I have spent much of my 27-year career working to support and promote female lawyers and forming networks to serve as the foundation for women to reach personal and professional success—however she chooses to define success. When I read attorney Susan Smith Blakely’s article about the path to upward mobility for women attorneys, I felt compelled to share my own personal experience.
This is not intended to be a criticism of Blakely, but instead, a reminder to all lawyer moms (and lawyer dads and non-binary lawyers with kids) that practicing law can and will work for you as long as you choose the right firm or company and build a support network.
To help others build their own support network, I became a founding member of the Empowerment Collaborative (TEC) at the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC). I joined forces with a strong group of women and men who care and are dedicated to helping others make a positive impact when it was needed most—at the height of a worldwide pandemic.
Your Career is Your Own Journey
As I began my professional journey, the path I took wasn’t always easy. During a significant portion of my legal career, I was a single mom of two kids.
Being a mother made me a better person, a better lawyer, a more productive team member and an overall more nurturing relationship partner to my valued clients. I could truly list hundreds of women I have met as part of my work on a national, regional, and local level who are the biggest rock stars I know—as moms and lawyers.
They are the people I want on my team and beside me at my son’s high school graduation party. These are not just senior lawyers either, they are young moms or mothers-to-be.
“Lawyer mom” is not an oxymoron, although we really are just plain old lawyers. And not all lawyers want the same career path. Your path is yours to create on your time, at your pace, in your way, ideally, with all the support you need along the way. As you go forward on your own path, it is important to bring your authentic self to all aspects of your life, including your practice. In my view, this makes us better lawyers and better people.
Never was this truer than during the pandemic when our authentic selves came through Zoom, WebEx and Teams as our dogs barked and our kids screamed. We showed up in baseball hats and workout clothes with messy houses hidden behind virtual backgrounds.
While the pandemic made carving a career path even more challenging for all lawyer parents, it showed us how flexibility can provide support and how understanding can build bridges—we are messy people with messy lives.
Lawyers who do not have kids may be dealing with aging parents, family crises, and mental health challenges while trying to be supportive sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and partners. Now that we have revealed more of ourselves than ever, let’s keep the screens up and the facades down.
Maintaining this type of flexibility and authenticity is one way we can help parents succeed as lawyers while allowing those around you to see truly see “you” and be able to support you as a mom and a person. Friends, it’s about being the change and finding solutions, not imposing age-old mandates.
Build Better Networks
Part of the solution should include focusing our time on building bigger, better, and deeper support networks. Given my strong dedication to empowering women, I am so proud to have played a key role in establishing TEC as part of the diversity, equity & inclusion committee’s mission.
TEC aims to support and promote the female members of IADC in collaboration with the men who care. Not because we need extra help, but because sometimes recognizing differences makes us collectively better and educating each other given these differences benefits everyone.
The TEC will allow us to showcase every female success story within IADC, while providing a welcoming environment that allows all IADC’s amazing female members to further build their networks. We need more positive programs like the TEC rather than discouraging reprimands of what lawyer moms can or should be doing.
The understanding of what a women’s network can bring to your legal practice began at my own firm where we built a women’s initiative over 16 years ago—one of the first in Big Law with the mission to recruit, retain, and promote our own women and women in the communities where we provide support.
Through programs like mother-to-be mentoring, 360 mentoring, Spotlight on Leaders, and countless internal and external events, we have tried to create an environment that meets people where they are and embraces their choices for their legal careers.
I do agree with Blakely that we need more women leaders, but I think we should choose to follow the lead of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Lawyer moms (and all parents): I care about you. You are doing a great job. Let’s join to make the legal career path as clear as possible for each one of us.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Heidi B. (Goldstein) Friedman is a partner in Thompson Hine’s Environmental and Product Liability Litigation practice groups. She has spent much of her career advocating for the advancement of women in the industry and for industry support of parents who are lawyers.