Advocate's Journal

Hill: It Takes a Village to Raise a Lawyer

As attorneys, we all work hard to give the impression that we are in control and can handle whatever the other side or the court may throw at us.  We try to give our clients the idea that we have all the answers.  Yet, we cannot do it alone.  We need a village to succeed.

I am drafting this, my last President’s Column, following the recent passing of my respected friend and mentor Professor William Quirk.   He was an important part of my village.  When I was a third year law student and decided that I wanted to work in our nation’s capital, he made telephone calls and set up interviews, and he toasted me on my departure to Washington, DC.  When I came back to Columbia, he welcomed me with a dinner at Ristorante Devino, where he was the consummate host.  Many dinners later, including some that were poor attempts on my part to cook, he provided me with the most important advice of my career.

I was lamenting the busy life of a practicing litigator and the difficulties of small children.  Admittedly part of my complaining was an attempt to minimalize my children’s impact on my practice, an annoying habit that I find many parents do try to show that their careers come first.  Professor Quirk stopped me and said, “Enjoy your children, they are only young once.”   The comment made me pause.  He had never seemed to be a big fan of small children. Yet, here he was, a lover of good food, independent films, Broadway plays, and fine wine (a list that does not always go hand in hand with the toddler set), admonishing me for not taking more joy in my small children.  It wasn’t that I did not enjoy being a parent but, as a new parent, it seemed the practice of law and parenthood might be mutually exclusive.  Being a parent in the legal world can seem like running on a treadmill with a backpack filled with rocks when everyone else seems to be running barefoot on the beach with the wind blowing in their hair.  It is a misperception that undermines many young lawyer parents, both male and female.  Professor Quirk gave me the confidence to admit that I enjoy both motherhood and practicing law.  He never asked how I did it all or questioned that I could somehow not be an excellent lawyer and a good mother at the same time.  Rather, he took joy in hearing the latest funny stories of my crazy life both in my practice and with my boys.  He also took joy in debating the latest political issue, but that is the subject of another column altogether.

Sometimes I feel like I am asked at least once a day how I do it all.  I usually just smile and answer that I don’t know.  But the truth is, I don’t do it all.  No, I am not committing malpractice or ignoring my children.  Rather, I have a lot of help from my village and I hope each of you do too.  There are those who pick my boys up from school when I am running late.  Then there are the grandparents who seem to appear from nowhere to handle a day when school is closed.  There is the kind neighbor who shows up at my door with a fully prepared meal that she claims is leftovers.  There is the legal assistant that reminds me of legal deadlines as well as elementary school deadlines and doctors’ appointments.  There are my sweet boys who ask with genuine interest what I did at work. There are the mentors who walked me through my first trial and hiring my first nanny. There are the colleagues who encourage me to sleep on it rather than respond angrily to the other side.  There is my husband who enjoys discussing the legal issues of the day over a glass of wine while we eat a family meal with toddlers.  There are the opposing attorneys who respect my vacation plans and maternity leave.  There are the clients that open up to me to tell me about their own families.  There are the clients who are true friends.  Then there are those who simply provide humor and encouragement.

I need that village, not just because I am a mom practicing law, but because I need others to guide me in my practice and balancing my life outside of the office.  I think we hear quite a bit about the difficulties women face in the workplace, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that both women and men have a lot to balance in this modern legal industry, whether they are parents or not.  We live in a world of 24 hour access and work weeks that seem normal at 60 or 70 hours (or more if there is a trial).  It is hard to be a lawyer in today’s modern world and even more difficult to maintain an identity and enjoy some down time.  We all need people who listen when we complain and encourage us when we are down. But most importantly we need those people to help us maintain our identity, and take joy in the practice of law and life outside of the office. We all need a village.

If you do not have a village reach out and be a village to someone else.  I promise the rewards will be great and the help will be reciprocated.  So, raise your next glass (it probably should be a good red wine) to Professor Quirk, who worked at what he loved:  teaching and writing.  He created a large village where he fostered and encouraged his students and colleagues alike.  I only hope that he understood that we each considered ourselves a part of his village as well.

 **Published in the Richbar News, November/December 2014