In recent years, the conversation over equality in the work place has shifted from a simple discussion of policy such as mandatory family leave or subsidized daycare to the root cause for gender inequality: the fact that in most cases, women are more likely to take the career hit and cut back or leave the workforce when they have kids. For women lawyers, starting a law firm offers a solution to this particular conundrum – by providing the kind of flexibility unavailable at most law firm jobs. At the same time, starting a firm doesn’t interfere with future earnings potential because the sky’s the limit when you own it. If you don’t believe me, check out the profiles of the women and mom law firm owners whom we’ve profiled here over the past year (more profiles coming soon!)
Yet, even though starting a law firm makes career sense for many women who seek to have children, it’s not easy. Even in the best of circumstances – when you don’t have the added expense of kids and are married or otherwise with a partner who has your back — getting a law firm off the ground and dealing with clients and judges while marketing constantly to pay the bills can be really hard. And that’s doubly true for those law firm owners who are single moms who do it all on their own.
Unfortunately, when we discuss topics like parenthood and lawyering, we don’t focus on the unique burdens for single moms. Truth be told, I never considered those issues extensively until I became a single parent involuntarily almost five years ago when my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and left the work force and since passed away. At that point, I learned that as a single parent with an ill or departed spouse, law firm ownership for all its benefits, can also be scary and exhausting even when, as in my case, your kids are in high school and college. For starters, there’s the financial side of things. When you’re married and own a law firm and have a slow month or two, generally, or your spouse can make up the difference whereas a solo mom lacks that luxury. So you dig into anything with potential that comes in the door because who knows what could happen the following month. Moreover, solo parenthood differs from marriage to a non-working spouse – because at least there, in a worst case scenario, the spouse could pick up hours at Starbucks or drive Uber. But if work dries up for solo moms with sole financial responsibility, they could be out on the street because there’s simply no backup of any kind.
At the same time, solo parenthood also limits opportunities for obvious reasons. When your nose is to the grindstone all the time, you have fewer chances to network or to explore other options.
Married parents can also divide and conquer – one parent can drop the kids off at college while the other can attend the high school guidance counselor meeting and both can still make it into the office on time. For the solo mom and law firm owner, the same scenario most likely involves a 6-hour overnight drive while talking to clients on the headset, pretending to be in the office. And while the profession has stepped up to support those suffering from depression and addiction and mean bosses, there are few resources devoted to the kind of stress that solo mom lawyers live with from the moment they wake up until the time they fall asleep. And encouraging mindfulness, exercise, “self-care” or “me time” – as many bar events now do – is a joke when many single moms barely have the time to take a breath let alone spend the day at a spa.
Today, on Mother’s Day – I want to give a special shout out to the moms who are running a law firm and family all on your own. It takes a special kind of strength and courage not to mention nerves of steel to do what you do and I’m sorry that I never acknowledged you before. Memo to my colleagues in the profession: if you know a single mom who owns it, order her lunch or offer to pick up an appearance when she can’t get to court on time. Suggest new opportunities that may interest her and offer a new income source or introduce her to people who you meet at a networking event that she wasn’t able to attend. Or just stop to take the time and tell her that she’s doing an awesome job.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mom lawyers!