5 things to ponder when returning to private practice after maternity leave
Is going back to private practice possible after having a baby? Many of us know private practice can be grueling and relentless. Law firms demand long hours, their systems are often patriarchal and antiquated, and billable hours are everything.
But if private practice is your cup of tea, how do you marry your family's needs and the demands of practicing law?
Consider when you will be returning to work and what it is that you want from it. Even if it isn't in your immediate horizon, it would be wise to start mulling it over because it could help you to start strategizing and planning your return now.
Consider your new lifestyle :
What are your current needs? Are they different from before? Keeping them in mind while we are returning to our old role or perhaps seeking a new one is crucial because we want to feel comfortable in our workplace and be confident that we are able to sustain our working life. Some clients of mine are happy to hire a nanny and carry on as they did before. Some want to be a little bit more hands-on so considering what your needs are is important. There is no right or wrong answer to this question, it's simply to ascertain whether the role you will be taking up again will still be a good fit for you.
What role would you like to do? Do you want to carry on from where you left off or would you like to investigate alternative roles? A friend of mine made the transition back to her old law firm doing a professional support lawyer role (instead of a full-fledged practicing lawyer) because whilst she enjoyed the practice of law, she knew that she also wanted to her focus to on her daughter. This role allowed her to stay current with the law but not have full responsibility, and when the time came, she could go back to practicing without having a gap in her resume.
What are your priorities? Making a list of what is important to you now could help clarify your position. Are flexible hours important to you? Would you like part-time work? Knowing what you know about your old role, how does that gel with your parenting role? Sometimes we won't have all the answers at the outset. Sometimes you will change your mind. That's ok. A lot of parenting is juggling and course-correcting so please don't feel bad about changing your mind or tweaking your schedules. Just having a general idea of what you want your new working situation to be is a good start.
Have you been in touch with your current law firm? Some lawyers whilst on maternity leave like regular communication with their firms. Others might not. Some law firms even offer maternity coaching before during and after maternity leave to help with the planning and strategizing of their eventual return (or not). I think having maternity coaching is a brilliant idea so even if your firm doesn't offer it, would it be something that they are open to? Or would you be willing to get that support privately? Having a plan set in place and communicated to the HR department or HR partners is a good idea as it shows willing on your part, and the intention to return after maternity leave. Most lawyers worry that they won't be seen as serious about their careers when they go off on maternity leave and therefore won't be considered for partnership. With careful planning, this can be managed.
Is your law firm child-friendly? Are they flexible with working hours? Will you be allowed to work from home? Are you considering hiring a nanny? Nothing ever goes in a straight line when parenting, and there will be days when emergencies will come up, more often than we plan for. So planning for eventualities is important. The law firm I worked for allowed flexible working hours and some amount of working from home. I was not keen to hire a nanny which with hindsight might not have been the best idea. But in the end, I knew that my law firm was willing to give me some breathing room and I was able to continue practicing. Check the laws too. What is your legal entitlement as a working parent?
If returning to private practice is what you want, it is entirely possible. What is important is finding out whether your law firm is flexible and open-minded about parenting needs, what your priorities are (and whether it will be supported by your bosses) and communicating your needs and wants to your law firm.
If the firm you are returning to or going into isn't quite aligning with your needs, consider whether you will be able to accept their inflexibility.
I hope that this has given you some food for thought, whether you are in the before, during and after stages of maternity leave. If you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a wonderful day!