Tuesday, August 31, 2010

FAQ: Should I Have a Baby in Law School?

I was sitting down to write my new "Frequently Asked Questions" page when I realized two things. One, this question must be included as it is by far the most frequent email that I get from readers, and two, that the answer is way too long to put in an FAQ. So I'm going to write out my thoughts here and then link to it along with a crib notes version on the other page.

If I wanted to be both rude and completely honest my answer would be, "I have absolutely no idea whether you should have a baby in law school." That question is so deeply personal and the answer depends on so many things that only you can know. But I understand the impulse to ask it because in the middle of my 1L year I sent out four emails to women I didn't know, but who the dean of students told me had had babies in law school, and each of them were nice enough to write back. I knew even then they couldn't tell me what to do or how to do it, but that's not really what I was looking for, nor do I really think that's what the people who email me are looking for- I just wanted to know that someone had done it and that I wasn't completely crazy for wanting to do it too.

So instead, I usually ask that if you took law school out of the equation entirely, would you still want to have a baby now? And if the answer is yes- if you are in a very solid place with your significant other, if you are in a financial position to support a child, if you think you are ready to take that enormous leap into a physically and emotionally exhausting unknown- then don't let law school stop you. If there is anything I've learned from having Landon it's that there is never a perfect time to have a baby and that you can do far more on far less sleep than you ever imagined possible.

And law school can be a great time for lots of reasons. You have the flexible schedule of a graduate student. Yes there's lots of work to do, but it really doesn't matter when you do it. Our first year with Landon was very difficult and there were a lot of doctor's visits involved and I am so glad I was a student and not a full-time attorney while trying to take him to all of them. I continue to be glad that I have had to balance my family and my career from day 1 and that was able to be at the firm for nearly two full years before taking my first maternity leave.

As for any advice I'd give, this is once again hard because it is so personal. So with many grains of salt and the huge caveat of "every situation is different," here is what I'd say to a good friend if she asked me for my thoughts:

1. Wait until after 1L year. 1L is so difficult- you're learning a new way to read, think, and write and it took 98% of my time and energy to stay afloat by the end of that year. I think I was very nearly clinically depressed by Spring quarter and I cannot imagine wading through that while being pregnant or caring for a newborn.

2. Make friends. Always a good idea and not one you should do with ulterior motives, but this is another reason why I'd recommend waiting until after 1L year, particularly if you're in a new city. The friends I made 1L year are the reason I was able to graduate law school at the end of 3L year (really) and they also gave me reasons to look back on that year and smile. They were amazing- my support and my family in a city where we arrived knowing no one.

3. Arrange for more childcare than you think you'll need. Originally, I thought I would only need 20 hours of childcare for Landon- after all, I was only in class for 12, sure I wouldn't need much more than that! Yeah, no. The idea of studying at home while watching your baby sounds great, but I found it nearly impossible. Babies are jealous and demanding masters. Landon knew when I was looking at a law book instead of him and he didn't like it. Also, I came to love the newfound separation between school and home, which was excellent practice for my future as a lawyer mom. I rarely took books home 3L year and instead got to spend all of my home time just playing with my baby boy. (Though I did write most of a 35 page research paper while he slept on my chest after a surgery.) I also used that childcare time to make phone calls, talk to professors (those relationships were invaluable when I had to drop nearly all my classes Fall Quarter because of our DCFS nightmare), and see my friends. I learned early that making time for yourself and your friends is still important- really, even more important than before.

4. Stay positive and trust in yourself. This applies to anyone having a baby at any time, but it's particularly important when you're also in grad school and most people think you are insane for purposefully getting pregnant. Once people found out I was expecting it seemed like all they wanted to tell me was how hard babies are and, from what I could tell, how horrible it was going to be. And those were all people who had kids! Family, strangers, it didn't seem to matter- I quite seriously couldn't figure out why any of them had more than one child if it was so bad. So, while of course it's going to be hard, and of course you can't really understand how hard it's going to be until you do it, it is also completely wonderful and if no one else will tell you that, I will. Also, you know yourself, your spouse, and your personal situation better than anyone else, don't forget that.



