Friday, April 24, 2015

The Mommy-Track for Lawyers: 5 Career Options

Mothers' Day is creeping up on us again and it's always a good time to talk about work issues for lawyer moms looking to re-enter the legal workforce.

After taking a break to raise kids, it won't come as a surprise to you that many legal employers can be unforgiving. To some degree, that's the nature of the legal profession. It's built in the billable hour and when you're raising a family, the billable hour is a demand that can be very hard to juggle. 

I'm an advocate of mommy-tracking your way back. Not all will agree with me, but it's a soft way to ease back in to the market without dealing with the pressures and expectations of the work world. 

The great thing about mommy-tracking is that you can work an easier job when the kids are small, and you never have a huge gap to explain. Then, as your kids get older, you can slowly move up to more challenging roles. 

Some examples of great mommy-tracked legal jobs:

1. The legal writer. I spent a large part of my mommy-tracked career at Of course, you'd have to live in Silicon Valley to work there, but their two-day-work-from-home policy was great and they had a solid 40-hours-a-week schedule. There are many legal writer and legal blogger jobs available and some will let you work entirely from home. 

Pros: Great flexibility. 
Cons: Low pay. Most jobs pay $20-30 an hour. 

2. The ghost writer for briefs.  There are many small litigation shops out there that are in need of a "behind the scenes" writer for legal briefs. It's hard work and not everyone has appellate brief experience. If you've been an appellate attorney in the past, then consider attending a few legal networking events and get to know litigators. You can easily charge $50-$150 per hour to draft these briefs.

Pros: Great flexibility, decent pay.
Cons: No stable income. You have to network and constantly find your next source of income. 

3. The contract manager.   In house legal departments are a beast of their own. While some believe that the in-house world is an amnesty for working parents, it's not always so and if you're negotiating sales contracts, don't expect to get the winter or Labor Day weekend off. But a contracts manager isn't on the hook as bad as the in-house attorney is and it's a great 9-5 job if you're buying your time before becoming in-house counsel. Here's the caveat, however: Don't expect that you'll be promoted to counsel at your current job. You'd likely have to apply to a different company as most companies won't promote their contract managers to "counsel". 

Pros: Great pay, great exposure to in-house legal
Cons: Don't expect to be promoted to "Counsel". 

4. The contract attorney. There are many great managed services out there that provide offsite lawyers into Fortune 500 companies. Many Silicon Valley companies are moving towards the managed-services model, where the are doing legal process outsourcing. You'd negotiate contracts and perform legal services from the comfort of your own home. Managed service providers include Axiom, Paragon, Elevate Services, and Flex by Fenwick. 

Pros: Great pay, great flexibility.
Cons: You can go large periods of time without an assignment. 

5. Your own practice. Many lawyer moms start their own shop. For some, it's a great fit. For others, it's not what they want. Having done it, I realized early that this wasn't what I wanted to do. I was always a corporate person who wanted to be in-house. But I have friends who swear by this-- from a financial standpoint and from a flexibility standpoint. 

Pros: You make your own hours, sense of accomplishment.
Cons: You eat what you kill-- no stability. Also, it can be a lot of work. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

5 Tips For Pregnant Lawyers

I'm a mommy lawyer. And I worked while pregnant. I've got two kids under the age of 8 and I currently work in house at a company with over $1 billion in revenue. 

I wrote and passed the California bar exam when I was 8 months pregnant. I also worked at a large law firm, and then subsequently at a major legal publisher while I was in my second pregnancy. 

Pregnancy is hard. I'm not trying to rub salt in the wounds of those women who are pregnant and working as lawyers. I did it, but it was brutal. (Read my lament here.)

But having done it, Here are my 5 tips to being pregnant while working.

1. Disclose your pregnancy. Many women are scared to tell their employer that they are pregnant. I actually told a law firm in the interview and they still hired me, so the stigma isn't as bad as many believe it is. While it's not wise to tell your boss before the sixth month, pregnancy can mess with your brain, so you might want your workplace to be more understanding of any minor errors that you do, as a result of brain-fog.  The other added benefit of telling your boss is that the law protects you from adverse employment actions (i.e. getting fired or demoted) if you are pregnant. 

