Week in the Life of a Working Mom: Biglaw Partner in the Midwest

biglaw partner work-life balanceFor this week’s installment of our Week in the Life of a Working Mom series, I’m happy to introduce CorporetteMoms reader R, who lives in the Midwest with her husband and three kids and works as a partner in Biglaw. Our usual caveat applies: Please remember that this is is a real person who has feelings and isn’t gaining anything from this, unlike your usual friendly (soul-deadened, thick-skinned, cold-hearted, money-grubbing) blogger — so please be kind with any comments. Thank you! – Kat

If you’d like to be featured (anonymously or otherwise), please fill out this form! You can see all posts in this series here.

First, Some Basics About This Working Mom…biglaw partner work-life balance - image of a business woman

Name: R
Location: Work in midsize city in Midwest; live in suburb of that city
Job: BigLaw litigation partner
Age: 40
Home Situation:

I live in a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs with my husband (41-year-old architect), our kids (9-year-old boy/girl twins and a 3-year-old girl), and our elderly dog. The older two share a room, but we are casually looking for a bigger house. (Note: R says that since she wrote her Week in the Life, things have changed a bit: “Our dog is no longer with us, my husband is going back to work full time and leaning in a bit more, and we are preparing for a move to another city.”) 

Childcare Situation:

The older two are in school; husband works part time and gets them on and off the bus every day. The youngest is in daycare; I do drop-off and my husband does pickup. At this point, we are on the cheap end—$225/week for daycare. During the summers, it’s more because we pay for camps and childcare for the older two as well.

A Week in My Life

Sunday

Everyone sleeps in until after 9:00 (perks of all the kids getting a little older), but I always wake up at 6:30 or earlier. I play around on my phone and start a new book—this qualifies as nice “me time.” Sometimes, I go downstairs by myself and start coffee, but it tends to wake up my son so today I opt for lazing in bed quietly. Eventually everyone wakes up, and we go downstairs and eat breakfast. I make eggs, although only my husband and I actually eat them, with the kids opting for frozen waffles.

Normally, we’d all go for a walk, but we are all beat from a long day of cold, rainy soccer on Saturday, so we have a very lazy day. My husband mows the lawn, and I do some light cleaning. We both work on laundry. But, most of the day is spent watching movies (I not so secretly love Moana) and playing video games with the kids. My husband makes lunch for everyone, and he makes dinner (he does almost all the cooking and all the planning/grocery shopping). The older two do homework while he cooks. We eat dinner around 7:00, and then the little one goes to bed while the older two stay up and hang out with us until around 9:00, when they are sent to bed. I follow shortly thereafter.

R told us about how her husband does most of the cooking for the family: 

For years, he would cook on weeknights, and I would cook on weekends and do all the meal planning and grocery shopping. A couple years ago, I had a huge case that was on fast track to trial, so I spent months averaging over 250 billable hours a month. I had a six-month stretch where I was out of town for two of those months (total—the longest trip was two weeks). The whole thing culminated in a three-week jury trial. During that time, he took over the planning and shopping and discovered that he really enjoyed actual cooking (my planning for him involved lots of things that could be cooked in under 15 minutes, many involving the microwave). So, he just kept it up. Recently, I’ve started doing some meal planning again, but he still makes the grocery list, does the shopping, and does 90%+ of the cooking.

