Like any superhero, lawyer-mothers sometimes feel like they are leading a double life. One moment we’re patient and caring, and another moment we’re avid advocates who don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes the two responsibilities seem completely at odds. We might ask ourselves whether the identities themselves are irreconcilable and are each defined by a series of martial skills and requirements. We wonder if we could ever integrate the two – or just be ourselves.
Authenticity is of enormous importance for our performance and our satisfaction at work. We need to feel like we know who we are, understand our strengths and values, and achieve our own meaningful goals. We need to feel like we can be who we are at work and, in addition to the legal skills we’ve improved, bring our wide range of talents and experience to the table. And of course within the limits of professionalism, ethics and effective representation of our customers.
Legal mothers are fed up with the old models. The archetype of the “man to see” who is not like us and serves almost none of our customers. The billable hourly standard that doesn’t reflect the value we add. The expectation of following a role model who leads a life that we do not want to emulate. The myth of a flat structure that rewards seniority rather than performance and innovation. These standards do not serve authenticity and mostly make us unhappy.
All lawyers need honesty and integration to be authentic. We need margin and relaxation to be authentic. And we don’t have to forego professionalism or limits to achieve this worthy goal.
Authenticity creates space for leadership without title, authority or direct reports. When we emerge authentically as ourselves, we keep space for others to do the same. When we speak honestly about our skills and expertise, we can also generously exalt other women. Just as we know that our children learn best when they see us model behavior, so do lawyers. Our children watch. So are our colleagues and our customers. Show them courage. Show them diversity. Show them compassion. Show them fight. Show them honesty. Show them grit and determination. Show them resilience.
Authenticity also leads to connection. There’s something about “we’re in it” instead of pretending we all have it together. We can really talk about priorities, strategies, and realistic expectations for productivity and results. After nearly a year of pandemic, many of us are still sticking to the standards we used to be able to achieve. It’s unpopular to say, but lowering the bar can be a healthy step as we acknowledge that in a week we can no longer achieve what we used to do. There is a way for us to add value alongside motherhood and self-care and achieve incredible results – high quality, lower quantity. If we have a real conversation about it and allow some growth and deviations from outdated standards, there is room for progress.
The truth is that there are things in my life as a lawyer that make me a better mom. (At that point, we were all convinced of the benefits of having a working mom, yes?) But after months of doing both jobs by gossamer, I’m now equally convinced that my life as a mom also makes me a better one Lawyer.
I am not going to give you a list of “feminine qualities” and skills that translate well into compassion for our customers. The skills that you bring to life as a mother and lawyer are unique to you and not universal. (True story: I’m empathetic, but I suck on teamwork.) But I will encourage you to think about what they are, when they overlap, and when they are at odds.
There are times when skills are wonderfully coordinated. In preparing for my experience, creativity, quick thinking, resilience, optimism and patience as a mother and as a lawyer have served me very well. My clients appreciate my not being quick to blame or point my fingers. I am ready to find a new solution. I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t go right the first time. We will try again! I know I have the legal chops, but I have so much more to offer. It feels good to let all that goodness surface with confidence.
An easy step to being authentic is to list some of the strengths and tendencies that are showing up in your life: one column as a mother and another as a lawyer. Maybe some things make both lists. Maybe some feel ugly and some feel beautiful. But when you are all loyal to you, you are ready to be more careful about choosing the energy that you bring into any situation. And more courageously, you choose to authentically emerge as a whole amazing lawyer-mother.
Laura Chipman is a marketing and privacy advocate and a life coach for attorneys. As a coach, she helps lawyers live and practice deliberately. As a lawyer, she takes pride in providing her clients with practical and creative solutions to legal challenges. Laura is also a mother of two boys and lives with her family in a 200 year old farmhouse in rural North Carolina. You can find out more about her story on her website www.essentialchip.com and chat with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/lauraschipman.