By: Tyeesha Dixon
Cross posted from http://ms-jd.org/
There’s nothing more specific to women than motherhood, so I decided to dedicate this blog post to just that topic. For me, one of the most difficult parts about law school has been multitasking, and being able to juggle all the responsibilities I’ve managed to pile onto my plate.
So when I look at my close friend and classmate, Adrienne Gittens, who is seven months pregnant, I wonder … how on earth do you do it?
I figured other women law students (and prospective law students) may have the same question, so I interviewed Adrienne to find out if she would do anything differently if she could start the process all over again. I also talked to Tiffany Wright, an evening student at the Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C., whose son is four years old, to get advice from her about raising a child while working full-time and being a (very involved) law student.
For Adrienne, timing is the key to balancing mother-to-be-hood with being a second-year Harvard Law student. In addition to her course load, Adrienne is a student attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, managing her own caseload of clients in the Bureau’s family law practice. A member of the Executive Board for the Harvard Black Law Students Association, she also serves as co-chair of the Street Law Committee, teaching juveniles their legal rights and responsibilities as part of an alternative criminal sentence from the courts. Her husband, a seminary student, lives in New Jersey. Adrienne and her husband conceived in early August, and their baby is due at the end of April.
“My life is pretty compartmentalized because my family’s still in Jersey, and I’m here. When I’m at home, I shut off law school, and am devoted to being mother-to-be and wife.
“A lot of it is thinking about what you want out of life. You can make it all work, but you need to be realistic.”
Adrienne’s pros of being pregnant during law school
Flexibility over your own schedule. Adrienne is able to take a lighter classload to accommodate her pregnancy, and since she is due in April, has planned her schedule so that she has only one exam during finals period.
Avoiding the need to take maternity leave at the very start of your legal career. Although most employers won’t say it flatly, many of them will consider your motherhood plans when deciding whether or not to hire you—something that men simply won’t have to deal with.
Health insurance! Often, school health insurance is more generous that employers’ health insurance, leaving you with lower co-pays for pre-natal care and delivery.
Your grades don’t have to suffer (and Adrienne’s didn’t). Depending on your school’s grading system, this may vary, but Adrienne emphasizes the control you have over your courseload during the second and third years.
Adrienne’s words of caution
Take caution in planning your pregnancy during 1L year. This is the most academically intensive year of law school. The beginning of 2L year is an ideal time to conceive, because you have the most flexibility in terms of choosing classes and other school-related obligations.
Plan your job situation accordingly. If you plan on being pregnant during 2L year, try to have a job lined up after graduation to give you 2L summer off to be with the baby. If you plan to go to a law firm, work hard during 1L summer to secure a full-time offer.
Know your job market and weigh your expectations reasonably. Not every employer will necessarily want to hire a new mother, so do your research.
If your support system is not in the same city where you attend school, check to see if your school allows a third year visit elsewhere. Adrienne plans to spend her third year at a school in Philadelphia, then returning to Harvard to graduate.
Don’t use your pregnancy as an excuse to weasel out of your responsibilities. Rather, schedule your responsibilities around your capacity (usually, people will be understanding of your situation anyway).
Adrienne’s go-to websites
Here’s a blog that I read but didn’t really like that much. I disagree with points 1 and 4 but still a worthy read: http://happilyalawmama.blogspot.com/2010/02/being-in-law-school-while-pregnant.html
Here was a really helpful article in the HL Record:http://www.hlrecord.org/2.4462/being-pregnant-in-law-school-1.578327
Here’s an article an associate at one of the firms I interviewed with sent me: http://harrytimes.blogspot.com/2010/09/pumpkin-bread-from-pumpkin-and-why-grad.html
This website has some other blogs of women who were pregnant during law school: http://wishiwouldhaveknown.blogspot.com/2010/02/kids-in-law-school.html
The Mother Right Now
Not only is Tiffany Wright a wife, mother, and evening law student, she also works full-time as a paralegal for the United States Attorney’s Office District of Maryland. Tiffany is a senior board member for the Georgetown Law Journal, the school’s main journal, Editor-in-Chief of the Georgetown Law Journal’s Annual Review of Criminal Procedure, serves as a law fellow for the first year Legal Research and Writing program, and recently won first place at the Northeast Black Law Students Association’s moot court competition.
Not to mention she also gets top grades.
Tiffany’s main piece of advice for those mothers planning to enter law school is to be realistic about the time you can commit to law school activities.
“Mothers in law school, probably more than other people, need to learn how to say no. Mothers need to be more realistic about their time and their commitments. I didn’t recognize I was different until it was too late.”
Tiffany’s words of wisdom for law student mothers
Don’t feel pressure to sign up for too many activities. “You can’t be your typical first-year law student because you’re not similarly situated in life.”
When committing to activities, don’t be afraid to take on less time-intensive roles.
If you can avoid it, don’t work.
Be sensitive to how old your child is when you enter law school. Tiffany’s son is four, and is at the age where he’s starting to realize that Mommy isn’t home as often as Daddy is. Tiffany recommends entering law school either when your child is very young, or once your child reaches the age when he or she can understand Mommy’s school commitments.
When getting ready for job interviews, think about whether or not you want to disclose that you are a mother, and do your research to find out which employers are more family-friendly. As Adrienne noted, not all employers will welcome the thought of hiring a new mother.
Consider childcare costs. Tiffany’s husband is self-employed, and is able to stay with their son during the day when Tiffany is at work, and at night when Tiffany is at school. This saves the family huge costs in childcare.
Reserve family time. Tiffany’s son knows that no matter how busy Mommy gets, the whole family will do something fun together every Saturday.
Be positive that law school is for you. Otherwise, Tiffany cautions, you may be tempted to slack off, given your other responsibilities.