In 2012 I joined the ranks of a working solicitor mum when my son was born.
At the time it crossed my mind whether I should consider becoming a stay at home mum. I didn’t think I had the patience or virtue to stay at home with my child ALL the time, and most importantly I had worked really hard to get where I was. If you add up the 3 years at university, 1 year legal practise course, 2 year training contract just to qualify, and then 7 years post qualification to become an associate it adds up. I actually enjoyed my job and didn’t want my identity to be defined by my offspring. I also wanted to demonstrate to my son (and now daughter) good work ethics.
I don’t regret that decision to come back to work and didn’t even after my second child was born in 2016, even though it much harder second time round as I had accumulated more responsibilities by then as a partner.
I’m lucky to be working for a very forward thinking, supportive and flexible company. Half the work force are women (including at the top) and so understand my predicament of juggling work and family life. I have never felt that being a woman or then a mother has compromised my legal career or progression at the firm.
My typical working day as a solicitor
I wake around 6am – both because I’m a natural born early riser and because I have children. At present I only work 4 days a week, although I struggle not to login remotely on my day off, which helps avoid long hours on the days I am in the office.
I usually get the children ready and fed in the morning, having previously checked and packed school bags, permission slips, homework etc. Despite all the talk about equality, I still feel the main carer and to whom the bulk of responsibility for child rearing still falls upon is the mother at least in my case. Whilst my husband isn’t as hands off as my dad, certainly more can be done to encourage and facilitate participation by fathers.
Depending on which shift my husband is working, one of us will drop them off before going to work.
I have access to my e-mails and calendar on my phone, which is part of the promotion of agile working so that we are not restricted by physical location, and as head of the Dispute Resolution team this means I can keep an eye on things wherever I am. This has its pros and cons, as you are never ‘away’ from work, but for a control freak like me, it helps me manage my stress levels.
My favourite time of the day is the commute. It’s the time solely belonging to me where I get a blissful hour or two to immerse myself in my kindle.
Starting my working day
The first thing I do after getting into work is check my e-mails, post and telephone messages and either deal with them there and then or make a diary entry for more substantive work to be dealt with later.
I then work through my do to list which is essentially maintained in my outlook calendar for the day. This could involve client meetings, meetings with barristers, hearings at court, drafting letter or documents, speaking with potential new clients or allocating them (as I manage most of the incoming new business). I also like to check what the rest of my team is up to that day and have access to their calendars.
In addition as the head of the department, a board member and business owner, there are seemingly never ending management meetings and non-fee earning work to be done. At the moment our biggest project is getting the firm GDPR compliant for May as well as year-end for the firm. I am also the claims partner (dealing with our indemnity insurers) and assist in cash flow through management of costs and bad debts.
At present I supervise a paralegal, trainee, partner and the assistant solicitor which means there are always formal and informal discussions and supervision of their work on a daily basis. We are proud to operate an open door policy to promote a supportive and nurturing environment for all our staff, but we have to balance that precariously with the running of our own casework.
Obviously there will always be things that come up during course of the day that we can’t plan for and I am constantly adjusting my to-do list both for the day as well as the week.
Lunchtimes are reserved for the mundane tasks needed to run my personal and family life; grocery shops, scheduling appointments, arranging social engagements, etc.
I try and mostly finish at my scheduled time of 5pm, knowing that if need be I can still work on my phone or at home through remote access. Sometimes that is not possible or we have training courses or networking events to attend after a long day at work.
We pick up the children, who luckily have been fed by then, and muster the energy to cook a quick dinner before some tedious homework and perfunctory bed time routines for the children. By this time, although I always intend to engage in some personal me time, I am so tired and call it a night.
Rinse and repeat for the next 20 years?
It’s tough no doubt about it, working as a professional and being a mum, more so second time round for me. You need a lot of support (both from family and work, I am lucky to have such a fantastic team). You need a lot of flexibility (both from yourself and work). You need to plan and prepare as much as possible and understand and accept that you can’t do it all yourself, you need help and you need to delegate. This week I have come to terms with fact that I probably need a cleaner as I can’t manage household chores on top of everything else. You get better at multi-tasking, you get more efficient and you also work differently.
It’s a constant balancing act where you feel you can never be the best at both a solicitor and a mother, so the feelings of guilt never go away. But you do somehow manage, day in and day out. You sleep with a clear conscious knowing you are doing a good job for your clients. Your children are healthy and happy and every else is secondary. It’s about quality not quantity. It’s a compromise – you can’t attend everything at school or work so you pick the important ones and send someone else to the others.
You can have a career and a family life if you work hard at both.