Becoming a lawyer is a lot like becoming a mother.
The first years of motherhood, like the first years of a legal career, are a harrowing rite of passage. Both involve an incredible shift of identity and a tremendous undertaking of new, frequently daunting responsibilities.
For each calling, there’s a certain amount of reverence. Mothers are held to an almost saintly standard, and rightfully so. And though lawyers are not typically viewed in such an omnipotent light, there’s no doubt that the profession is still held in high esteem by many.
I became a lawyer before I became a mother, and, having gone through the shift from pre-law student to law student to attorney, I found many parallels when I made the transition from regular human being to mother. Below are four of them.
1. You Have Little Control Over Your Schedule.
As an attorney, you frequently have very little control over your schedule. I’ve been fortunate to work for a firm that offers a tremendous amount of flexibility, particularly when it comes to time with my family. However, many firms are not as generous, and, regardless of your firm’s policies, there are always some things that will be out of your control.
Court issued deadlines, hearings, trials, and appearances are all dictated by courts and agencies that don’t care about your personal calendar. This can make for some incredibly stressful days, weeks, and months when it seems like everything snowballs at once. And though there can be some flexibility when it comes to rescheduling, it can also be incredibly difficult and in some cases, highly discouraged.
You’ll work days, nights, and weekends trying to catch up, and will sometimes feel like you’ll never get ahead of the workload.
Similarly, motherhood comes with its own set of highly inflexible obligations. A baby doesn’t care about your calendar or outside responsibilities. They will keep you up the entire night before an important presentation, or spit up all over their outfit immediately before you have to leave the house for an appointment.
Older kids don’t care about your schedule either. No matter how many times you tell a toddler “it’s time to go,” they will still run around the house, hide in a coat closet, and then refuse to climb into their car seat when you finally do get to the car.
Beyond that, there are constant unexpected sick days that will throw you off your game, not to mention the whole business of raising another human being who grows into a full-fledged person with a social calendar and obligations all their own.
Point being: both as an attorney and as a mom, your life will never really be your own.
2. There’s No “Off Button.”
Another similarity between the legal world and motherhood: there’s no off button. Your responsibilities as an attorney and as a mother will both run around the clock, and the newfound responsibility will usher in a level of worry you never knew existed.
I remember when I interviewed for my first job out of law school. I wasn’t yet an attorney and was years away from being a mother when one of the attorneys on the interview committee asked me to describe what “worries” kept me up at night when it came to the practice of law.
At the time, the concept was completely unfamiliar to me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know what it was like to feel stressed—I was a law student after all—but my responsibilities at the time came with an off button. I would take a hard class or a difficult test and move on. Even in my internships, I respected the work and the responsibility, but since I wasn’t a licensed attorney, I knew the ultimate onus of responsibility was not on me.
I honestly didn’t spend my nights worrying about anything, and I never slept more soundly (gosh, I miss those days).
Becoming an attorney changed that entirely. Suddenly I was responsible for every word that escaped my lips or keyboard. Any mistake I could potentially make could not only ruin my professional life, but someone else’s personal or professional life too.
I entered the world of hardcore worry and suddenly knew what it was like to lie awake at 2 AM worrying about things outside my control.
The weight of the responsibility was heavier than anything I knew—until I became a mother, that is.
3. The Work Can Be Tedious.
It’s no secret that legal work can be tedious. It’s not glamorous, but someone has to read those 1000-page contracts.
In the practice of law, even the rules have rules, and no matter how exhilarating delivering a solid oral argument or a tough line of questioning is, 99% of being a lawyer involves sitting in a chair reading and writing.
And this isn’t leisurely paging through a magazine on a beach; it’s searching critically for the tiniest of errors and writing with the knowledge that someone will be reading your writing looking for the same.
Similarly, the work of motherhood is frequently thankless and tedious, especially early on.
You’ll change dirty diapers. You’ll drag yourself bleary-eyed out of bed in the dead of night. You’ll fold load after load of laundry. You’ll wipe vomit. You’ll carry someone who can run 3 times faster than you but refuses to walk two steps.
It’s tiring. It’s thankless, but it’s very likely the most important thing you’ll ever do.
4. You’ll Definitely Be Humbled.
Finally, becoming a lawyer and becoming a mother will both humble you in ways you could not imagine.
You’ll learn to think differently, and more critically. A first year law student is taught to “think like a lawyer.”
A brand new mother also quickly learns to think and feel in new ways.
You’ll be stripped of your previous identity and given a new one.
You’ll have to reconcile your personal goals and desires within the confines of this new world.
You’ll be made to question all of your previous beliefs about your knowledge and abilities.
You will fail spectacularly in some ways, but find hidden strengths you never knew existed.
It will be hard, and it will be the most worthwhile thing you’ve ever done.