Grace, Adriane. “Above The Law.”, Breaking Media, March 28, 2019, https://abovethelaw.com/2019/03/how-to-have-a-maternity-leave-with-a-solo-practice/.

How To Have A Maternity Leave With A Solo Practice

Be patient with yourself and you’ll realize that maternity leave won’t negatively impact you career.

“Voir dire” is legalese, and French for “to speak the truth.” The title of this post is a tad misleading because, truth be told, you can’t have it all; at least, not all of the time. But I believe that you can have a little of everything, most of the time.

When I started my solo journey, I was a mother to one child and working part-time. The part-time solo gig allowed me to practice my craft while spending precious mommy-and-me time with my preschooler. Now, five years later, I have two children and a busy solo practice. However, this was not always the case, especially right after my second child was born.

What I learned about maternity leave with a solo practice is that nothing is permanent and time can be a great equalizer. My tips for maternity leave with a solo practice derive from this mantra.

Tip 1: Scale back, incrementally

If you are a true solo, then you wear many hats. You answer all phone calls, draft and file the pleadings, implement marketing strategies, manage the finances, and the list goes on. But when baby arrives, be prepared to “let it go,” or get help. My strategy was to let it go, and in the long run, it worked out just fine. This meant scaling back my practice the closer I approached to my due date. As I reached the third trimester of my pregnancy, I stopped taking new cases and rolled off the court appointments list. I focused instead on ramping up my existing cases to a completion point one month prior to my due date (some babies arrive early!). By the 36-week mark, I had made my last court appearance. Two weeks later, my son was born.

My Social Security practice was another story, however — those cases move at the federal government’s pace. Fortunately, I knew that appearances in these cases would not be necessary during my leave. Otherwise, my plan would have been to “get help” — adding trusted co-counsel or hiring other competent contract attorney(s) to make the appearances on my behalf. Pro-ethical tip: If you choose the “get help” route, be sure to inform your clients well in advance of your maternity leave and amend your representation agreements where necessary to reflect this arrangement, especially if fee-splitting/sharing is involved.

Tip 2: Grow your networks, exponentially

True solos know better than to be truly solo. As a solo, I am always networking as a way to grow my business and improve my craft. As a result, I have a great support network that includes attorneys and other non-legal professionals I trust and rely on. This advice extends to non-business support networks as well. Strong social support networks are invaluable when raising children. Historically, these networks began and ended with our extended families. But in today’s economy, education and job opportunities have geographically separated us from these family networks. Although I enjoyed some assistance from family after the birth of my children, it was my non-family social networks that got me through the tougher times.

When my first child was six months old, I joined a moms group primarily to socialize my infant daughter. When my son was born, these moms were the first to bring our family home-cooked meals. There is nothing better than a home-cooked meal prepared by a friend, especially when life becomes an endless cycle of newborn feedings! Now, as our children are older, our group gets together for social outings and book club — a welcome respite from the mental demands of home and work life.

My personal network also includes a veteran solo “law mom” with grown children who has “been there, done that” and has been mentoring me through this journey; a fellow solo “law mom” with two young children similar in age to my own who office-shares with me and is of great emotional support; and local groups of other “law moms” practicing in every area of law in my city who gather regularly for lunch and other social events. These women have helped me countless times through the ups and downs of running a solo practice while being caretaker to two young children. We often text, call, and send messages through social media to each other to discuss case strategy, pass referral business, and exchange ideas on child rearing, childcare, and managing family life and a law practice (e.g., how to motivate your partner to help you with the “mental load” of home life when you have upcoming hearings and trials to attend and prepare for!).

But if socializing/networking is not your thing, you can always “outsource” your network. For example, I also had a great birth doula and postpartum doula with my second child. In reality, the post-partum doula was my secret weapon to a successful maternity leave because she gave me the gift of sleep and physical recovery. The truth is, clients never stop calling or asking for status updates on their cases even when you give them fair warning you will be on leave. Being less sleep deprived allowed me to respond to these requests during maternity leave without missing a beat.

Tip 3: Adjust your expectations, realistically

Because I chose to wind down my practice to take maternity leave, rebuilding the practice took considerable time. During this process, I learned to be patient with myself. I lowered my expectations in terms of the financial remuneration I would achieve in the year following my son’s birth. I also readjusted my expectations concerning a reasonable workload. This meant declining “challenging” cases and accepting the type of legal work that would allow me to be a “present” caregiver to my young children. Nevertheless, I have come to realize that in the grander scheme, maternity leave did not negatively impact my career. On the contrary, it gave me a whole new skill set that my clients value, and irreplaceable time with my kids.

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