The last thing I can say is maybe the most important. If given the choice to do things over, and even if the universe could guarantee that I would get to have the exact same Landon 3-4 years later, I wouldn't change a thing about the timing of his birth. I found being pregnant while working to be much harder than being pregnant as a law student. And while there have been days where I wished I was a carefree new associate who didn't have to (and desperately want to) get home to see her kids before bed, I think it has been a huge benefit in figuring out how to manage my career from the beginning.

So that's my extremely long answer to a question that really can't be answered. I hope that maybe a little piece of it will help someone looking for an answer of their own.

20 comments:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with much of this! I'd change a few answers for myself - since, obviously, I was pregnant my entire 1L year and found that it worked for me (though it was my second child, which changes a lot, since I already knew what I was getting into and was already managing one child at home). But you really hit the nail on the head. What I tell people who gaze at me slack-jawed as a mother of two young children in law school is - DUDE. Unless you are an independently wealthy woman who sits on a cushion all day, there is never an easy or convenient time to have a child. Even for women who stay home all of the time, you will never suddenly have a nine month period when you don't have lots of work to do. Kids are tough to include in your day-to-day no matter where you are in life. So if you're ready for them now, have them now. (though do avoid exam time if possible!)

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  2. Amanda in Austin8/31/10, 8:10 PM

    I totally agree (though I'll be *starting* law school with a 5yo and 3yo.) Having children is the reason I am able to manage my time so well. I became a Mom, by choice, at 22. I currently stay-at-home (former teacher-daycare nearly negates my pay) and I know I only get a few hours after they go to bed, so I make the most of it. I fully intend to use full-time daycay :-) as a part of my support system while in school. Hopefully, when I get home in the evening, I'll be home--if that makes sense. I truly appreciate your realistic perspective. It is great to hear from other mothers who wouldn't change a thing, because having a baby really does change everything!

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  3. My answer is easy: Yes. (With the caveats that you mentioned above, of course -- you have to be personally and financially ready to have a baby.) For me law school was nearly the perfect time. My schedule was so flexible and I had so much time to spend with K, yet I still felt like I was using my brain and being very productive. I don't think there will ever be such an ideal time again. I don't know anyone who has regretted having a baby during law school.

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  4. Thanks so much for posting your take on this. I found your blog last year while googling "pregnant summer associate" and have been reading ever since. I'm now 6 mos pregnant and about to start 3L year. (Due date is during finals... oh well.) It *is* nice to just hear/read stories about people who make it work -- and you make it work with style, humor, and such a positive outlook that it's really inspiring for the rest of us!

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  5. I wholeheartedly agree with you too. My daughter was born smack in the middle of 2L and while maternity leave is AWESOME (you don't get that as a law stuident - I only took 2 weeks off from classes after O's birth but had started catching up on work when she was a few days old), it is ONE THOUSAND times easier to parent as a student compared to as a practicing attorney. I think the key thing is that there never is a perfect time to have a baby. There will always be positives and negatives to the situation. As a lawyer, you obviously have income and great leave benefits. But you aren't your own master. So once you go back, your tied to the Blackberry and billable hours. You're also competing with other attorneys (yes, there are grades at law firms), many of whom have no strings attached (i.e. no kids). Sometimes, it feels hard to compete. As a student, you have no money. But you're only accountable to yourelf. Your study habits are your own business, as are your grades.

    If I were to go back in time, I can tell you that without a doubt I absolutely would have a baby in law school all over again. However, I'm not so sure I actually would have gone to law school, as the law is a very demanding career and it can be difficult to balance with kids if you want to be a really hands on parent.

