Family

Passover is a time for family. Judaism has holidays galore, but Passover stands unique in its family-centric nature. The highlight of the holiday, the seder (literally “order,” due to the specific program of the evening), is by its very nature a family meal writ large. And on Passover, the definition of family is an expansive one for Jews, with the unfortunate or downtrodden as welcome and entitled to sit at the seder table as one’s immediate relatives. The seder itself commemorates the biblical paschal offering, which was by design intended to be consumed in a communal setting, amongst family.

Just last week, I was speaking to a client about Passover, and despite our differences in both age and observance level, we easily agreed that some of our strongest personal memories are anchored in our childhood seder experiences. In my case, the fact that my childhood seders were fortunate enough to have included my grandparents was a special blessing. Especially since they themselves (together with my parents, who were young children at the time) were forced to flee Egypt as refugees, leaving family and possessions behind. Thankfully, they all ended up (my Dad by way of France, hence my name) in this wonderful free country, where opportunity is open to all who are willing to invest in creating it for themselves. For me, the most fulfilling part of making partner in 2009 was being able to share that recognition with my grandfather, who was in the final stages of a heroic decade-long battle with cancer at the time. His courage in leaving the place of his birth, locked in the bathroom of a passenger ship to Italy to avoid detection, paved the way for our family’s rebirth on these shores. Many have similar stories, and those stories make holidays more meaningful, no matter what holiday is being celebrated.

While I was in Biglaw, holidays presented some of the few opportunities I had for uninterrupted family time. I was always grateful to have worked with people who respected my religious observances, and tried my best to minimize the disruption caused by my unavailability….

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I like to say that I went solo because I had no other options — but I chose to stay solo when I started a family.

I started my law firm at the end of 1993 because I’d been downsized for economic reasons and couldn’t find another job. Three years later, the economy picked up and job offers came my way — but I was newly pregnant, and the prospect of the 50-hour work week that one of my prospective employers described didn’t interest me at all. So I figured that at least for the time, I’d remain solo because I was certain that working for myself was the best option for raising children.

Fast forward seventeen years, and my conviction that solo practice is a family-friendly work option is no longer as black and white as it was back then before my daughter was born. That’s not to say that I regret my decision – because I don’t. But here, on the other side of child-rearing — with one daughter in high school and the other on the cusp of college — I’ve realized that there’s really no easy or perfect solution to balancing work and family — whether you’re a solo or a big-firm attorney. All you can do is evaluate the facts and make the best decision for yourself and your family based on the facts in front of you.

Of course, when it comes to research about work-life balance, that’s where things get tricky….

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Texas state senator and gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis has been on the defensive recently, ever since a Dallas Morning News piece documented inconsistencies between the story of personal struggle Davis has been using to promote herself in her campaign and . . . well, the facts.

Wendy Davis has since admitted that her campaign’s story included errors and misleading spin. She said in an interview, “My language should have been tighter. I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.” (Just what we all want: the leader of the second most populous state in the union who admits she struggles with attention to details, starting with those of her own life.)

Davis supporters argue that Wendy’s political ambitions and personal life get judged by a double standard because she’s a woman. They claim male politicians don’t face this high scrutiny and that her critics reveal their misogyny by subjecting her to higher standards.

Of course, that’s a canny political pivot: make criticism work to your advantage by redirecting the negativity back to the critics themselves. What about the underlying question, though? Is Wendy Davis subject to a double standard because she’s a woman?

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My parents separated for a brief period of time when I was in the fourth grade. I don’t remember there being too much controversy over where I would be crashing as (a) the separation didn’t last long and (b) I was not exactly the prize pig over which anyone in their right mind would compete. Anyway, the one thing I remember about that time was how my dad treated me. My father, who had previously acted as the proximate cause in his son’s nervousness and irritable bowels, was now a prince among men. He took me to a basketball game and laughed at my jokes in a deeply insincere way. If you ask me, this is the highest compliment another person can pay you.

I tell this story to establish my bona fides in the areas of family law, custody disputes, and even the fathers’ rights movement. I’m pretty much an expert. In the past week, the issue of fathers’ rights has popped up in unusual ways and places. Fox News reported over the weekend that a group of fathers are suing the state of Utah over their adoption laws. Bode Miller, meanwhile, won a bronze medal on Sunday, which prompted Slate to reprint an Emily Bazelon post on Miller’s odd custody dispute. And finally, a law firm in Florida has elevated fathers’ rights to perhaps its highest purpose: marketing.

The question posed by all of this is what if, with all apologies to Shaq Fu, the biological does bother?

