Friday, December 16, 2011


I started this blog on April 1, 2011, with a post called My New Endeavor.  In it, I tell my story - how I got into the craziness that is the legal industry, and the reasons why I left.   It has been, by far, my most popular post with the most comments.  Right now there are 67 comments.  And it is this 67th comment I want to write about today.

On December 1, a person who calls themselves "Hindsight" left the following comment:

"You have just set forth why so many women are not hired.  After proving you could do it, if you really wanted to, you opted for children and staying home - honorable and admirable choices.  But I wonder if the coveted law school spot would have been better spent on someone who needed the job and would more likely stick with it."


For some reason, this comment hit a nerve with me.  I had to resist responding in a nasty way, and I forced myself to sit on it for a week or two.  Perhaps it's because the comment is full of stereotypes and blatant gender discrimination.  Perhaps it's because it is probably written by a lawyer who makes hiring decisions - hiring decisions that may affect me someday.  Or perhaps because in some ways, I understand what this guy (and I am assuming it is a guy, but maybe not), is saying.

From the face of it, I can understand why many men think this.  Why hire a woman?  Especially a woman who is young and married and inevitably will have children.  And when she has those children, watch out.  Because she'll either quit or request part time or check out and waste all of those resources you spent training her.  And aren't I the perfect example of that?

But something seems just WRONG about that thinking.  And we know it's wrong, as a society, right?  Isn't that why there has been all of this talk of gender equality and glass ceilings and breaking down barriers?  Because isn't there a consensus now, that we women have something to add?  Something of value?  So blocking us out of the workforce probably is not the best idea?  I thought that was pretty much understood.

But to "Hindsight," who doesn't share this understanding, let me say this:

Maybe instead of giving up on women, maybe instead of just "not hiring" them, we change things up a bit. We recognize that women have children.  We recognize that when that happens, they may want to actually spent time with their children.  So we give them enough maternity leave to recover and bond with their babies.  We give them flexible options to return to work.  We give them unpaid time, if necessary.  We give them part time options.  We give them telecommuting options.  We do what we have to do so that women do not have to make a black and white choice - work, or no work.  And why do we do this?

Because women do add value.

I would argue that despite what transpired with my legal career, my former bosses would never say they wished they hadn't hired me.  I worked hard.  I was dedicated.  I certainly earned the firm a lot of money.  I was a good associate.  I was value added.  And who knows - maybe I'll help them out again someday.  Stranger things have happened.

"Hindsight" is right about one thing - I could have done it.  I could have stayed.  But I didn't want to. I didn't want to have to balance spending time with my two boys with a high stress, demanding, hours intensive legal career.  Because, lets be honest, it was a balance that my children would never win.  And it is a shame that I, like so many other women, had to face that choice, and give up a career, at least temporarily, that I had worked so hard for.

In hindsight, I would not have done anything differently.  I do not regret my legal career.  I do not regret my children.  I do not regret my decision to spend this time with them.  I do not think my law school spot, or my job, was "wasted" on me.  I did well in law school.  I did well in my job.  I earned those spots.  And with any luck, someday I'll take another spot for myself.  One that I deserve, and one that I have earned.  Not because I am a woman, or because I had children, but because I do have value to add.

So to "Hindsight,"  I say this: Good luck with your all male firm.  Something tells me it won't be so successful.


  1. I think Hindsight has a valid point, but it may not be as relevant to your situation as it seems. People (women AND men) grow up, get married, have kids. They also sometimes have chidlren born with special needs or ailing parents that need care. Sometimes these people get sick themselves, or lose a spouse, or develop an addiction that takes their foucs away from their careers for long periods of time. Life happens. And when it does the workforce needs to be more flexible than it is currently set up to be. People change, and as they do, their needs change and their committment to work changes. This is not a female problem.

    However, I am frustrated, as a female lawyer who was rejected from quite a few law schools, by the number of women I know who went to a fancy school and then immediately quit working when they got married. A JD is apparently the new Mrs. degree and this concept of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education you never planned to use just baffles me. Plus, there are people who would have really liked that coveted law school spot...