Monday

6:30 a.m. Alarm goes off, but I’m already up. I wake up my husband, who showers, gets the kids up and dressed, and feeds everyone while I get ready for work and deal with emails for work crises that have popped up overnight. I come downstairs and am responsible for doing the girls’ hair. He makes me a protein smoothie, which I take with me.
7:45 a.m.–9:15 a.m. In transit. I take the youngest to daycare and drop her off. I was out of coffee pods, so I stop at Starbucks for coffee then head into work through normal morning traffic.
9:15 a.m.–10:00 a.m. Arrive at the office, deal with emails, review task list.
10:00 a.m.–11:30 a.m. Work on my biggest case (I do really big cases, so I only have 2–3 active cases at a time, plus smaller projects), including discussions with opposing counsel, the senior partner, and an associate working on the case.
11:30 a.m. Walk to grab lunch with a colleague; eat at my desk while checking personal email.
12:30 p.m. Back to work for the afternoon. Enter time, deal with billing and other administrative tasks.
5:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m. Leave office and travel home to pick up daughter. (It’s soccer season, so the after-school commitments are intense, shortening my work hours and stressing me out, but it’s important that I’m there and involved as much as I can be.)
6:00 p.m.–6:30 p.m. Change clothes and drive oldest daughter to soccer practice.
6:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Soccer practice; I take advantage of the trails around the park for some cardio while she practices.
7:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. Drive home; eat dinner, which husband has already cooked.
8:30 p.m. All the kids head to bed; older two are allowed to read for awhile before going to sleep.
10:00 p.m. Lights out for me.

We asked R about her kids’ after-school activities and whether they’re limited to a certain number: 

We do have limits on what they can do. Generally, all three kids have a weekly swim class, which is non-negotiable. Then they each have a year-round activity—now, all three kids are in dance. When this was written, my daughters danced, and my son was trying to figure out his activity. … On top of those, we are willing to add seasonal team sports in spring and fall, and so far everyone has picked soccer.

With the perspective of additional time since I submitted this, I’ll add that my older two are probably done with soccer, although my youngest has started and seems to enjoy it. My older daughter’s dance commitments are becoming more time-consuming, and my son, in addition to dance, wants to start playing golf. Both have decided soccer isn’t the sport for them, so it will go to make way for them to try new things and commit more time to the things they love.

Tuesday

Looks the same as Monday through the day, except that I actually go to lunch with some coworkers. I work on the same case, including a long meeting with the senior partner, and I go to a webinar on estoppel (exciting stuff). Because my husband has extracurricular duty today, I don’t have to leave the office early—he picks up my youngest, and everyone goes to soccer practice. He shares a cute video of my 3-year-old tormenting her older sister.
6:30 p.m. Leave office. It’s after rush hour, so I get the glorious sensation of just driving home without sitting in traffic.
7:00 p.m. We eat dinner. Husband planned, purchased, and cooked per usual.
7:30 p.m.–8:00 p.m. We put my youngest to bed. The older two get ready for bed but are permitted to come back downstairs with us for awhile longer.
8:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m. My husband plays video games with the older kids while I watch and deal with emails.

Wednesday

6:30 a.m. I’m awake as usual, but I realize I forgot to set my alarm for 5:30 so I could get up and go for a run/walk in the neighborhood. So, the schedule proceeds as normal.
7:45 a.m.–9:15 a.m. Drop off youngest, stop at Starbucks for breakfast because my husband was not responsible for that this morning (we have a board with days mapped out, and I was supposed to make breakfast after getting back from working out—since the workout didn’t happen, the breakfast didn’t happen), drive to work.
9:15 a.m.–12:00 p.m. Work on case.
12:00 p.m.–12:30 p.m. Grab a salad from the place downstairs for lunch.
12:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m. Work on case and some smaller projects.
5:30 p.m. Leave office to pick up daughter for dance class. It’s picture day, so hair and makeup are involved, and I can’t be late. (On normal days, I sometimes get stuck at the office and husband will drop her off.)
6:15 p.m. I’m in our suburb and texting my husband to figure out where I should meet him to get our daughter (at home, at the daycare where he has to pick up the youngest, or at the grocery store because he goes on Wednesday nights). We end up meeting at the grocery. I stop for coffee on the way to dance class, and my daughter begs me for a hot chocolate. She won’t be able to drink it until after class, but she doesn’t care and neither do I. I get my coffee and she gets her hot chocolate.
6:40 p.m. Arrive at dance and daughter realizes she’s forgotten her dance bag—with her dance shoes that she needs for pictures. She gets dressed while I madly text husband and peruse the used jazz shoes that people sell at the dance school to see if I can score a new pair. I hit the jackpot with a newish-looking pair that are only a little bit too big. Do daughter’s hair in a “boring” ponytail because no dance bag also means no bobby pins. Another mom offers bobby pins, but I get sick of being the crazed working mom, so I decide that a high ponytail is the most appropriate style for a jazz photo anyway. No makeup because no dance bag. Ugh.
7:45 p.m. Pictures are done and we head to the car to go home. Daughter realizes that she really did have dance bag. It’s been in my car all along, with her jazz shoes. We laugh and decide she has to take jazz again next year because now she owns the shoes. She drinks her lukewarm chocolate, and we drive home. This is the best time for talking to my 9-year-old daughter. We chat all the way home about school, friends, books she’s reading, etc.
8:15 p.m. Dinner
9:00 p.m. All the kids are in bed. Husband and I watch DVR’ed episodes of The Daily Show, and I call it a night by 10:00.