2. Use disability benefits for pregnancy. There are many benefits afforded to people who are pregnant. I was able to take the bar exam in a private hotel room with food, a private bathroom, and a pillow in my lap. If your pregnancy is particularly bad, you should even consider taking a paid leave. In many states, your job is protected. 

3. Work from home. Many transactional law jobs will allow you to work from home. If you're doing predominately research or redlining contracts, you can get away with working from home. I was working at a large international publishing house for the latter half of my pregnancy and they let me work from home four days a week. 

4. Get your sleep. After you come home from work, make sure you sleep well. I used to go to bed at 7 P.M. If you have other kids, this might be challenging but if you have a supportive spouse, you need to call on that support now. 

5. Eat well. If you're throwing up every meal, it might be hard to eat well when you are pregnant. But you need the energy and the nutrition. Keep some healthy snacks with you, such as fruit and yogurt. 

Many women work in law firms while pregnant. From time to time, you will run into difficult employers or people who don't understand. And yes, you might get labeled as the "mommy" (I actually won a gag award from a well-intentioned female boss called the "'Heck yeah I can make my numbers even with a crying baby' Award".)  

But in the big picture, you'll come out on top. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

What is the Difference Between In House Counsel and Law Firm Attorneys?

Going in house versus working at a law firm can seem like a dream for many lawyers. For some, they see it as an opportunity to have some work-life balance in the legal profession. Some lawyers crave business and love being in the corporate world.

This is the first of many posts, chronicling life from the inside of a large corporate legal department.

What is the difference between practicing law at a law firm and practicing in-house?

1. The bottom line. In a law firm, the bottom line is the billable hour. That is how the law firm makes money. In a corporation, money tends to revolve around business development and sales. A lawyer at a law firm is focused largely on building and maintaining the clientele base and providing thorough work to the external client. In house, however, the focus on helping business teams close large deals.

2. Networking. Law firm attorneys are expected to network to generate new clients for the firm. An in house attorney is networking to gain knowledge of new issues, new methods or new products that can benefit the legal department. Also, an in house attorney tends to network more within the company.

3. The substantive knowledge. A lawyer at a large firm can be more niche and specialized. A lawyer in a corporate legal department, however, will often find that they are the jack of many trades (if not the jack of all trades). A lawyer working on corporate contracts, for example, might need to understand employment laws, UCC, tax laws, privacy laws, and intellectual property laws. The difference however, is in the depth of knowledge. In many cases where a legal topic becomes too deep, in house counsel will outsource it to a law firm.

4. The hours. In house counsel still have a large workload. But many of them find that they can leave at a reasonable time on most days, if there isn't an urgent deal to close. Not every law firm has long hours. However, the law firm culture is notorious for keeping associates at their desks overnight. Don't be fooled, though. In house attorneys do work long hours and weekends when there are million dollar deals on the line.

5. The pay. It's no secret that law firm attorneys are paid a lot more than in house attorneys. In some cases, the pay can even out-- particularly as the in house attorney climbs the ranks. However, a typical law firm associate at a large firm can have a starting salary of almost $200,000 per year. By contrast, a recent salary posted at a Fortune 500 company in Silicon Valley for an in house attorney with three to five years of experience was $158,000. And, when he was hired, that attorney sat in a cube with the paralegal staff, as opposed to the swanky office that an attorney at a large law firm will have. As you hit partner level at large firms, you're looking and raking in $500,000 a year or more. Even at a VP level as an in house attorney, chances that you'll be hitting the half-a-mil mark are modest. Of course, once you hit the GC mark, then we're talking millions.

The bottom line is this-- work where you fit. If you like teams, business, budgets, PowerPoint, and versatility, then in house might be right for you. If you prefer working niche, developing business, and working independently, then law firm life might be a better fit.

Other Reads: (ReadWorking Parents, Don't Be Ashamed to Ask for Help)