This isn’t about science or Darwin or that guy that defended him – Clarence Darrow, right? I’m not about to give you the legal analysis of anything that has come about recently – the evolution of fourth amendment law or black lives matter or anything else that is relevant to our profession at this moment.
This is about my favorite topic: Me.
You all know that I came back to life sometime around 2010. I had a little office and a 4 cup coffee pot and a cell phone and I would wait for it to ring. I had a pocketful of hope and lint and little else. Oh, I had knowledge and skills. Apparently those things do count for something. I started writing in this blog again and I realized that the world was much bigger than it was when I disappeared into my shell when my kids were born. It was eye opening and it was energizing and a little frightening. However, I fell into it totally and completely. I loved writing. I had an audience to write for – the moms who were out there who didn’t understand what I did or why I would do it. Defend those people? How could you? I wanted to explain how I could. I wanted those moms to see that I was still like them and they could think like me.
I don’t know if I changed anyone’s mind. I do know I lost a lot of friends who didn’t like this criminal defense lawyer me. They wouldn’t understand how or why or what. They judged me for working so much, for being away from these boys that I adore “you’ll never get this time back” they would say “you will regret it.” I didn’t think I would regret it. I didn’t think that this thing that I did was just a job. It wasn’t. It was part of who I was. I am a lawyer. I am a mom. How could you tell me that I would regret being a part of who I was? It felt like I was being asked to give up a limb to save another limb.
This isn’t how it’s done if you are a mom. Kids come first. And of course they do. I leave work if they are sick. I try to schedule my days off around theirs. I do everything I can to make sure they are happy and healthy and get what they need and want. But I won’t give up my right leg in exchange for my left one. And, it tuns out, I don’t have to.
My evolution is this. I know now that there is no such thing as work/life balance. Not for me and for what I’ve chosen to do. I head a law firm that at any point in time has 2-4 lawyers and we have 2-3 support staff. We have a full sized coffee pot (and a Nespresso, come by sometime for a cup.) I have three offices and a conference room now. I have a “phone system” and I have to put up those awful labor law posters in the kitchenette. I mentor my people and send them to trainings and I give them the standards by which we live and die in our firm.
And I try to live a life at home. It’s no easy feat. And here is the next evolution that I have and that is a sincere understanding of what it must be like for the men who have typically done this work, the men who were responsible for providing for their families and running businesses. And the complaints they got from their wives and the guilt they felt at not being able to be present at every event in their children’s lives. I think of my own father and how his absence seemed so normal growing up. I mean, the man was a surgeon. He had things to do and we knew it. We didn’t feel deprived or sad. Our mom was there and that was her job. It wasn’t until I grew up and someone told me your dad wasn’t ‘present’ for you that I started to think differently about it. But now I know, he did the stuff he did because that’s how it had to happen. And no matter what society says about it, no one will ever be a successful surgeon and have work/life balance. It just isn’t realistic.
If this sounds like complaining, I don’t mean it to. It should sound like someone who has come to grips with the reality of the life she has chosen and the fact that much of my original audience has left because I am not the person they wanted me to be. And here I am, announcing it loud and clear that I am not going to change anytime soon. I travel more than I did before because I now have clients in other parts of the country (and world), I spend late nights at the office and frequent the jails on the weekends. I don’t think my kids feel deprived of my love and affection, but I imagine someone later on will tell them otherwise and they will let me know that I am at the root of their inability to commit, settle down, manage their finances, clean their apartment – whatever.
The evolution continues. I am trying to reformulate my audience for this blog. I am wondering who it is that reads it and how would I tell you what it is I want you to know. Because trust me, I’ve got a lot of things to say to you, whoever you are.
“Do what you will, reputation is at least as fickle as your station in life. Others decide what your reputation is. Try to make it as good as possible, but don’t get hooked on it. Don’t be ravenous for it and start chasing it in tighter and tighter circles. As Epictetus says, “For what are tragedies
but the portrayal in tragic verse of the sufferings of men who have admired things external?” In your heart of hearts, when you get out the key and open up that old rolltop desk where you really keep your stuff, don’t let “reputation” get mixed up with your moral purpose or your will power; they are important. Make sure “reputation” is in that box in the bottom drawer marked “matters of indifference.” As Epictetus says, “He who craves or shuns things not under his control tan neither be faithful nor free, but must himself be changed and tossed to and fro and must end by subordinating himself to others.”
-James Stockdale, “Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus ‘s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior”
Hello. I am going to apply to law school after getting my bachelors in Political Science in two years (grades and LSAT permitting), and I have been researching the work/life balance in the field — the balance that you said does not exist.
Although I am not distressed (I was previously aware of the fact), I am curious. It may be impossible to deliberately divide the realms of ‘work’ and ‘play’ as a lawyer, but does it remain impossible to have a full life and make time for your loved ones? Can you somehow harness your work to create opportunities to connect with people? to live a ‘good’ life, whatever that may be?
Or are lawyers doomed to isolation?
I don’t know why I didn’t see this before, but I can tell you the balance shifts from one side to another pretty often. Success requires sacrifice. In fact, now I shall write a blog post about it.