Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Appointments and Reflections

I had another perinatal appointment this morning. All is well - my NP was very pleased with the ultrasound results my OB sent over last week (the two offices work well together, it's nice) and congratulated me on my baby girl. I described baby #2's nursery to her as I got my shot (thanks to etsy.com and a very legally unproductive few days last week, I now have all the wall decor picked out too) and finished up my appointment with a renewed promise to look into prenatal yoga. It's annoying to have to drive over there every week, but it's probably good for me to sit down with someone for 20 minutes to talk about my week and my pregnancy. It's like therapy and prenatal health care all in one!

Everything with work is also good. My case is still full steam ahead for a March 1 trial, but it's a controlled steam and I love being so deeply involved in preparing one of the most famous litigators in our state for a jury trial. Several people have asked how it's been as a pregnant BigLaw associate, and as I found when I was a pregnant law student and then pregnant summer associate, it's just not that big of a deal. At least not in any negative way. Nearly everyone in my section has children, the majority of our associates are female, and since I interviewed here back in 2006, not one woman has failed to return from maternity leave. To me that says a lot about how female attorneys here feel they can balance their career and their family. Two of the last three women to make partner in our office have three children, so it's not a big black mark against you the way I've had friends describe in their firms. Of course these women are also brilliant and kick ass attorneys, so it's nice when that gets to matter more than the number of children you've birthed. (As a side note, both of those women have stay-at-home husbands; I'm not yet sure you can have that kind of career and that number of children without one stay home, or at least part-time working parent, but figure it's a puzzle I don't yet need to solve.)

This doesn't mean I don't worry about having a second child and being an attorney. I've worked hard and done well in my 17 months here. I've been rated in the highest possible category in my reviews and I'm always requested for work. I've done this with a toddler and never missed a dinner or bedtime (unless I'm traveling, which is usually rare). I like my cases and love the roles I've been able to carve for myself. From a career perspective, I don't like that I will be totally out of the loop for 3 months. Of course from a mommy perspective, I'm glad for it. (Another side note: we get 3 months paid maternity leave, an optional additional 3 months of unpaid FMLA leave, and/or 3 months to phase back in to full time by working 50%, 60%, and 70% for a month each, while being paid at 60%. Without knowing JP's job situation I plan to return full-time after 3 months. I would be only the second woman in my section not to take the full 9 months to come back to full-time and no one seems to believe I will actually come back after that little time off. And not that I'm not grateful for the option, but after Landon's babyhood, 3 months sounds like a very long time. I'm sure I'll talk more about that later.)

My biggest challenge right now is forcing myself to step back from (or at least stop volunteering for) things. And it's not hard so much because I'm afraid of retribution from my firm or the partners I work for, it's hard because I really do like what I do and I'm not sure how or what to slow down. It's not like I bill 200 hours a month on a regular basis. I feel like I already draw pretty bold lines between work and family time. And my biggest challenge is that I apparently can't tell when I'm stressed. I've always been busy- from high school as a varsity and US national swimmer taking 5 honors classes, to college with swimming, being a liberal arts honors program major and pre-med through my electives and working, to law school and a baby -- this is what I do. I'm happy. As I told the partner who sat down in my office last week after she heard about my worrisome perinatal appointment, closed the door, and said, "you have to help us know when you are doing too much." I really don't know what that is. I need a red warning light somewhere on my person. I feel like these cases are MY cases and I do not like the idea of being pushed away from them. I know everyone means well and the partner assured me, with an air of near annoyance, that my reputation will in no way suffer because I have a high risk pregnancy. The work will be here when I get back and people will want me to do it. But it's hard to feel like I'm giving up my place, even temporarily. How can it not matter, even a little, that I'm suddenly saying no to things?

These are just the things that float around in my head. In reality, I will of course do what I need to protect this pregnancy and my little girl. There is nothing that matters more than that. But it's easy to rank the priorities; it's harder to live them when you're not sure what you should be doing (or not doing) on a daily basis to make sure they're in proper order.

In the meantime, it turns out that 2 1/2 might be even more delightful than age 2, and I'm enjoying every single second I spend with Landon. I've also loved reading all your comments on the name post- thank you for making my blog such a fun community to be part of. I believe we have named our daughter (and by "we" I mean I, without objection from JP), though we're not ready to share it yet. I'm oddly pleased that it's not among your suggestions, lovely as they were, though her middle name is. I also need to post a pregnancy pic soon- my belly is now an entity unto itself and I finally look pregnant to all those who see me. So much better than that squishy in-between phase.


  1. I've been following your blog for quite a while now and always found so many similarities between us two. We both have 2 dogs, we both seem to have great husbands, our husbands are both swimmers, both live in Texas, AND I'm a third year law student. I had no idea how similar our lives were until I found out I was pregnant on October 4th (really similar due date to yours I believe: June 15th). We're having a baby girl.

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you because through all this stress, reading your blog has shown me that eventually, everything will be ok. I just started my own blog if you do want to take a look: happilyalawmama.blogspot.com.

  2. This post was really helpful! I am trying to figure out when I can have my second baby- which is tough since I'll start work in March- but you show that it can be done! I wish there were more female attorneys in my firm to pave the way- but I'm one of two or three....sadly.