We asked R about her comment about being “the crazed working mom”: 

I’m usually much more on top of things than this exemplary week and the saga of the missing dance bag would suggest. And, there are a lot of working parents in our suburb, so I’m not the only one scrambling to get the kids where they are supposed to be and missing bobby pins. In this case, the mom who offered really was a bit judgmental. In those moments, I find that I contrarily want to insist that I am not failing but rather that I meant to do it exactly this way. I think we are all just trying to feel good about our choices as parents. Some moms like to wave around their perfectly stocked (and present) dance bag full of bobby pins to show that their life choices were justified (because clearly, the best life choice is the one that leads to having bobby pins at a moment’s notice 24/7). I try to avoid this spiral and just make the best choices I can and try not to feel guilty about them.

Thursday

Rough night. The youngest has a stomach bug. She was up off and on all night, and I struggled to get back to sleep. I think I got two hours of sleep. God love my husband, who is always on vomit duty. I can handle anything but vomit. But, I’m still up, helping comfort her and support him.
6:30 a.m. Alarm goes off. Was I asleep? Who knows. Even my dreams are of vomit and exhaustion. I was supposed to get up at 5:00 and go to the gym for strength training, but that ship sailed around the fourth vomiting episode at 4:00 a.m. (Really, it sailed with the first, but who’s counting?) Husband and I engage in brief negotiation about whether we can take shifts. He has a proposal to get out and wants me to stay home in the morning. I have a 9:30 call and a 2:00 meeting, so I offer late afternoon. As usual, my job wins. I always try to stay home when I can, because it’s rare that I can. But I’m 4/5 of our household income, so this is a choice we both agree with.
7:45 a.m. I leave for work. Husband will get the older kids on the bus as usual and stay home with the youngest. I stop for the biggest coffee Dunkin’ Donuts sells, and two donuts, because I’ve given up hope for the day.
8:30 a.m. Arrive at work. Drink coffee and stare into the abyss like a zombie. Try to prepare for 9:30 call.
9:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m. Call.
10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m. Stare into the abyss.
11:30 a.m. Go with coworker to grab Subway, which I eat at my desk while staring into the abyss.
2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. Attend a webinar.
3:00 p.m. Leave office. My husband has figured out his proposal, but the youngest is still sick and can’t leave the house, so I’m on evening extracurricular duty.
3:45 p.m. Arrive home and assess pitiful situation on the sick child front.
4:15 p.m. Pick up son from bus, take him home to get ready for soccer.
5:00 p.m. Pick up older daughter from after-school STEM program.
5:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m. Soccer practice; sit in chair and watch practice while daughter reads book.
6:30 p.m.–7:00 p.m Drive home; talk to kids about school.
7:00 p.m. Eat dinner while husband puts pitiful youngest to bed.
7:30 p.m. Head to family room where husband and kids play video games. My brain is mush, so I just watch them and play games on my phone.

