What I have to say may raise some eyebrows, and could lead to some backlash, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed: what is the state of well-being for women lawyers, many of whom are also moms? What is being done to address their biggest workplace challenges?
A few days ago, I was on a private Facebook group for women lawyers with kids. Many days, we keep things light and talk about bad lawyer jokes we heard or discuss what to wear if you if you have to run straight from work to Little League, but on this day, we were talking about the constant overwhelm we feel: it seems we can never get enough done at work, and never be present enough at home. The comments were coming in so fast and furious that I could barely keep up:
“The fact that I feel like I’m bending over backwards for my entire family and it’s just not enough. My 4 y/o lived her BEST LIFE when I was home on maternity leave with her little sister this summer and is now constantly yelling at me or crying that she misses me when I’m at work. And working full-time with two children is way harder than one. I’m hanging on by a thread…”
Another lawyer mom said:
“Where to begin…. 3 kids 9, 7, 5. I’m the 75% parent with all the driving, scheduling etc.. i work a full time civil litigation job and am hanging on by a very thin thread pretty much daily.”
This lawyer mom is also struggling:
“I struggle hard with patience and being present. After working a full day, I often just want to tune out, but then I feel insanely guilty if I’m not paying attention to my kids. It’s tough. Some days I’m the grouchy grumpy mom that loses her s*it at the 5 millionth question. Other days, we hold hands and sing walking to school. My hope is that my children remember more of the hand holding, but also recognize adults feel things big too.’
Many of these lawyer moms are in Big Law, not as partners, but as associates. Why haven’t many of these moms made partner? Well, there could be a lot of reasons, so let’s avoid speculating. Instead, let’s look at some cold, hard numbers:
According to the 2017 Law360 Glass Ceiling Report, women’s share of equity partnerships — where the highest compensation and leadership positions are lodged — remains at 20 percent and has not changed in recent years even though over 50 percent of law school graduates are women.
Big Law firms’ failure to meet their stated goal of increasing the number of women in their ranks is no secret. When the diversity rankings are released each year, Big Law reminds us that the largest firms today are still dominated by white men, and firms’ efforts to change appear utterly inadequate.
Big Law mottos often go something like this: Anybody can be the next big partner, just as long as you pull the long billable hours, and procure the most business, which often means endless late nights at various dinners and events.
But what if you have 3 kids and an aging parent to take care of, and you can’t burn the midnight oil at the office every night of the week? Hmm, well things might get trickier for you if you fall into this camp, like this lawyer mom:
“I just always feel like I’m just barely on top of it at work. Before having kids, I always felt way ahead of the game, but now…I’m just barely keeping my head above water. I can’t have that face time at work at 9pm each night, and even though I’m at home working, it’s still not enough: I am missing out on networking opportunities that could help my career. ”
Here’s the thing. The issue of gender imbalance gets a lot of attention (“We need more women”) and though some firms are making encouraging improvements to their culture, we still haven’t seen enough firms offer concrete solutions to the problem (like increased flex time, mid day wellness breaks, nixing mandatory meetings past 5pm, valuing efficiency over billable hours, etc.)
Some of the industry’s best women lawyers are leaving the profession because the proverbial thread they are barely hanging onto is slipping from their grip. It’s hard to hold on when all you feel is never ending professional darkness.
When it comes to our wellbeing and the role gender imbalance plays, it’s not enough to just talk about it. A fair amount of damage has already been done to the wellbeing of women lawyers, but we can still correct course and fix our mistakes, or we face the risk of repeating those mistakes all over again.