It’s a Good Day for a Vacay: Why Women Lawyers Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Taking a Day (or Two!) Off

Is your manicure in dire need of a refresh? Has your dry cleaning been sitting at the cleaner’s so long that you’re praying it has not been sent off to the graveyard of forgotten dry cleaned clothes? Do you just need a few hours to sit on the sand at the beach and just chill and breathe by yourself for a while without anyone needing you or demanding anything from you? Trust me, you probably do. Worse than you even know. And you likely have stacks of unused vacation time accumulating dust. So why not use them?

As lawyers and moms, we work double-duty during the week. We keep clients happy, judges off of our backs, the kids fed and appropriately clothed and the house in reasonably good order. Guess what we get to do when the weekend comes around? The same thing, all over again. But we do it with love and oh so much heart. We go to our kids’ soccer games, ballet recitals and swim meets not out of a sense of obligation, but because we really do want to be there. We want to root them on and be there for them. We would feel bad if we weren’t there. We take them to yet another bouncy house birthday party, buy a cute present for said party and make appropriate small talk with the other moms at the party. But when Sunday night rolls around again and you’re frantically scrambling for field trip permission forms, packing lunches and laying out your own clothes (and maybe your husband’s) for the week.

Rather than waiting for life to make you feel run down and possibly make you physically sick (which is no fun and does no one any good), why not be proactive and schedule some time off to decompress. A morning in which you can actually savor rather than gulp down your first cup of coffee. A meal you can chew unrushed. Benefits of planned decompression time include a renewed perspective when you do return to the office, renewed strength to manage your family and household, as well as more zest, creativity, and energy for both your work and family.

But what about you? As moms and lawyers, we’re always putting the needs of others before our own. Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the importance of self-care and the need for women particularly and mothers specifically to establish a good self-care routine. It’s been shown to provide both physical and mental benefits. And who wouldn’t enjoy greater physical and mental health? You’ve heard it said that you can’t pour from an empty cup. And who, more than the lawyer mom, spends more time pouring?

Before you stop yourself from taking a day or two of vacation strictly for yourself, remember that while it is ultimately for you, it will also benefit your family, your clients and your work. In this case, putting yourself first really will help others as well.

The Myth of the Female Power Suit

I have read and researched so many articles and spoken with so many mentors that I know the advice by heart:

Dress at least one level above where you actually are.
Dress to impress.
A conservative, dark suit for court.
Pearls, not diamonds, before a jury.

So how does this all translate in the reality of the “typical” female attorney? The one who’s not new to the practice of law but whose fashion aspirations are well above her clothing budget? The one who must pay out for dance lessons and braces rather than the perfect but expensive shoes that strike the magical balance between style and comfort? Truthfully, I’m still not sure. But, I’m willing to share with you what has worked for me over the years.

A black suit is your BFF. You cannot go wrong with a black suit. Ever. And I’m unsure of any situation in which it would actually be improper to wear a black suit. Therefore, a well-fitting (perhaps even tailored) black suit is the best investment piece for any female lawyer’s wardrobe. From there you can dress it up or down given the occasion. You can wear the entire suit for court or a deposition. Wear just the pants or skirt with an appropriate blouse, shirt or sweater for a day of client meetings in the office. You can wear a dress with the suit jacket ready to throw on in the event you get unexpectedly summoned to court. You pretty much cannot go wrong with a black suit.

A good pair of court heels. They don’t have to be the most expensive or stylish shoes ever sold, but they do need to be able to hold you up without you wincing for a full day of court. These shoes could be black or nude. I would recommend that they be closed-toed and that they not exceed a height at which you are comfortable. Two-inch heels are my happy place, but it could be one- to three-inch as per your personal preference.

A killer bag. Just because you’re a lawyer doesn’t mean you have to carry a boring, bulky, impractical briefcase. Flaunt your style with a handbag big enough to carry a few files, but with practical pockets in which you can stash your smaller in size, but no less important, other necessities like lipstick and mints.

Classy and classic accessories. It doesn’t have to be pearls, but find one necklace that goes with most of your work wardrobe. I’m from the South and grew up wearing pearls, so I’m very comfortable with a strand of pearls around my neck. But any other type of nice necklace will work. Just remember that it’s your accent piece, so make sure it is something you really like!

As you can see, the basis of your work wardrobe doesn’t have to be terribly expensive or extravagant. You simply need to do the footwork (which you’re a pro at already) and shop around to find the quality basics of your wardrobe and build upon that.

