he and Cora can spend a few days of the week there with me. Once I get settled in out there, and make sure I'm not working crazy hours or anything, I'm going to apply for a part-time adjunct position at the local community college teaching either history or political science. It's something I've been wanting to do, but there really aren't any jobs here (again, saturated market).

So, that's that. I have a meeting with the career services dean tomorrow to discuss our annual international career panel, so I was also going to discuss the job with her. I think it's a good offer, but hearing others say so too reinforces it.

Anyway, two days until my Nonprofit Orgs midterm disaster. We can at least bring in our outlines and tax supplement, but it's still going to be epic fail. I plan on drinking a lot afterwards, and then enjoying my Spring Break. Oh, and sobering up in time to try a case next Thursday. Win! (Well, hopefully.)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wanted

Somebody wants me. It's nice to be wanted.

I got a job offer from the dude I interviewed with a couple weeks ago, the one 2 hours away in the NE part of the state. It is a really good offer.

I still have another interview on Wednesday, which is really promising since that dude is taking me to lunch at a really swanky place, so I figure he must be serious about me.

I need to talk more to Dude about the job and iron out a few things. For instance, Dude has offered to pay my bar review fees and relocation costs. That's a good chunk of change. So, what happens if like, I don't pass the bar ::knock on wood:: or something awful like I am projectile vomiting at the time of the bar exam, can't take it and have to wait until February? Also, does he want me to sign a contract locking me in for a certain number of years? You know, stuff like that.

The money itself could be higher. I think if Dude I'm Having Lunch With makes me an offer, his will be significantly more money (although the benefits will be lower). Also, even though his main office is 2 hours away as well, he has a local office and another office 1 hour away. A friend who used to work with him said she went to the main office once a week and worked locally the rest of the time. So, we'll see. I would enjoy the first job more, and I'd get courtroom time and a wide variety of stuff. The other job is whiplash law.

Anyway, I'm freaking out, like, a lot, about the prospects. Husband still has one more year on his degree, mainly clinicals during the week, and his regular job on the weekends. So, I'd stay in out there during the week, getting an apartment there, and come home on the weekends. The question would be who would take Cora. Husband is adamant he will not move to boofoo on a permanent basis, and really, I'm not keen on the idea either. I want Cora to go to school here, not there. But it's not like I have to stay there forever if we don't like it.

So, I feel a little better at least having options. Of course, the PMF thing, I guess, is still a possibility, but I'm not sure I want to work for the federal government when they can't even tell me if I'm a finalist yet, the RSVP date for the job fair is a week away, and the job fair in DC is two weeks away. I mean, seriously people. Do they have any idea how much last-minute airfare to DC is going to cost? I have a free place to stay, but still. It's all a little troublesome. Plus, Dude wants me to make a decision soon, and if I take his offer then I won't be doing PMF anyway.

I feel really good about the Dude (other than the locale), but I've been burned before. Attorneys have a way of hiding their insanity until you're locked in to working for them and give up other opportunities to take the job. This psycho bitch I worked for very briefly had everyone who knew her casually that she was bubbly and nice and sane. I turned down another job I had already accepted to take the job with her. Yeah... whoops. Turns out she drank a lot of that Mr. Hyde elixir and turned into a complete psycho when I started working for her.

Dude did give me the name of one guy who used to work for him to call as a reference for him. Which is nice. I feel a little weird calling him up, but I'll probably do it. I'm sure the guy isn't going to be like, Don't work for Dude, he's crazy! because otherwise, he wouldn't have given me his name, but it might be nice to get some perspective.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Week in review

What's been going on:

1. All dressed up with nowhere to go. My trial got canceled, the defendant took a plea. I'm used to that in civil. Working all weekend, preparing for trial, just to have it settle right before. Bah. I had my opening all ready to go, I was all ready to fight defense counsel on admitting stupid statements defendant made after being read Miranda rights... oh, I was going to be brilliant. Much sadness.

2. Come-to-Jesus talks. We're at the torch-and-pitchfork phase of revolt against our nonprofits professor. As had several of my classmates already, I addressed the issues with the professor about our excessive reading assignments and our excessive group projects (that get assigned on Tuesday and we have to present on Friday). Our reading for this past Tuesday was 119 pages. Normally the readings are between 40-50 pages of dense, awful business/tax material. Then we have these group assignments, where we have to coordinate between four of us who have completely different schedules and are rarely available, to work on this stuff that ends up being incredibly time-consuming. One assignment a couple weeks ago was a drafting assignment of 7 different policies, it ended up being over 40 pages long. The legal drafting class doesn't have drafting assignments that long. It's insane. And we have a midterm next Friday. So, after being told by the professor that, you know, attorneys have a lot to do, and coordinating with other people is good practice for the "real world" (as though I've never been in the real world... yeah, thanks), I had a heart-to-heart with the associate dean. He'd received plenty of complaints about old dude already, like the fact that he rarely actually teaches or goes over the material, the most instruction we get is when we present the group assignments. And we've had three guest speakers so far, only one of which was actually worthwhile. We'll see if anything gets done. The 3L's who only need 2 credit hours have been given the option to drop the class and pick up an independent study. Sadly, I need 3 hours to graduate.

3. Birthday destruction. My husband's 31st birthday was Friday. We got sushi, went to another friend's birthday party briefly (he was trashed by the time we left him at 9pm), to go home to greet our own guests. Mom took Cora overnight so she would not be disturbed by the partying. Husband got ridiculously trashed, did his usual wandering out into the cold (he thinks being outside walking around will prevent him from throwing up... he is mistaken), and spent the rest of the night on the downstairs bathroom floor, hugging the toilet. He swears he wants a more subdued birthday next year. He says that every year, and every year it's the same.

I, on the other hand, stayed sober. (I figured one of us probably should.) But I still had a good time. I spent a good portion of the evening at the party watching hilarious music videos on youtube (like the one below). I love the cameo by Justin Timberlake. His music's rather dull, but he's a fantastic comedian (remember Dick in a Box?).



My week ahead is thankfully calmer than usual. It is the calm before the storm (of next week's midterm). But after that midterm? Spring Break! Woohoo!!! (I'll be spending the entire week outlining, but oh well.)