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  6. My comment is going to be totally different from everyone else. I graduated law school in 2006 and I had a baby in 2008, while I was working as a trial attorney. My answer to "should I have a baby in law school?" is 100% no. Law school was a really tough time for me. I second LL's comment about being borderline clinically depressed during 1L year. I can't imagine having an infant during such an intellectually and emotionally challenging time. Law school is hard, plain and simple, and anyone who tells you that it isn't, either goes to a super easy school, is a genunine genious, or doesn't give a shit. I really don't think there is a good reason to have a kid during such a tumultuos time. Having a baby is a wonderful and exciting time but also requires a huge shift in your life. My advice is focus on school while you are in school and wait to have a baby until you in a more stable situation.

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  7. I like what you said about taking law school out of the equation and asking if you want to have a baby, and not letting law school stop you. Of course, you and your future baby's parent have to be on the same page and 100% on board about the timing. Ahem. I have found this, not law school, to be the #1 hurdle in family planning.

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  8. Just let me weigh in on a different angle. As a litigator who spent my precious child rearing years in law school and at the firm, I am looking back wishing I had those years back. My child is grown and gone, the firms are gone, the jobs are gone. No firm will ever be as faithful and loving to you as your family. No firm needs your time and talent as much as your family. There is so much time to accomplish the education and kudos from the partners but a mother's time with her child is so brief. They grow up and move away and all a mother is left with is the time sheets of billable hours.

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  9. I think you give good advice, my only additional comment would be not just to wait until 1L is over, but wait until the summer after is over as well. That first summer job is so important. When post-1Ls return to start their second year as 2Ls, they are different than when they left school just a few months earlier. That first job, the application of skills to the real world, it just seems invaluable. I had my son in that summer, and the rest of law school felt like I was playing catch up. Even though I was doing well before the end of the first year, I never did feel as competant as my fellow students after having missed that summer opportunity. It was much harder to find a 2nd summer job as well, since that's often dependant on what you did/what's on your resume from the summer before. It's such a disadvantage to miss that summer - wait if you can until the 2L year starts.

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  10. I fully endorse baby-having during law school! I got pregnant during my 2L summer, and had baby during last semester of 3L year. Profs were fully supportive during my bed rest, and with the fact that I took off 5 weeks from classes. And, no one (profs) expected much when I did return to school, either. Basically, all that matters is the final exam, and you can cram that studying into the two weeks of finals period -- and be done! By 3L year, I was able to arrange my schedule to have classes just on two days, and was able to get accommodations for final exams so that I could pump. Then, after graduating, I took a year off. It was such a natural "break" that no employer blinked twice. Getting two summers in and having baby during 3L year (such that you can probably even take a longer break afterward) is about as ideal as it gets, in my book. My caveat is that I was always interested in public interest law, and trusted that a job would come along when it was right. I didn't try to have everything lined up, which was a luxury, I know. It worked out, though! My advice? Have a baby your 3L year. Take as much time as you can because you simply won't regret it (and the student loan companies have no problem deferring your loan payments with a simple telephone call). There is always time to work ;-)

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  11. I agree with most of what you say, although I cannot yet compare and contrast mom-student with mom-attorney, so I don't know for certain that it is "easier" in law school.
    I feel like there are two main reasons I wanted to talk to people who had babies in law school: 1. to make sure that having a baby didn't necessarily stop them from pursuing the career they would have wanted if they never had a baby, and 2. to hopefully glean some advice about ways they made it work or what helped them get through the tough parts.

    And definitely, DEFINITELY, my biggest logistical regret is not arranging for any childcare outside of the hours I was in class. Worst GPA of law school that semester with a newborn.

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  12. After trying unsuccessfully for two years, I find myself unexpectedly pregnant as a 2L. I currently have a great offer for a summer associate position, but my due date is (of course) the middle of May. What should I do about the offer? Ask to defer until next summer and take a year off of law school? I am just worried that if I have no job 2L summer, then I will have no job when I graduate. Advice is appreciated!

