by Michael Djavaherian
The legal press is replete with guides and support designed to help mothers navigating law practice while working from home. Stories abound detailing the adaptations that today’s women have developed to manage the home/work balance and describing the heartwarming times, trade-offs, pitfalls and rewards that working from home can provide.
For example, in Law Mom and the Modern Family Do Preschool, tax lawyer Jamie Szal describes the difficulty of leaving the clutches of her daughter when dropping off at preschool, a daughter that has grown accustomed during the pandemic to being together with mom all day while she works. Jamie cherishes the time she had with her daughter, where her daughter got to see what mom does all day, and get a sense of the satisfaction her work brings. But she recognizes that people cannot stay in their pandemic bubbles forever, and that her daughter now needs to go to school away from home and mom, just as many lawyers and law firms will have to decide whether to remain in their solitary lairs at home or return to an office setting. As mom tries to leave, her daughter clings to her, and Jamie has trouble letting her go, but finally decides that it is best to “rip off the Band-Aid”. She suggests that the legal industry will have to do the same thing as it encounters changes to the old ways of doing business.
There are fewer sites devoted to practicing law while being a father, probably for good reason. Men have not faced the obstacles to their careers that women have, particularly women with young children. They have not historically been the care givers, so are not as likely to need assistance finding a balance between kids and careers. But times are, and have been, changing. More and more men are stay at home dads, including lawyers.
My kids are grown and out of the house, but my own experience mirrors what many dads with young children may be going through. I came out of a big firm environment, and after leaving and starting my own office, set up shop in a fancy high rise downtown. I felt it was necessary for credibility with clients, and to be close to courts and other law firms. With respect to time spent with family, though, little had changed. I drove to my office, worked all day, and came home at night, sometimes late at night.
Several years after a move to a home in the suburbs, I tired of the long commute and moved to an office nearby. It was less formal and not near the courts, but just as functional for running my practice. Even better, it was close to home, and meant I could duck out to be at school events, coach the kids in sports and spend more quality time with the family.
The next step was setting up a home office so I could work at home on occasion. I had a laptop that I could take to and from the office, a home printer, separate office phone line and a nice desk to work at. The setup worked so well that over a period of time, I found myself spending more and more time in the home office, and less in my law office. Some weeks, I didn’t go in at all, to the point where my wife frequently asked me why I was paying for an office I didn’t use. I resisted ditching the office for a long time, though. At that time, I perceived a stigma to lawyers who didn’t have their own office.
I eventually did concede that keeping an office that I rarely used made little sense. I still needed a conference room to meet with clients and host depositions, and, before cutting the cord on my office, made arrangements with a lawyer friend to be able to use his facilities as needed. With that in place, I made the move to practicing from a home office, and have never looked back. Running my practice from a home office has added untold thousands of hours that I have been able to spend time with my kids. To be nearby whenever they or my wife needed me is a great satisfaction.
Working from home does require some adjustments and ground rules. You definitely should have a separate room in the house for your office, preferably away from where the kids, dogs, etc., might be playing. The family need to understand that when you are busy working on something, they can’t come in and disturb you unless it is important. We all know that an interruption causes us a lot of extra time to get back on track. Make your space as professional as possible. Have a separate phone line. And, as the bar association has cautioned, make sure that Alexa can’t snoop and that confidential client communications and documents are protected from everyone, even the family.
Oh what I would give to be setting up my own office with a young family in this day and age! Life would be so much easier. The stigma of practicing from a home office is gone, especially after the pandemic. Now, all I would have to do is sign up for an account at XIRA, and use it for my client meetings, billing, messaging and document storage. If my practice required an occasional conference, deposition or meeting, and if my home office would not suffice for that, I would make an arrangement with one of the local facilities that provides office space on an hourly or daily basis.
So, to all those dads out there who are lawyers, and who, like the lawyers who are moms, want to create their ideal work/family balance, just know that it can be done, now better than ever.