According to the American Bar Association, women make up 45% of associates in private law practice but only 20% of partners are female lawyers. The motherhood tax is real, and it’s having a dramatic impact on careers, law offices, and outcomes. One major contributing factor in this statistic is the billable hours law firm, business model.
An efficient attorney makes a billable hours firm less money than an attorney who takes hours to complete the same task. The irony here is who can you think of more efficient and productive than a working mother? But their efficiency is considered a liability if it doesn’t stack up the firm’s monthly billable hours.
Female lawyers everywhere have struggled to juggle motherhood and their careers. In an industry where a mild work week is 60 hours long, this is no easy feat. Traditional ideas about how many hours of face time you’re supposed to put in at the law office die hard, so some dedicated law professionals and mothers have decided to take matters into their own hands.
Meet 4 female lawyers blazing their own trails through the law office and motherhood.
Hallie Balkin is a mom of two working as an attorney! In 2017 she was named the Department of Defense David O. Cooke Excellence in Public Administration Award (EPAA) winner for her work with the Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) as their assistant legal counsel.
She struggles to juggle her career, traveling for work, and her two children. But she says “One of my favorite things is when my daughter plays dress-up and plays ‘Mommy,’ telling us she is smart and gets to help people.”
Hallie goes on to say, “The mom guilt is palpable. But at the end of the day, my daughter and son get to see that women can accomplish anything. Being a lawyer allows me to show them there are no boundaries when it comes to one’s passion.”
For Hallie, although the time management struggle is real, the benefits of juggling full-time work as a lawyer and being there for her children are worth it.
The Mom at Law
Meet Candace Alnaji, practicing attorney, working parents advocate, freelance writer, and proud mom.
She was lucky enough to work for a law firm with family-friendly policies for its employees. So when she had her son in 2015, it was challenging balancing everything, but she managed.
At first, she worked from home one day a week, then eventually began working from home full time. After she transitioned from full-time associate to counsel with her firm, she had twins!
Another year after that, Candace rejoined her same firm as an associate attorney. She loves being able to pursue her chosen profession with the flexibility working from home provides.
More and more law firms are opening up to the possibility of work-from-home flex options rather than pigeon-holing female lawyers to the “part-time associate” role, which essentially comes with a negative stigma about your career path in a law firm.
Candace says, “I continue to work from home, living what I believe is the best of both worlds (for me.) I get to continue practicing law in an area I am passionate about, and I get to spend my days with the little ones who light up my world.”
Rachel Rodgers is an intellectual property attorney and business coach. She reached extraordinary success in her legal career, working for state and federal judges, nonprofits, and even for Hillary Clinton!
She worked so hard, for so long, attempting to advance her way up the career ladder, with little financial payoff, until she had an epiphany.
She says “I knew this life wasn’t for me. That there had to be a way to have a big career and also enjoy life. To have a family and a business. To have success without having to kill myself for it.”
She eventually transitioned to her starting her own business that allows her to attend all the dance recitals and school events and watch Sunday morning cartoons with her kiddos.
Lots of female lawyers are paving the way to an improved work/life balance by starting their own business utilizing their expertise, going to freelancer status with law firms, or opting to work entirely remotely with a law firm.
Many women are proud of their profession and skills and don’t want to lose their progress or career due to having children. Flexible schedules and freelancing offer them the best of both worlds!
Meet Nicole Abboud, former Family Law and civil litigation attorney turned Fashion Lawyer.
Nicole found that once she became a lawyer, she felt unhappy and stressed all the time. After dealing with those feelings for years, she decided to leave family law and opened her own practice in Fashion Law.
Running her own practice helped her enjoy her career more than working for another office did. But she says “running my own practice eased the feelings of unhappiness, but it didn’t completely eliminate them. It took me a few more years to realize that it wasn’t the lack of experience or my chosen practice areas that made me unhappy, it was the entire practice of law. That was a huge pill to swallow.”
She realized there was no way her experience as a lawyer was unique, so she launched a podcast in an effort to reach out to other lawyers who were experiencing the same thing, but who figured out how to solve their unresolved emotions around practicing law.
Eventually, Nicole was able to take this experience and her professional law skills to create her own satisfying career and lifestyle. She founded Abboud Media, and these days, she’s much happier as she helps lawyers build their brands using podcasts and video marketing.
All four of these female lawyers and many more like them are busy, breaking down conventional barriers and beliefs on what practicing law and an attorney’s career looks like.
Ultimately, it’s up to lawyers who are working mothers to determine what type of career format is best for them and their families. The concept of “billable hours only” could start becoming a thing of the past as these talented attorneys and their law firms work together to establish new career paths and ways of working.
As law firms embrace alternative working models, female lawyers will be positioned to keep changing the game and the rules, while advancing their careers and being there for their families.