Friday

6:30 a.m. Alarm goes off. I’m basically already awake. Youngest is still a little feverish, although telling everyone that she’s not sick anymore. But she has to stay home, so she and husband cuddle in bed while I prod the big kids to go eat breakfast and get ready for school.
7:30 a.m. I’m out the door to work and stop at Starbucks on the way.
8:30 a.m. Arrive at the office; have meeting with senior partner about case strategy.
10:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m. Look at house listings; read Corporette and CapHillStyle.
10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m. Work on case.
11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Grab lunch with coworkers.
12:30 p.m.–4:30 p.m. Work on case.
4:30 p.m. Leave office; brave rush-hour traffic to meet my family at dance. Fridays, both my daughters have dance. (The oldest has ballet, and the youngest has a basic movement class that looks like early ballet.) I’m supposed to pick up the youngest from daycare, but she was home sick, so I meet my family there at 5:15.
5:15 p.m.–6:30 p.m. Watch daughters’ dance classes; they are preparing for recital pieces. Address requests for snack money and talk to son.
6:30 p.m.–8:00 p.m. We actually go out to dinner. Often, we just pick up takeout on Fridays, but we decide to go to a restaurant. Everyone is excited, but then everyone behaves like they’ve never seen a restaurant before.
8:30 p.m. We arrive home and put the youngest to bed. The older two hang out with us for awhile, and then everyone but my husband goes to bed.

Saturday

We are up by 7:00 and headed to the gym.
8:00 a.m.–9:00 a.m. Husband and I see our trainer while the kids go to gymnastics class at the kids’ club; afterward, we grab smoothies at the gym cafe.
9:00 a.m.–10:00 a.m. We are home trying to quickly shower and get ready for soccer. We head to soccer and are only a few minutes later than my daughters’ coach wants us to be.
10:15 a.m.–11:30 a.m. My daughter’s soccer game and post-game snack festivities.
11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Break between games; my parents came to see the kids’ games, so we all go out to lunch and then hit the playground because my youngest always begs to go when we are at the park for soccer.
1:30 p.m. Back at the soccer fields for a little pre-game practice.
2:15 p.m.–3:30 p.m. My son’s game and post-game snack festivities.
4:00 p.m. We are home for the night. We do a little cleaning/mostly lazing around and playing with the kids.
7:00 p.m. We eat dinner.
8:00 p.m. All kids to bed. Husband and I do a movie night with wine and cheese most Saturday nights. We don’t have a movie planned, so we hunt something down on Netflix. We settle on Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley, which is weird and depressing.
11:00 p.m. I’m not a night owl at all, so even on a Saturday night, I’m off to bed.

Thanks so much to reader R for sharing a bit of her life as a working mom! Readers, what’s your biggest takeaway from her week of work as a Biglaw litigation partner, as well as her general work/life balance?

In this installment of our "Week in the Life of a Working Mom," a BigLaw partner in the Midwest (and mom to 3) shares her tips and tricks for work-life balance, including how she limits her children's extracurricular activities and shares parenting duties with her husband.

Comments

  1. This was really entertaining to read, especially “10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m. Stare into the abyss.” TOO REAL.

    Props to your 9 year old for not having a meltdown re: forgotten dance bag. At that age I would have been a huge brat about it.

    • Thanks. She’s really amazingly adaptable in most situations. It’s frustrating at times because that lack of concern leads to missing dance bags, but it’s also nice that she’s willing to go with the flow.

    • Anonanonanon says:

      Haha yes I’m having one of those “stare into the abyss” days today myself. I’m glad to see someone being honest about them! :-P

  2. Anon in NYC says:

    “We actually go out to dinner. Often, we just pick up takeout on Fridays, but we decide to go to a restaurant. Everyone is excited, but then everyone behaves like they’ve never seen a restaurant before.”

    I literally laughed out loud at this.

    • +1 this was hilarious!

    • Anonymous says:

      Same. This was so great!

