Monday, October 17, 2005

Sacrifice vs. Compromise

I know we have been discussing sacrifice lately here on the ASP blog, but I felt while reading the posts that a woman's perspective would be different.  I have had female students ask me about how to plan a career and a family simultaneously and whether it is possible.  My answer is always the same:  I'll let you know when I've figured it out myself. 

I have never worked at a law firm, only for the government or in academics.  When we moved to Boston about seven years ago, I interviewed at a medium-sized firm and the woman interviewing me asked if I thought I could bill 1,800 hours a year.  After some quick math, I told her no.  I know she caught me looking at the pictures of her children on her desk and understood the questions I wanted to ask her.  How does she do it?  And more importantly, why?

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I have three small children (8 yrs. old, 5 yrs. old and almost 8 mos. old) and I work full time here in ASP (which for us is actually only four days a week).  My law school experience (ungraded since I went to Northeastern) did teach me that hard work was valuable and self-esteem producing.  I was totally into the "sacrifice" idea then and I firmly believed that I was going to have to be very responsible as a lawyer because my clients would be looking to me for important information and advice.  And I was this very responsible lawyer for a number of years:  working late to get my subpoenas out, prepping witnesses and carrying a staggering caseload as a NYC prosecutor.

But then I had a child, and another, and yet another.  And now I feel (despite appearances for anyone who knows what I really look like) stretched thin.  I have made sacrifices on both ends my career and my family.  I often feel that nothing gets 100% of my attention, that at best, I have only 95% to give and only rarely.  I pray it will rain on Saturdays so soccer is cancelled (I suppose I owe divine thanks for the last two weeks...). I wonder often if I am doing anything to best of my ability. 

Don't get me wrong, I feel entirely devoted to my students.  I want them all to succeed and get every last benefit of law school. I want them all to be confident and competent attorneys who will pass the bar the first time.  But I also remind them at orientation that they need to remember who they were when they walked in the door to the law school, because in three years you could easily forget who that was.  So I advise them to continue painting or hiking or baking or whatever it is that reminds them of who they are.  I have even prescribed a day off every now and then for perspective.  I remind them to call their mothers and walk their dogs.

Perhaps, (and this is a big one) women have never had the luxury of defining themselves almost completely by their profession once there is a family.   Do I dare to tell students that after my first child was born, being a lawyer went from my career to my job?  Perhaps that is the sacrifice I chose and they will choose differently.

Certainly practicing law is a very noble and responsible profession.  But what we should not sacrifice is the inherent humanity of a profession that helps with the entire cycle of life:  from birth through death.  Our clients are people (mainly) and our actions as attorneys will impact their lives.  I regularly advise my students to work hard and not make excuses that wouldn't hold up in court, but the truth is if we had perfected this profession, we wouldn't all be practicing.  (ezs)

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