  3. Loved reading this post... I am still just a single law student but love hearing about women who are wives and moms and attorneys and make it all work. You are an inspiration.
    Oh and your firm sounds totally awesome. If I move back to Texas I will have to give you a call.:)

  4. Hello Legally Fab! I think I've mentioned this before, but I believe a large part of my firm's flexibility (or awesomeness, as you call it) is actually the office that I'm in. I do love the firm, but I don't think I could continue to work for it if I lived in Houston or Dallas- or at least not as easily and happily. There's something to Austin, with its laid back attitude and people, that attracts partners who are very smart, and want great careers, but aren't quite so... intense as many attorneys in the bigger cities. After all, if they really wanted to prestige and glory of running a billion dollar deal and yelling at people all day, they just wouldn't choose to work in a city so small (especially with two huge ones in the same state). It also helps that because it's a small city, my commute between work and home is less than 10 minutes- that goes a very long way in balancing the two.

    So while I think my firm has a lot of great policies, and actually makes use of them - and it is probably still the only BigLaw firm I'd work for in any city, it's being specifically in Austin that I credit with making things work as well as they have so far.

  5. LL, I'm glad you posted this comment to Legally Fab. It's really wonderful that you've found such a great match (in terms of a firm), and it's clear that you have a really great situation going with being able to be home for dinner/bedtime every day!! As someone who works for a very big firm in a big city, though, I worry that it might give the ladies still in law school the impression that every firm will be as flexible, which is definitely NOT the case. As much as I like my firm, it is just a lot lot lot of work that basically goes on 24/7. We all get 6 months off for maternity leave (18 weeks paid), and there are great flex-time programs, but no matter how hard they try, our clients are very demanding and litigation/government enforcement can be very unpredictable. So, while I think that moms can do a lot for themselves in terms of setting boundaries, it's also important to be realistic with the firm you're going to. They may have great ideals, but sometimes there's only so much you can do.

    Your situation sounds great -- I am jealous!

  6. I'm doing prenatal yoga, and I have to put in a plug for it. I think you'll love it. I leave every week feeling relaxed, energized, stretchy (and I am the least flexible person ever), and focused. I look forward to it SO much; it's an oasis in my week.

    Your firm sounds great in terms of maternity leave-- good for you!


  7. I highly recommend prenatal yoga. Even if you don't like the "yoga" thing, most prenatal classes are more than just yoga. They really are a place where you can take a break from your day and connect with other expectant mommas. I truly enjoyed my prenatal yoga classe and I am definitely not a yogi!
    On a side note, I have been following your blog for a few months now and I too am an attorney. I am a litigator, but I don't work for a big law firm - former prosecutor and I now work for the state. In my short legal career I have first chaired numerous trials. I would like to second Allison's comment about the demands of the legal profession. Your firm sounds like a dream, which I am sure many many women are very jealous of. That being said I hope that women in law school are prepared for the demands of the legal profession. Although I don't work for a law firm, being a litigator can be very demanding and balancing motherhood and litigating can be extremely difficult at times. Your firm sounds amazing - I wish other employers would hop on board!

  8. Hi Anonymouses- your responses are worthy of their own post, which I may do at some point, about why more law firms can't act this way. Because you're absolutely right- there are some that having a second child would be a negative career move, and that's just ridiculous. Every attorney in my section hits about 2000-2200 hours; it's not like they're slacking or not doing the same amount of quality of work as an associate in a larger city, it's the expectation of hours in the office and the attitude towards families that seems to be different. No one cares that you go home at 5:30 to see your kids; what matters is that your assignments are done and perfect when they're due. It makes little business sense as to why that wouldn't be the standard in every firm.

    Another thing I should add, I also think litigation makes this lifestyle and partner/firm attitude easier (not easy, but easier). Corporate is almost completely client-driven. If a client has negotiated a deal and wants you to paper it in 3 weeks, it will be done, no matter how many nights it ruins for you. Litigation is court and opposing counsel-driven and they are constrained to at least some extent by rules of procedure with built-in deadlines. There were nights I was legitimately stuck in the office in corporate and there was no way around it; that almost never happens in litigation. I'm still busy and I still work a lot, but I can plan to some extent and do a lot of the work at night and from home. A lot of the briefing and discovery work can be done alone- then a draft or update is sent around to the group. We don't all need to be on calls till midnight negotiating a deal document. Even in my firm, and in my city, I wasn't nearly as happy or "balanced" in the corporate section. Some people make it work, I couldn't. I found that I could give up certain things because I was a working mother, but I couldn't give up dinner or my evening time at home. That is how things work for us.

    But good comments- thanks!

  9. About that pre-natal yoga, I started doing water aerobics while pregnant with my first child (I was working as a first-year associate at the time) and absolutely loved it.

    I have always (and still do) hated aerobics and refused to do it. But I found water aerobics keeps your body temperature down so you don't get so hot (which, unfortunately, is an issue when you have an MS). And what was so great about it when I was pregnant is I felt tired and big and often didn't want to go. But once I went, I felt so much more better and had so much more energy. Something to think about.