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Keith Lee

Ed. note: Please welcome Keith Lee of Associate’s Mind, one of our new columnists covering the world of small law firms.

Being in a small firm has repercussions on your existing activities and relationships. Going out, hobbies, spending time with friends and family and the like are often going to have to take a back seat to maintaining your practice. You simply won’t have the time for people that you had in the past. If you aren’t careful, this shift in priorities can cause resentment and ill will.

And despite lawyers complaining that they feel as though they can’t start families, I would imagine that most people do desire to start families or already have a family. Is it hard to balance time spent with family and friends while maintaining and growing a practice? Absolutely. Are you going to be able to have some vague, idyllic “work/life balance”? Nope. But can you have a family and be a lawyer? Of course; it’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise.

It comes with some caveats and difficulties, but it can be done. It’s important that the people in your life understand these difficulties — and it begins with managing expectations….

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I love how this picture is somehow demeaning to both men and women. Being a stay-at-home spouse does NOT involve filing your nails while someone goes out there with a sledgehammer.

This weekend, the New York Times ran a big, splashy article about house husbands and their wealthy, “Wall Street” wives. The premise is that successful Wall Street women are doing it with the help of stay-at-home spouses… you know, the way that wealthy Wall Street men have been doing it for generations.

It’s an annoying premise. Of course, working a high-intensity job is easier when somebody is taking care of everything else at home. But, as Slate’s Jessica Grose points out, the problem is that anybody is expected to work to the point that they have to outsource their entire domestic lives.

Vivia Chen points out another problem in her article in Time. The New York Times article focuses on very wealthy women and their kept men. But is this really a trend? Are husbands really willing to stay home when their wives make a more “pedestrian” salary — like, say, what a lawyer makes?

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At the risk of sounding like a legal academia groupie, I must declare: I love law professors. I love their big brains, their big ideas, and their big paychecks. This is why Above the Law treats certain law professors like bona fide celebrities.

But nobody’s perfect, and that includes legal academics. For example, law professors have an unfortunate tendency to overcomplicate matters.

Take divorce. Two formerly married law professors have been involved in a knock-down, drag-out legal fight that judges have called “frightening” and “appalling.” Who are the profs, and what are they fighting over?

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“But they aren’t all valedictorians, they weren’t all brought by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian there’s another 100 out there that, they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

– Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), referring to DREAM Act beneficiaries last week.

Say what you will about Congressman King, he had the cojones to appear on the Univision show “Al Punto con Jorge Ramos” this week, an unusual move for an outspoken opponent of immigration reform.

While King was busy pointing out that kids can be drug mules, the rest of the House of Representatives has been debating proposed legislation called the KIDS Act, a variation on the Senate’s DREAM Act. “DREAM” is an acronym for “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors” (not to be confused with alien miners, which could be the premise for a Ridley Scott movie). The Act and its equivalent in the House would provide eligibility for a six-year-long conditional path to citizenship for qualifying young people whose parents brought them to the United States illegally.

The basic idea enjoys some bipartisan support, even if shakily so. Let’s agree, if only for the sake of argument, that this simple goal is a good one. Nevertheless, the DREAM Act and its progeny don’t work, and they distract lawmakers from the larger, more consequential immigration debate….

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For all of the unnecessary pomp and circumstance associated with the British monarchy, we sure are obsessed with it in America. Perhaps it’s because their gorgeous young royals are great at generating headlines, whether reputable or repugnant. First, there was the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, an eleventy-billion-hour extravaganza of elegance that our eyes were glued to for what seemed like all eternity. The family quickly dropped nobility’s veil, and just one year later, Prince Harry’s crown jewels and Duchess Catherine’s breasts were put on display in gossip rags for all the world to see. After recovering from tabloid infamy, we are now eagerly awaiting the birth of the royal baby, which is a very, very big deal.

The young royal couple does not yet know the sex of their child, and Duchess Catherine, who wanted to have a natural birth, has been in labor for more than 11 hours. At this point, she’s likely desperate to greet His or Her Royal Highness. Typically, British royalty would be crossing their fingers for a male heir to the throne, but thanks to the Succession to the Crown Act, all of that is going to change…

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Pop quiz, hotshot. A federal judge issues an order to show cause that you should be “sanctioned for repeated failure to prosecute cases” and “barred from practicing in this District.” What do you do? What do you do?

The correct answer begins with “responding,” obviously. And when you’re in trouble over “failure to prosecute,” maybe that should light a fire under you to respond thoroughly and on time.

Yeah… this guy didn’t. Instead he provided a detailed, if legally irrelevant, explanation of how he was just too busy to worry about responding on time. Think of this as “Prelude to a Benchslap”…

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