  2. With regard to the comment above, I know several people who went to law school, got married, had kids, and quit (in the interest of disclosure, I am also one of them). Not one us went to law school to get a "Mrs. degree" (which is very condescending, IMO.). We all planned on having legal careers - that's why we went into debt for three years of law school. We all left our jobs for differing reasons, but overwhelmingly so because the work/life balance was just too hard once kids came into the picture.

  3. Original commenter above - I didn't say I had any problem with the path you mention and that Shannon took. I am talking about the many (!) women I know that went to law school with zero intention of ever working as a lawyer. Most worked for less than 18 months, some not at all.

    It is all very reminiscent of this incredibly annoying NYT article from 2005 -

  4. Hey, Anon for now? Guess what? I'm one of those women you look down on. I went to law school. ON SCHOLARSHIP. Not to get my MRS--I got that in college! Because I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. But after a year-long internship at a firm, I decided that the practice of law was not something I wanted to do with my life. I still finished, though, because I enjoyed law school very much. And then I graduated and took a job outside the legal industry. Would you prefer I had stayed in a career that made me miserable to justify my education?

    I guess I'm just confused as to why you're so concerned with what other people do with their lives. I was awarded my scholarship on the basis of my outstanding grades as an undergrad and test scores. When I accepted it, I didn't have to sign anything that said I would pay it back by working in my field. The institution that funded my education doesn't seem to give a shit that I'm not using it. So why do you?

    The few loans I took out to supplement the money I got can't be discharged in bankruptcy and are being paid by me in full. So there is no way my decision will affect you.

    So why do you care?

    I'm interested in your answer to these questions: Should we get rid of art schools because most artists don't make a living by their work? Most writers who write novels will never be published. Do you think creative writing programs shouldn't exist, then?

    Sometimes an education is not a means to an end. Sometimes learning for the sake of learning is enough. It was for me.

  5. If you lose a competition, it doesn't matter why the other party was playing- just that they beat you. If Hindsight or the female attorney commenting above wanted your spot in law school or at a particular law firm, then they should have beaten you for it in the first place.

  6. I find it difficult to imagine that there are hordes of women who worked hard in college and earned spots in law school, racking up debt in the process, simply to land a man. Of course, I don't have the data to prove or disprove the theory...

    But I think it is all missing the point of the post. Yes, many women who earn professional or other higher degrees leave the workforce when they become mothers. The question is, does this represent failure on the part of the women, or on the part of the system that forces women to take an all-or-nothing approach to employment when their children are young? Most of the women *I* know who have taken the Mommy Track would love to be able to return to the workforce when their children aren't little any more, but either can't find a job after their absence from paid employment or can't find a job that is flexible enough to allow for sick kids and parent-teacher conferences.

    So let's keep our eyes on the ball here - if women earn their degrees for the sake of learning alone (or to meet a highly marriageable man), that is their choice and more power to them, but it's not what we are talking about here. If women do want to work and raise a family, then we must find ways to make that a possibility. Women add value, and we need to start recognizing that as a culture.

  7. Funny, I wouldn't in a million years assume that the commenter that spurred this post was a man. I assume that the commenter is a woman. Men don't give a rat's ass whether other women go to law school and then elect to stay home after they have kids. I have only ever heard women express thoughts like the commenter's. I have been a practicing attorney for over 10 years and I have a child in elementary school. All I can say is if you are out of the workforce and intend to go back when your children are in school because you think things get easier as they get older, you are dead wrong. Dealing with elementary school, extra curricular activities, and work is exponentially harder than dealing with babies, toddlers, or preschoolers and work.

  8. For some reason, we accept that law firms are shitty places to work. This attitude impacts men and women. Women, of course, face the specific problem that arises from reproduction being a career-killer.