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  13. Congratulations Anonymous! If it was me, I would probably ask to start a little late in the summer (like a month or 6 weeks after your due date) and keep the summer job. They're tough to get and are annoyingly important for your post-grad employment. I know most firm's summer programs have been shortened, but maybe they'd still let you clerk the same number of weeks, just on a bit of a delay. I didn't take any time off, and didn't want to, but that is a super personal decision and I know plenty of people who took a year or semester off from law school and definitely didn't regret it.

    Childcare is probably a big part of that decision. If you can find a situation you're comfortable with for your newborn, that would certainly help you with not taking time off (if you didn't want to take it). If you do want the year off, I think your plan is a good one - just push everything back one year. Do you have any guess or insight into how your firm might react? Is there an associate you got to know better or more personally that you could approach?

    Best of luck to you! I don't know you or your firm and the hiring world has certainly changed since I was pregnant as a law student, but in my experience most people were honestly happy for me and a few small accommodations just weren't as big of a deal as I feared they'd be (in my case I had to shorten my summer because I was due in July). Congrats again!

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  14. Thank you for posting this! I stumbled across your blog when I was looking for advice on having a baby in law school and I've really enjoyed your perspective. My answer to your question, "If you took law school out of the equation would you still want to have a baby now?" is a resounding Definitely YES! Your blog has given me the confidence to try for a baby next year as a 3L. Thank you and Congrats on your beautiful family!

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  15. This blog is so wonderful! My husband took a job here in Austin and I decided to pursue law after teaching for several years in my home state. I always wanted to attend law school but thought that it was hopeless after I had children ( I have three). This wonderful blog gives me hope! Thank you and I can't wait to keep reading!

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  16. Hi! I just found out I am 7 weeks pregnant and I have a fantastic summer associate position starting in May. I am due the week after I finish my summer position and a few days before school starts for 3L year. When do you suggest I inform the firm? Do you think this will hinder my chances for getting hired on after graduation? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  17. First, your blog is so helpful to gain perspective! Secondly, I have a question :) I know that legal hiring has changed since you were pregnant in law school, but here's my dilemma: Just found out I'm pregnant, last semester of my 3L year, due November, and I do not currently have a job to look forward to so I hoped to land interviews this Summer/Fall. I'm concerned at the reaction to my pregnancy by potential employers as I will definitely show. I'm worried that employers, especially legal employers, will not give any consideration to my candidacy as a result.

    Did you experience this when interviewing? Have you heard from other mommy's to be who have experienced interviewing while pregnant? Anything you can add would certainly be appreciated. Thanks

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  18. Thank you so much for this post. I am rounding up my first year of law school right now and I am nervous about getting pregnant while in Law School. My question to you is, would it work against my if I am showing during OCI? Or should I just wait until I get the job to get pregnant. Any help or suggestions you have would be so awesome!

    Thanks for this blog!

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  19. Thank you for posting! It really does depend on everyone individually. I'm considering pregnancy during my 2L year, but I'm nervous about how pregnancy will affect my grades. I'm not where I want to be in my grades after 1L, but I'm not sure if hoping to change that dramatically my 2L year is a good enough reason to hold off. Anyway, my point is, did you consider your grades and academic performance before pregnancy? Was that a significant factor to you? Thank you for any insight you can give!

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    1. Hi Katie! I didn't really consider grades and academic performance, but that's because I'd already been through OCI and had my 2L summer internships lined up and knew I'd get a job from them (this was back when big firms gave everyone an offer, unless you were really terrible and sometimes even then). So as long as I graduated, my grades didn't really matter. I had Landon during my 2L summer, so I just had the one year left and I knew better how to study and prepare for law school classes and exams, so that definitely helped too. I know plenty of people who had babies during the school year and did great at the end, but they were also people who were doing well originally. So while I definitely think it's possible to maintain your grades with a baby, I'm honestly not sure about improving them, though I do think there's something to just knowing better how law school exams are structured and how best to study for them. Good luck!

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