The time has come in your life to grow your family. Congrats! You might be like me and have every emotion possible. Joy. Excitement. Anxiety. For young women in law, there is the added question of maternity leave. For young women in law with their own law practice (or your own clients), this really does become a huge question mark.
For me, I have my own practice and the buck starts (and stops) with me. Then the pandemic hit, and then I was expecting and I had to figure out what my firm would look like with a baby in the picture. I didn’t find many resources on how to do it all (as I later learned – no one can do it all). So, I figured it out as I went, and I’m excited to keep this discussion ongoing as there are so many tips we can learn from each other. My baby girl is 4 months old, and I am learning everyday how to be the best lawyer and mom.
Here are some tips I learned along the way.
#1 It takes a village
I am here to tell you the words you already know – it takes a village. I learned very early on that I needed an assistant. This doesn’t surprise you, but law is very administrative heavy. That admin work ties you up from doing other things to grow your business, like marketing, heck even just spending time recharging the batteries.
I also highly recommend having a bookkeeper who can reconcile your books by the 25th of the month for the previous month to stay compliant with the LSO rules. When you’re in the thick of baby and keeping your practice afloat, your future self will thank you for it!
#2 Put systems in place
Do you have systems in place which allow others to jump in if you’re not available? Does your current software need an upgrade? Are you able to work/continue to work remotely? Is there a system and procedures for intake calls, opening new files, sending out Zoom calls, collecting on accounts in arrears – ie. all the fun stuff!
For me, I switched from PC Law, which was not remote/ cloud based, to Cosmolex. It was an expense, and it took a significant amount of everyone’s time to migrate and then learn the new software. But looking back, it has streamlined a lot of our docketing, invoicing, and accounting. My bookkeeper can log in remotely. Goodbye TeamViewer!
How can you make your life easier?
#3 Build your team
Another decision was growing our team. I hired an associate, not even very mindfully, but I was swamped and had found a newly called lawyer to help me with legal research and finalizing drafts. I was impressed with his skills and realized that having another lawyer, which means having another pair of eyes and ears, was a value add. If things continue in this trajectory, I see the value of adding another junior lawyer. The same reasoning applies. Another lawyer to draft materials, to speak to clients regarding certain issues, and draft correspondences, frees up your time to delegate, market, and spend the cuddle time with your newborn. I get it. Hiring another associate is an additional expense and the future is that big question mark. The truth is you are building a thirty-year career and it is helpful having another lawyer by your side to help ensure your practice runs smoothly as you recover from having a baby (and go to the millionth and one doctor’s appointments).
Preparing for a time where you will be more hands off forces you to be more efficient. I took the time while pregnant to look at my needs and wasted no time to fill them. This ramp up period helped me to take time away, my next tip.
#4 How to briefly take time away
I took a three-week vacation to go to London, England in 2019, and I had serious anxiety about being away. Of course, everything could wait and what couldn’t wait my summer student at the time handled. I hopped on to my emails only a few times. Planning my time away post-pregnancy felt different. I didn’t know how much time I would need, and what I could/ couldn’t do. Of course, there is no right answer. You will soon have two babies – your practice and your human (maybe you have more human babies!) This is a venture into the unknown.
If you have your own firm, you can decide whether it makes sense to have a cooling off period. For example, we didn’t take on new clients for about four months. You might think it was four months after baby but it was three months at the end of my pregnancy and one month post-baby. I was exhausted beyond belief being so pregnant (and then I was two weeks overdue). Saying no to new clients allowed us the time to focus on our current clients. My due date gave us a great deadline to move court proceedings forward before my “maternity leave.” This is in quotes because I never really set an out of office reply and to my clients, someone was always around and I was still there making sure they were happy. I will say not taking on new clients during that time permitted me time away. It also gave me time to train my new associate and put all those systems in place I mentioned. We are now back to full speed and forging new relationships with new clients.
Do I have fomo of what could have been? Yes. It is normal to have that knee jerk reaction that you should be taking on clients. The truth is it makes you a better lawyer to know what you have time for because it means you’ll be focused on your existing files. There is plenty of time for the make-your-year file.
#5 Power of the Pen
I am a huge advocate for printing off drafts, marking them up, and then taking a picture-to-scan to send to my associate or assistant. I find this is the easiest and quickest way to move things along the approval process. My associate sends me one email with his drafts, I print everything and throughout my day I mark it up and send it back. I sometimes draft paper to pen, or in my notes section of my phone. If there is time in my day, it is easier to return to writing in a notebook or writing in my phone then drafting on my computer. I actually wrote my first draft of this blog post in my notebook! Shout out and thank you to my assistant Jessica for typing it up!
