Balancing Legal Career and Family in a Virtual World

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The COVID-19 pandemic has seen most of America locked down over the past few months. As many industries are pivoting to a work-from-home model to help slow the spread of the virus, many attorneys find themselves without a dedicated office, and more importantly, reliable childcare. Meanwhile, school-age children have been pulled out of school in favor of distance learning, which requires parents to supervise, assist and even teach while they’re also supposed to be working to support their families.

It’s a tough proposition for many attorneys, who often already feel like they’re overworked. Quarantine, homeschooling and making partner are not mutually achievable goals for many. How are other attorneys handling this new curveball?

How some attorneys are coping

Balancing a career and family life has long been a struggle for many attorneys, particularly women. With the COVID-19 quarantine, most daycares are shuttered except for the children of essential frontline workers. While most legal work can be performed remotely, making use of e-filing, virtual conferencing and other technological tools, attorneys with families still have to decide how to manage their children’s learning and entertainment so they can get the work done.

For the most part, attorneys are juggling their work around and between their child’s schedule. With small children, it can be easier to work during naptime and after they go to bed, while older kids can be deputized to herd younger siblings, set schedules and help out on an age-appropriate basis. Still, it is increasingly difficult for attorneys to do meaningful work on their client’s behalf. Should anyone be “punished” for having a family?

The Harvard Business Review described this challenge as society finally realizing that the “ideal worker,” who is available 24/7 and 365 days per year is not feasible, let alone desirable. “This was always an unrealistic archetype, one that presumed a full-time caretaker in the background. Yet today, over two-thirds of American families are headed by single parents or two working parents. With schools and daycares closed, work cannot continue as normal simply because working remotely is technologically possible.” Anyone who has ever tried to push for more flexible accommodations in the legal world knows that they’re often pushed out in return—but COVID-19 may finally put that stereotype to rest.

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How to stay focused amidst chaos

  • Do the hardest work in the morning. Most of us are sharper in the morning after some rest—tackle these jobs while your children are eating, attending virtual school or are otherwise entertained.
  • Save meetings and phone calls for the afternoon. Most meetings and calls will not require the same amount of brain power that research and writing require, so save these for the afternoon.
  • Juggle email in between childcare and projects. If you need to park your child in front of Peppa Pig for an hour to answer your emails, there’s no shame in that—mobile devices make it easier to sneak in some email time.
  • Cut yourself some slack. Above all, remember that we are living in unprecedented times, and most clients and partners will understand. Your fussy toddler might be frustrating to you, but everyone knows the circumstances we’re dealing with—and might even have some bored children of their own.

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