There have lately been a flurry of articles, blog columns, and opinions strewn about whether a woman can have a baby and run a corporation. Filtered down to a finer point, especially relevant to this site, is whether lawyers can have it all. The answer, in my opinion, is no. A distilled or altered sense of “all” perhaps, but truly having it all, where you commit fully to your work and home life? Not so much. And to commit the foul of using lawyer “weasel words” — it depends.
When I am asked for advice from folks who read this column, or others practicing law or about to, I usually begin by assessing where that person is in life….
Are they young-ish, single, desirous of paying Manhattan rents? If they answer in the affirmative, then I tell them to go whole hog into Biglaw. Tolerate the brutal hours, learn something about the difference between a first party indemnity and third party indemnity, or motions to dismiss as opposed to summary judgment. And save. Save money. Don’t buy the BMW, don’t buy the condo in a ridiculous market. Just coast as well as you can through the tribulations of Biglaw and get the heck out of there when your loans are paid.
The next level up is a young-ish married couple, hoping to have a baby(ies). These folks need to live in Westchester or Jersey City, or some locale with a more reasonable cost of living, and try to buy a home, while staying away from luxury items. The key component here is that one half of the couple be committed to staying home and covering ALL of the domestic bases while their partner runs themselves ragged in the 24/7 Biglaw world. I know of one couple who was successful doing this because theirs is a “traditional” marriage, where one partner is perfectly satisfied as a homemaker.
The exceedingly high divorce rate among attorneys reminds me of another colleague with a professional partner who expects that the two “share” every duty, and who is not tolerant of the Biglaw lifestyle and all that it entails. Especially if one is an academician; they have no concept of the Biglaw world, and it is crazy for folks to try and explain why they will have to change vacation plans, or miss yet another event at school. Just like the honey badger, Biglaw don’t give a s**t.
I don’t want to belittle anyone, but I will say that from my own personal experience, being married to another executive and having one, two, then three children is simple foolishness if you’re trying to wade up through the ranks of Biglaw. It doesn’t work on many levels, and while we were able to keep it together, it was ridiculously difficult. At certain points, my wife’s salary simply covered childcare, with a bit left over. Dual school loans were not paid as timely as we’d hoped, and living in major metro areas put the dream of home ownership out of reach for years.
And let me be clear, if my wife could cover the budget on her own, I’d be home with a hot dinner waiting for her every night. The majority of the folks who write in are in this position, and all I can think is “too little, too late.” You can’t go back and undo the choices you’ve made coming up, but you can indeed impart some wisdom to young attorneys, and even your own children when they are in positions to make these choices.
The above scenario is how a lot of people end up taking in-house positions. This life is less stressful than Biglaw, at least on the billable hours and business development fronts. The work may equate to more pressure in some areas, with more at stake, but you usually have a single client to worry on and there’s no need to develop business. So, if I’m being honest, in-house life is simpler to navigate and manage. This simplicity allows me to better manage my home life. I am able to be more present — while I still miss some events, no one is altering my vacation plans at the last minute.
I have described above three very different scenarios for making your way in this career. There are multitudes of variables, and I am sure some folks will write in or comment how they are able to manage just fine with two working professionals and five children. God bless them. I wish I was that together. I also wish that I had at least some chance of an inheritance somewhere in my family, but no such luck. I worked through college and worked through law school. Doesn’t make me better or worse, it is what it is. I am reminded of the comedian who states, “To all you 40-year-old single folks out there with no kids — congratulations, you made it!” The truth of the matter is that if I knew then what I know now, a different course would have been charted. And nope, your on-campus people aren’t going to tell you any of this.
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.