    • Anonanonanon says:

      I enjoyed this as well. Always seems to be the case- kiddo starts out excited, then next thing you know he seems to think it’s appropriate to rest his head on the table like this is the most exhausting ordeal he’s ever been a part of

    • JayJay says:

      I also lol’d at this. I think every time we take my kids to a restaurant, we leave vowing that we’ll never take them to a restaurant again.

    • Katie M says:

      I literally laughed out loud so many times reading this. Thanks for the humor and honesty!

  3. Govt worker says:

    I couldn’t help but noticed you purchased coffee pods – does your biglaw office not supply them?! Or just not Starbucks brand?

    • Those were for home. My BigLaw office provides really bad coffee, so I usually end up with coffee from home or from Starbucks or another coffee shop.

  4. Caitlin says:

    Her work-life balance seems really nice! It seems like getting into the office early lets her leave at a good time and not have to work much at night. It’s great to hear about a big law partner who can actually take lunch and spend the nights & weekends focusing on her family. Also, her husband sounds very supportive and committed to their family.

    • My husband is the key–absolutely.

    • I was thinking the same thing. Have you found that your big law hours expectations have eased now that you’re a partner? Is it difficult to schedule in time for the softer stuff like client development, professional development, when you’re also juggling the family?

    • The actual hours expectations are less. As a partner, at least at my firm, the hours don’t really dictate the compensation. The fees do. So, it’s easier to motivate myself to focus on client development. I’m in a transition period where I’m moving from being the person who works a lot of hours on cases others bring in to being the person that brings in the cases. The interim involves a lot of feeling like I’m failing on both fronts, but it will be worth it in the end.

  5. How do you keep BigLaw from taking over your entire life?
    How often are you working nights / weekends?
    Who cleans your house?

    You are doing amazing, congrats.

    • How do you keep BigLaw from taking over your entire life? I don’t always. I’m a litigator, so sometimes it’s all consuming and sometimes its slower. This was written during a fairly slow period for me, so I was taking advantage. Really though, I’m in the Midwest, so the obligations are more reasonable, and I try my best to force the issue of boundaries.

      How often are you working nights / weekends? Nights are fairly rare. Probably a dozen times a year past 7/7:30. (I’m generally checking and responding to email though.) Sometimes I work while at activities for the kids. Weekends vary. I’ll go months of no weekends, then months of every weekend. Generally, I try to catch up on Sunday mornings. I’ll get up really early and get to the office so I can put in 6-7 hours by noon. That way, I feel like I don’t miss my family so much.

      Who cleans your house? No one. Disgusting but true. We had a cleaning person but stopped and haven’t started back up again. So, I try to bribe the kids to help (or they get conscripted), and we try to knock out a little every night and every weekend. I have a whole schedule for what task I should try to do each day of the week and then what major task I should work on each weekend. Really though, it’s a mess, and we are always stepping over toys. If the kids are wearing clean clothes, eating off clean dishes, and nothing is obviously growing in the toilets, I live to fight the battle another day.

      Thanks!

  6. AuntE says:

    It’s nice to see a different side of BigLaw — one where you actually leave work at work and have time with family! Kudos to you for letting your kids have so many activities, especially physical exercise; this is something my husband and don’t quite see eye-to-eye on (I’m for activities, he sees dollar signs and time wasted and probably awkward socializing with other parents). Best of luck on your move!

  7. ColdJD says:

    I am also really impressed with the boundary setting here, way to go. I want to hear the update with your husband going back to work, that is a big transition!

    • I’m excited about the opportunity for him and the money, but I’m terrified. I think we are going to hire a nanny/babysitter instead of trying to make daycare/after care work.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Current BigLaw associate here expecting to be the breadwinner for the foreseeable future but no kids yet- what advice do you have for having babies and keeping at it? I know I have decent big law hours but still barely have time for myself as is.

