Mama Solos and the Maternity Leave Mystery

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®.

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8 comments on “Mama Solos and the Maternity Leave Mystery

  • Rachel,

    Note to self: sometimes the best laid plans. For instance, when I was pregnant I had coverage for the last week before due date and going forward. Of course, my little guy decided to enter this world TWO weeks earlier than planned. I also had people calling me for new business while I was in the hospital. These are unavoidable. A friend of mine who was solo made the choice (mistake…) to go back to work full-time three weeks after her C-section. Not a good choice it turns out. Each person is different but you are in control of how you plan, react to the unexpected change in plans and to the inevitable loss of some business. You can only prepare yourself and your clients just so much.

    • Those are very good points, Susan. That is what I am coming to terms with, that I won’t be able to control everything and that I’ll just need to go with the flow.

  • First, congratulations. I hope everything goes well with pregnancy and delivery. Second, as a dad, I’d suggest you make sure to pawn that baby off on the hubby as much as you can. He might grimace occasionally as we are inherently stupid when it comes to things that cry and don’t know what a toilet is, but he’ll thank you later. With our first two kids my wife wanted to be on them all the time and I didn’t jump in and relieve her enough. She was more relaxed with the second two, which gave me the opportunity to bond with them. It’s easy for a mom and a baby to form a relationship; it takes a little more work for daddy. All this is to say don’t ever feel bad to put baby in dad’s hands and go read some SPU blogs or make calls if that’s what you need – he needs it, too.

    • Thanks, Mike, for the tip from a dad’s perspective! I do think there is this “superwoman” complex that many women have. We sometimes don’t know when to let go. I surely don’t plan to be shy when it comes to needing some relief and its good to know that it really benefits both of us. :)

  • I, too, am a solo preparing for a 3(ish) month maternity leave. Given the nature of my practice, I have been strictly limiting the work I’ve taken this year in anticipation of my newest little one. I have lost potential clients (and I haven’t worked very hard at building my practice), but having flexibility for my family was one of the reasons I became a solo in the first place. I’ve been very clear with each of my clients how I will be available to them when I am out, and my husband’s job is flexible enough to allow me to make emergency meetings or court appearances before I return full time.

    From my personal experience thus far, flexibility is key. I’ve wrapped up the biggest issues in my cases with enough time before my leave is to start to allow me to tie up any loose ends that might rear their ugly heads just as I’m preparing to leave. I’ve also got great solos and colleagues who are willing to help out if I need them. (Isn’t networking great?) We do the best we can, try to keep up with our practice areas while we’re out, and slide back in without disrupting our relationships with our clients as much as possible.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks, Krista, for sharing your experiences in maternity leave prep. I agree that we pretty much have to stay focused on what’s most important, which is spending time with our little ones. The rest we can only prepare as best we can for and that’s it. I do think being very clear with clients on what to expect during the leave is the best prep we can do. That way, no matter what happens, they pretty much know what to expect.

      Best wishes to you in your final months of pregnancy and for peace of mind during your leave! :)

  • I went about it a different way – no maternity leave. My office is in our home & this was my third baby so circumstances matter *a lot* but I was able to continue to meet with clients and stay at home with my daughter and it was crazy at times, but worth it! She was at home with me until she was 15 months old, with a PT babysitter coming in to help a few hrs/day starting at 9 mos. old (before that they pretty much sleep all day anyway!). I scheduled meetings during her naps. Here’s a link from almost 2 yrs ago showing part of how I did it: Good luck and congratulations!!!

    • Danielle,

      Thanks for sharing the video and your story! I am not sure I am quite so brave to have no maternity leave given that this is my first child. I do think that the baby carrier you used is an essential tool for working mothers of newborns! I have a similar baby carrier that I plan to use for hands free working. It truly brings joy to my heart to see how lawyers can work from home and really integrate their work life and family life. So awesome!

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