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  • Fern Lee

Is returning to private practice the right step for you?



If you're wondering if returning to private practice after having a baby is the right step for you, you aren't the only one. Private practice can be all-consuming, and whilst you might have been one who was happy to devote her life to it, now you might be asking if it is the right step for you to return to it.


What might you need to consider? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself.


  1. Do you love practicing the law? Is practicing the law the same as breathing air for you? In other words, is it your passion? Some can't do without it while others are happy to shift into other things. Explore what it is that you want from not only your career but your personal and family life. If you cannot do without private practice, consider the type of firm that you are entering or going back to. How flexible are they, for example, will you get working from home if you so desire? What about flexible working hours? Do they respect or advocate work-life balance? Are the partners understanding and parents themselves? What's their culture like? Do they like kids? Find out what is important to you and matching the law firm to your lifestyle would help you lead a sustainable and happy working life. It could be that you are happy to work the hours like before and leave the caregiving to your husband, a nanny or a grandparent. And that's okay too.

  2. What else are you considering? If private practice isn't something that you particularly want to continue with, but the law is what you want to stick with, consider looking at other options. Academia. Research. Compliance. Speechwriter. Policymaker. Public servant. Stay-at-home mom Entrepreneur There are many professions and organizations that could use the analytical skills of a lawyer. The sky can be your limit if you choose to explore your other options. Make a list of causes or interests which you wish to explore. Talk to your network of people you know. Do you know anyone working within the areas you are interested in? Can you get introduced to others who are? Don't think that private practice is the only option for you simply because you used to be in it. Think beyond what you used to do. Your skills are important and desired by many. Don't put yourself down.

  3. What do you want out of your family life? There are some mothers who are happy to have help with the children during the week, be it a nanny or a grandparent so that they can go back to work. Other mothers prefer to be stay-at-home, or go part-time. What is it that you want to prioritize out of your family situation? It all depends on your priorities (no judgement here! You do whatever works best for you!) It might be that if the law firm you used to work for would be willing to allow you to return to private practice at a part-time level, but consider whether you will be doing part-time hours (and receiving part-time pay) with a full-time workload. In my opinion (and experience), working mothers realize that this isn't the ideal situation they had hoped it would be. Inevitably, the load is heavier than they would like, and part-time makes for a difficult and harried life. The other option is a job-share but you must trust your job-share partner implicitly and be willing to clear the air with him or her should any confusion arises. I have in the past decided that job-share was not the right option for me simply because I could not trust the person I would be job-sharing with. One also has to consider how clients would feel about this, and whether preferring one lawyer over the other would be something you would have to tackle. That is not to say that this isn't an impossible situation. It just means that you have to give it careful consideration and be clear and honest about how you two would deal with difficult situations as they arise, how you would deal with handing over the work and whether your working styles are compatible. It has been done before.

  4. Start networking or working towards your choice It's ok to take some time to think about what your choices are. Speaking to a variety of people in the field you are interested in is a good idea. Doing your research as to what a new role entails is also another good idea. Getting a sense of what you want to do is important and speaking to people already in the field gives you a good sense of what to expect when you do get in. If you are going back to an old position, it's also a good idea to start networking (read: dropping people an email, having a coffee or lunch or a drink with them) with the people that can help you as a reminder that you aren't going to be staying away for good. Reminding people that you are around and letting them know that your intentions will keep you visible and at the forefront of their minds. It doesn't have to be often, just consistent and regular contact. Updating them about your intentions and any changes also helps to let them know that you are still interested. You might consider meeting with them to let them know your intentions and asking them whether your plan is feasible. You might consider attending staff meetings (if approved) or seminars and events held by the firm in order to keep in touch and be seen as a willing employee. Letting them know your plans will also help you gauge whether it is a feasible strategy for you to return to private practice. Meeting others in the field of interest could help you decide which field suits you and what other qualifications (if any) you require before returning to the workforce. In this way, there are no surprises when you make your transition back. If you are entering a new field, maybe getting a volunteer position (if this is feasible) or an internship will help you decide if that is the right path for you. Whatever it is you are thinking about, don't be afraid to start speaking to people and doing your own research, getting a volunteer position. It just helps inform your decision better, not just about the work but how you will cope when balancing work and a young baby.

  5. Don't discount your time off Parenting builds skills too so don't forego mentioning that. Don't sell yourself short that way. As parents, wherever you are in your journey, we build and learn new skills every day. It's the hardest job I do every day, and I am a lawyer who has worked in Singapore and London in some of the largest firms! It might be that you will have to phrase it in a more palatable way in your resume but remember to do it. We all do this anyway - we personalize our resume for each organization we are applying to or who we are speaking to. The important thing is to remember that we have these skills! Don't discount them. What are the skills you could learn while parenting? - Time management - Multi-tasking - Working under pressure - Risk-taking - Problem-solving - Excellent organizational skills - Initiative Here are just some skills that you would be acquiring and honing as you move through your parenting life. You might find some more along the way. Don't sell yourself short. You are not doing 'nothing' when you are at home with your baby. You are working too. I hope that this has helped you start your journey in some way towards thinking about going back to work. Perhaps not going back is also an option for you. In that case, the same rules apply - research and speak to others who have gone down a similar route. Consider whether it is something you can manage personally. Are you ambitious and want to work? Do you need to get out just for a few hours a day but want to spend time with your child? If you need help assessing the situation and would like to speak to someone who has gone through it before, please let me know. I offer a no-obligation, free coaching call. My email is fern@fernleecoaching.com Have a peaceful day. Fern Fern@Fernleecoaching.com www.fernleecoaching.com