    • I really believe that the secret to success is just staying in the game. You’ll have good years and not good years. People bail during the not good years. But, if you hang in and think of them as building years, you will eventually get where you want to go. A legal career is decades. No one remembers that you were a zombie the year you had a baby. It’s one year in 30, but people let that year dictate their path. I’ve had good years where I advanced and felt like I was killing it, and I’ve had years where it took everything I had to keep doing it and I fantasized about being a barista. I’ve had years where my hard work was reflected in my compensation and bonus and years when I had pay cuts or didn’t hit a milestone when I thought I should have. As long as I feel like I’m moving upward, I try not to stress about the speed.

      • This is so well put and I’m filing this away for reference on those days I daydream about being a barista. Thanks for your honest assessment and your responses here!

      • Tired anon says:

        This is exactly what I have been trying to tell myself, but I am too sleep deprived and deep in the weeds to fully comprehend. Thank you.

      • This is so true!

      • Wow. This is such a good response even for those of us not in law. So hard to remember in the moment, but you’re so right that a year or two of zombie isn’t going to be a huge hiccup in your career.

        You sound so funny and put-together and wise. I want to be your Mom friend!!!

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you for this wisdom! I read it to my husband this evening (we’ve both been stretched pretty thin with home stuff and frustrated with our jobs lately) and it made him feel better, too.

        I’m still fantasizing about being a barista, though!

      • Anonymous says:

        thank you so much for this… really needed to hear it. love from Singapore

      • This actually made me start crying. Thanks, pregnancy hormones…

  9. LawMama says:

    I am so grateful to see a female attorney/mama share this, especially a partner! I’m a second-year associate in a DC BigLaw firm with two babies under three, and I often feel TOTALLY alone and like no one understands my daily struggle (most of the other associates my age are single/childless and can’t relate to me at all). This post eases my mind and gives me hope in so many ways that I don’t have time to write out because I’m currently watching my 2-year-old stack toys dangerously high while I feed my 2-month-old, haha. Thanks for sharing, R!

  10. Lorelai Gilmore says:

    R, I’ve been reading your comments for years and I love this – especially the comment about just staying in the game! You’re amazing as always.

  11. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing! There are some amazing women at my firm (high-level lit boutique in NY) who I feel close to, but I can’t imagine ever asking “how do you do it, please provide details.”

    I’d love to hear a follow up about what it is like now that your husband has gone back to work full-time, and whether you’re staying with your firm when you move. As someone with a spouse whose hours, somehow, are worse than mine, I have a hard time envisioning what it will be like for us to have kids and hold onto our respective careers.

  12. I laughed out loud several times at this and can relate to all of it. Thanks for sharing and keeping it so real. Really impressed to see you having lunch w co-workers most days, and making it to so many week night activities for the kids. (I also had a 7 week trial and it was the best thing for my hubby to see what he was capable as a dad) Good luck with the transition ahead! You guys sound like a great team.

  13. This is my favorite week in the life post yet, probably because i relate to this situation the most but also because R keeps it real! Totally appreciate the honesty and also good to know that everybody is just struggling to make it work each day.

  14. Anonymous says:

    This is seriously one of the best working mom posts I’ve ever read; this is coming from someone who practically lives on the Twitter hashtags #workingmom and #workmom. Best line of 2017: “I really believe that the secret to success is just staying in the game.” R, thank you!

  15. SmallLawinATL says:

    I have SO MANY QUESTIONS for you – “small law” junior partner and wonder if it wouldn’t be a happier world at Big Law after reading your week…One step son (who I’m very involved with) and a baby coming this summer. Younger than you by a little (almost 34) and husband works part time – considering big law for the $, as I work 8:30-6:30 and log back on at night NOW at my midsize firm.

    1. Do you have a book of business (and if so how substantial? Is that how you’re able to work less hours as a partner?)
    2. Are you still considered full time (dumb question but never actually saw the answer)
    3. If no to the book of business – how many hours do you bill a year and how is that evened out with your originations (and do you get credit for work YOU originate for firm’s existing clients?)

    Sorry for ALL OF THE QUESTIONS – if you take any time to answer I’ll be forever grateful.

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