#6 Plan in advance
It is tempting to have the “I’ll just do it myself” mentality, but this is not sustainable – especially when sleep is a finite resource. Looking at the month or even months ahead, what deadlines are coming up? Impress upon your team what is priority, what are the deadlines and have no hesitation to send drafts back well in time for this back and forth. If there is any aspect that can be delegated - delegate.
Plan an extra 2-week lead time to allow for the back and forth of re-drafts. This removes stress of last-minute drafting and re-doing the work. This extra lead time has been a game changer as it only required my feedback along the way which is much less of my time than re-drafting. Your work time, like sleep, at the beginning stages are finite. Last-minute is a thing of the past. It is a win-win-win when you can plan in advance and stay on top of your deadlines.
Do you remember the show Who Wants to be a Millionaiire? The ways to get the answer were called “lifelines”. One lifeline is called phone-a-friend. Lifeline is a good word for it! Support during this time is crucial, and the friend you call doesn’t have to be a lawyer. It can be anyone who gives you the confidence and always needed cheerleading boost.
If you’re stuck on a legal issue, and you don’t have another lawyer to call, there are organizations you can contact. If you head the Ontario Bar Association’s website, go the practice areas section and reach out to someone on the section. Lawyers are always happy to help each other. I’m always happy to hop on a call and discuss estate litigation. There are also resources available for legal research including the Great Library and also the Toronto Lawyer’s Association (“TLA”) (by membership). I work closely with TLA and I can attest that they are a fantastic resource for young lawyers. Reaching out to friends, in any capacity, helps us navigate this new role of mom and lawyer.
#8 Structuring home life
What are the ways you can structure your new mom role that allows you to have time to recharge and also get out that case conference brief? What has helped me is having a magic erase calendar on the fridge with my call/ Zoom schedule and all appointments (with colour-coded markers, of course). If everyone is working from home, it helps us figure out where to be and who is doing what.
Structuring your day so you can co-ordinate schedules will help you carve out some time for the work zoom calls, and personal doctors appointments. I made the decision, for now, to not accept calls before 11AM so I have time to sleep in if the baby keeps me up, to look presentable (if on Zoom), and to read anything and catch up. I also put all my non-work meetings, in my calendar (both fridge and Outlook) so I’m not double booked. One thing I do recommend is weekly video chats with your team to discuss the status of files, marketing, etc. We just started this a month ago and it has been extremely helpful to know where we are at.
#9 Matt-leave activities
This new baby phase is A LOT. Especially still maintaining an entire practice. Then there’s a pandemic on top of it. I joined a mom Zoom group and I figured if I meet one person it would be worth it. What I found was a whole resource of friends and activities – and as park hangouts became permitted, most were just across the street from my house!
I signed up for a baby music class Friday mornings and I look forward to it every week. What activities and people can you meet to keep you grounded, supported, and invigorated?
Warren Buffet surprised us all when he shares with Bill Gates his really blank calendar. In his words, “you can’t buy time”. This is a monumental time of your life and I hope these tips will help you with this time with your new baby and maintain your law practice!
Author: Kimberly A. Gale, Gale Law Estate Litigation
Kim has honed her advocacy skills in a variety of settings and is a fierce advocate for her clients.
Kim is a pioneer in the legal community and is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the field of law. She had envisioned becoming a barrister from a young age as she enjoys solving problems and negotiating. In 2007, she attended Western University and graduated in 2011 from the media program. After working in shipping and logistics and marketing, she worked as an assistant to an estate litigator in 2013. Kim enjoyed working in this area of law and pursued her dream of going to law school with the plan to one day open her own law firm. In 2015, Kim graduated from City University of London and worked as a paralegal at a Bay street firm equivalent in the UK. She returned to Toronto and completed her equivalency exams, barrister and solicitor exams and articled with the same estate litigator. In January 2018, Kim was called to the bar and launched Law For Millennials and NCA Network while working at a boutique estate litigation firm. In January 2019, Kim launched Gale Law.
Kim's experience and peaked interest in estate litigation began in 2013. She has worked on dependant support applications, disputes over who should be estate trustee, and capacity issues relating to will challenges. Kim is passionate about helping clients solve their legal issues.
Kim is founder of legal blog Law For Millennials, diversity and inclusion group NCA Network, and law firm Gale Law.