When it’s OK for Women Lawyers to Cry at Work

I’ve practiced law for nearly twenty years. Trust me when I tell you I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen families torn apart, egos destroyed, heard the vilest of vile words uttered with the upmost contempt. I’ve seen individuals who thought their actions would have no consequence be sentenced in such a way that their consequence will follow them throughout their lives. I’ve seen justice delivered swiftly and quickly. I’ve seen justice denied under the ugliest of circumstances. But I’ve also seen stories of redemption. That moment when a domestic violence survivor advocates for herself on the stand and the jury hears her loud and clear. A former drug addict who successfully completes court-ordered rehabilitation and, for the first time in twenty years, is released from his probationary sentence into society. With all the beauty and brutality of the courtroom, it would only be human for tears to surface once in a while.

There are a plethora of arguments against women lawyers ever crying at work. I know that most men don’t cry—although I do know a couple who can tear up on command, just to strike the right note with a jury. I also realize that as women lawyers, we’re facing that annoying stereotype that women aren’t as tough as guys. You know, that “cry like a girl” insult. Therefore, as women in a profession traditionally dominated by men, we’re afraid to show any little sign of weakness, afraid that we’ll be labeled “hysterical” or “mentally unstable” or some other negative phrase.

We also have to distinguish between the types of tears we’re talking about here. I do believe that tears of anger, frustration or rage are best left behind closed doors. Once a judge chastised me in open court for wearing a pants suit to court rather than a skirt. I was enraged, infuriated and humiliated. My eyes burned with tears, but I managed to control myself until I was safely alone. To cry in in front of that judge would give her exactly what she wanted. And yes, that judge was female.

With all these stereotypes working against us, when would it ever be okay for women lawyers to cry at work? Unfortunately, there is no bright line rule or clear guidance. You have to trust your gut, your instinct. And, truth be told, there will be situations where you may not be able to control whether you cry or not. Remember your client has hired you and not a robot for a reason. Know what that is? You are human. Therefore, you have a heart, a soul and the capacity to cry.

In any given day in our profession, we see the best and worst in people. We see adoptive parents or grandparents provide a permanent home to abandoned or neglected children. We see heartfelt confession of guilt and repentance. We see the arrogant walk of a perpetrator who has taken more from his victims than his puny life sentence can ever repay. It is life at its beautiful and most tragic. So if you are moved to tears, just go with it.

5 Reasons Being a Lawyer/Mom Rocks

You know it’s hard.  You know there is mad juggling 24/7.  And you know you roll your eyes at the phrase, “Work/Life Balance,” because no such thing exists.  But here are just five of the top reasons being a Lawyer/Mom completely rocks.

1. Your life so far has prepared you for the courtroom. 

You know how to expect the unexpected.  You know how to do very demanding work on little or no sleep.  You know how to appeal to even your toughest critic.  Cranky judge deny your motion unexpectedly?  You know how to roll with it, mama!  It’s just like that “Dress Like Disney” day at your kids school you completely forgot about until you were in the school parking lot and you fashioned a Mickey Mouse headband out of fast food straws in the minivan from last night’s soccer practice.  No biggie!

2. Kids: the Best Cross Examination prep ever!

No one can pull one over on the Lawyer/Mom, so the witness who is trying to skirt a question in a deposition has no clue who he’s tangling with.  The Lawyer/Mom has extensive experience and a vast array of techniques to uncover the truth no matter with whom she is dealing.  She can get the latest crush info out of her moody and unforthcoming pre-teen daughter.  She can find out exactly what the toddler put in her (or the dog’s) mouth.

3. You know how to deal with unreasonable clients.

You know, the ones not grounded in reality?  Who expect you to make chicken salad with chicken…well, you know.  They’re not unlike our kids one bit.  Our kids, the ones who need nutrition to be healthy yet only see white-colored food as the only viable edible option ever.  Lawyer/Moms know how to offer a palate of healthy options, hoping one will stick (or know when to throw in the towel and succumb to the drive-thru option!).  We may not make everyone happy all the time, but we know how to negotiate until everyone is at least semi-satisfied.

4. You handle deadlines like no one’s business!

Moms by their very nature are planners.  How else could your kids get from school to soccer practice, get homework done, eat dinner, bathe and make an intricate geography drawing that’s due the next day, go over spelling words, police social media usage AND manage to get a good night’s sleep and repeat it all the next day.  That takes planning.  The Lawyer/Mom likely has things ready well before they’re actually due because she is all too aware of the little random curve balls life throws.  Like a sick kid (or kids!).  A flat tire.  A kitchen fire.  You get the picture.  Lawyer/Mom has got it planned.

5.You know how to deal with really big messes.

When the proverbial poop hits the fan, you know how to wipe it clean.  And look good while doing it.  Just as kids throw the unexpected at you in random intervals, so do clients.  But you’re prepared.  After all, you’re Lawyer/Mom!