when I started practicing law 27 years ago, there was only one model for a successful female attorney—that of a successful male attorney. The women who preceded me typically were single or came back to work three days after having a baby.
My husband is an attorney who travels frequently. When he and I decided to start a family, we knew we needed to find a different way. I had recently become a partner at Neal Gerber Eisenberg, a newly formed firm with young, progressive leadership. I started working part-time in early 1987. Three sons and 21 years later, I still maintain a flexible schedule.
My law practice has centered on corporate and transactional law, and I have applied some of the principles of closing a deal to my life. I realized early on that the best approach is to achieve a result that benefits all parties. In 2006, I worked with other firm leaders to identify a new role that would align my strengths with the needs of the firm. In a win-win move for myself and the firm, I became Neal Gerber Eisenberg’s first general counsel. This position, which focuses on ethics and professional responsibility, allows me to add value to the firm in a unique way.
As a pioneer in part-time/flex-time options, I act as a role model and mentor to younger women attorneys. Whatever work option they choose to pursue, I advise them to keep their perspective. A three-month maternity leave may seem like a long time for a junior attorney to be away, but it really is a blip in the span of her career.
My advice for balancing work and life? First, be flexible. Take your particular work environment into account when structuring an arrangement that will be successful for both you and your firm. For me, it was having full-time childcare so I wouldn’t be tied to a rigid schedule.
Second, be responsive and communicate. Most projects aren’t emergencies. Clients and colleagues just want to know that you are on top of things. Third, don’t compartmentalize your daily life. Successful professionals are expected to be available 24/7, and some “life” issues have to be addressed during business hours. Fourth, take the long view. You can’t achieve all of your goals all at once, but you can over a lifetime.