I’m not much of a political junkie, but I made a point of watching Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democrat National Convention. Michelle (it’s tough for me to refer to someone a few months older than me as "Mrs.") intrigues me, largely because she’s a contemporary with many superficialities in common: we both graduated law school in 1988 (in fact, a high school friend of mine was in some of Obama’s classes at Harvard); we both married in 1992 and we both have two daughters with lyrical names (Elana and Mira vs. Malia and Sasha) three years apart, though my girls are nearly 9 and 12 while the Obamas are 7 and 10. And more recently, Michelle Obama put her career on hold for family, specifically, to help with her husband’s campaign while trying to retain a presence in her daughters’ lives. That’s the same reason that I and most of my solo-mom (or solo dad) colleagues have eschewed more lucrative or prestigious opportunities in favor of running our own practices — so that we have the flexibility to spend more time with our children.
After Michelle’s speech, her daughters trotted out on stage. Perhaps I read too much into their appearance, but the daughters’ confidence was palpable as was their easy familiarity their mom and hers with them. It was a familiarity that reminded me of my relationship with my own girls (when we’re not bickering, which of course, we do) – we share a certain comfortableness born of time spent together, not really doing anything special but just hanging around. I couldn’t help thinking that even if Michelle Obama had worked at one of the fifty supposedly most family friendly law firms that she would have missed out on this type of experience. Michelle would have spent her time with her girls in carefully metered segment, from 7 pm when she arrived home until 8:30 pm when they went to sleep. And if Michelle Obama had brought her daughters to large firm meeting or conference (even on days when she was supposed to be working reduced hours), I’m sure she’d have been met with glowering stares or snide comments rather than the sheer delight that spilled forth from the convention audience.
Working on my own, I set my own rules for my firm and my family. No, of course, I don’t bring my daughters to every meeting with me, but there have been days where I had no alternatives so they accompanied me to a conference or sat quietly reading while I gave a presentation or attended a meeting. Over time, my girls have learned how to shake hands firmly, make eye contact and keep themselves busy and (reasonably) well behaved at professional events.
I know that my experience doesn’t differ much from that of other moms who run their own firms. Yet oddly, you won’t find solo practice ever mentioned on the list of "family friendly firms" or even discussed as a family friendly option. And yet, it’s the one place where parents can practice law without constantly concealing our job as parents as well.
Michelle Obama isn’t a solo and probably never will be, so career path is where our commonality ends. But we’ve both had the chance to experience the joy of taking our children to work and introducing our work to our children because we didn’t hew to the biglaw path but instead, found a way to have it all, all at once.