You know those awesome lawyer moms who run successful solo practices and still manage to spend quality time at home with their newborns? Yeah, me neither!
Of course, I am being a bit facetious but its true that I do not know many lawyers who have been able to enjoy maternity leave at home with their babies. As a solo lawyer and soon-to-be mama, I have been wondering whether its actually possible for solos to take maternity leave. Given how challenging short vacations can be for solos, I was not hopeful. However, this is exactly the type of situation that made me decide to go solo.
As a solo, I am not beholden to a demanding partner and unyielding law firm policies. I have the luxury of setting the policies for my practice, and therefore, my life. By being honest with my clients and clearly managing their expectations, I can meet the needs of my family and my practice. Based on my survey of other lawyer mamas, the two key factors to a successful maternity leave seem to be preparation and flexibility.
Preparing for “Take Off”
I have been intensely preparing my practice for my maternity leave for several months and the prep work is far from over. One way that I have been preparing is by thinking through the types of cases I accept. Taking on new monthly retainer clients or long term business transactions are not good choices since the work will overflow into my maternity leave period. For a litigator, taking on a new trial in the months before maternity leave, is also not a good choice. However, limiting the types of new cases I am currently accepting is not enough. I have plenty of current clients who will still have needs during my time off. To meet their needs, I am making arrangements with a fellow solo attorney that I trust who can handle the work that comes in from current clients while I am away. Of course, all of this will be clearly explained to clients and their approval will be sought before their work is completed by the attorney that is filling in for me.
Solos don’t just do legal work. We also handle many of our own administrative tasks. Therefore, the administrative tasks have to be covered as well. During the past few months, I have been automating various administrative tasks in my practice and setting up reliable software to make management of some of the administrative work easier. In addition, I am working with a virtual assistant who will manage my inbox and incoming calls during maternity leave. Thinking through the logistics of how the work will flow in my absence is essential to a smooth transition.
The last part of my preparation is an E-book for my clients which I plan to make available prior to my baby’s arrival. The E-book will be a great source of information for my entrepreneur-clients and will cover many of their frequently asked questions. The E-book will also include some bonus materials such as templates and step-by-step how tos, so that they can handle some of their own basic legal needs, if they so choose. While the E-book is not nearly as useful as a live attorney, it will be a reliable resource they can turn to in my absence.
Flexibility While Flying Solo
Being flexible is just as essential as being prepared. For most of us solos, flexibility is something that we are already accustomed to in our practices. I am not creating any hard and fast rules about working while on maternity leave. I love my work and am sure that there will be times when baby is fast asleep and I have a few free hours to write an article, answer client emails and have short conference calls. I do not feel the need to be completely absent from my practice (I’d probably miss it too much!) but definitely do not want to be overwhelmed with work to the point that I am not fully present with my new baby. The first few months of my child’s life can never be experienced again.
I also have certain essentials at home that will free me up to do a bit of work while on leave. Those include an awesome husband with a flexible schedule, an organic sling so that baby can be held close while allowing me to have my hands free, and (excuse me if this is bordering on too much information) a breast pump so milk is available for baby while I am on a one-day trip for a speaking engagement in January.
Is it possible that my maternity leave may cause me to lose a few clients? Absolutely! And I am more than willing to accept that. I have enjoyed a steady flow of clients for most of my practice and am sure, as long as I am speaking their language and meeting their needs, more clients will come. But I only get this one shot at spending time at home with my newborn.
Being a Solo Rocks!
The real beauty of this preparation time is that I have been preparing for this maternity leave since I started my practice. Having a virtual law practice, working from home and handling mainly transactional work has allowed me to maintain a comfortable work-life integration from the start.
As a solo, time with family does not have to be sacrificed for the sake of interesting legal work.
With the right preparation and willingness to be (very) flexible, you can have it all!
Have you gone on maternity leave or another extended leave while running a solo practice? If so, share your tips for a successful leave as a solo in the comments.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.