    As simply as I can state it to Hindsight: Law firms need lawyers. More than half of JD grads are women. Some women have children. And thanks to the law on discriminatory hiring practices, the burden of “why should I hire you” (as it relates to being a woman of child-bearing age) is not on the woman. The burden of why this woman would not be hired for this reason is on the firm.
    More importantly, though, and getting to my real problem with Hindsight’s question, is that hiring is not the problem. The problem is retention. Going again to the fact that women in the workplace are here to stay, ultimately the best female talent is going to go where it is best nurtured. The firms that not only make that realization, but *do* something about it, will get the best female talent for the long haul.

    If the person asking this question feels that the most talented women lawyers are not on par with any given male attorney, then the hiring question is already answered. The most talented person should be getting the position anyway. But if the most talented women are on par with the most talented men, then not hiring women cuts the talent pool in half. My guess is that most hiring partners are not in the position to do this, no matter the pedigree of law students his firm may attract.
    My opinion is that gender does not alter the quality of lawyering, so to me, making law firms a better place to work for both sexes should be a priority, which would include addressing the reality that people want kids.
    And one last thing: Unlike medical schools, where the cost to the public of a seat in a medical school limits the availability of those spots, you don’t have to spend more than a few minutes on ATL to figure out that 1. Any joe schmoe can get into a law school, and 2. Getting into one where a spot would be “coveted” does not guarantee a job anyway. So is the question actually, “why should women who might have kids be admitted to law schools?” Just a thought on the wording.

  9. Another big firm lawyer (for 6 years) turned stay at home mom here. Another important point, I think, is that men also leave law firms en masse. When I was a law firm associate, one guy left to pursue a non-legal career, another went to another law firm, another left for smaller firm in a less stressful city. Who cares that I left to stay home temporarily? The firm is losing a bunch of associates to different pursuits, and will continue to do so unless it changes.

  10. First of all, most 1st year associates end up leaving firm life, even if they wanted to stay there are only places for very very few to stay on as partners or of counsel. in other words, eventually the majority of female and male associates must choose different paths. So the idea that Shannon's law school seat should have gone to a male is absurd, that male would probably be leaving firm life as well, maybe he would be pushed out instead of opting out, but he'd be leaving nonetheless.

    Second, just because Shannon chose to stay home for a few years doesn't mean she'll never work as a lawyer again. In fact, as any reader of this blog should know, she worked as a lawyer IN THE PAST MONTH. her career isn't over, it's on pause. And, yes, there is a difference.

  11. As always, you're very polite when responding, and I can't fault what you said.

    Because of this, I'll do the dirty: "Hindsight: Go f@ck yourself."

  12. I think women make different choices than men. They just do. Not all, but some.

    I went PT after my child was born. I don't regret that choice although I don't love my particular job it gives me the flexible I need to be there for my child in the way I WANT. And that is what is important, choices.

  13. The comment obviously was horrible, offensive and as you point out, ignorant. As a father-to-be, I'm embarrassed that some men still think it's acceptable to have these kinds of views.

    My wife like you is a talented lawyer, very much an over achiever, but luckily she has found a legal job where there's some balance. She doesn't make firm money, but makes a good salary, with reasonable hours and supportive bosses who can't wait to have her back after her (albeit unpaid) maternity leave.

    I hope that one day you can find a work situation where you can be an attorney again. Being an attorney and a parent should not be mutually exclusive!

  14. I am a woman lawyer and a mother- I am lucky to have found a job part time not just to spend time with my children but because my husband is in the military and is often deployed. I in NO WAY went to law school for a MRS and i think this is ABSURD as finding a husband is not worth the 120,000 in loans I have. This comment just sounds like alot of jealously on the part of the commentator as she could not get in law school on her own accord. My job takes a second seat to my children and even more so to my husband's job as he is in the Navy and the government does not accept that his wife has a work conflict. This is a struggle that so many working mothers deal with in that we put everyone before ourselves and society does the same. I would give up my job in a heart beat for my children or my husband not because my law school was a waste or because all I wanted to do was meet a rich husband but because work is just work and in the end is not what really matters to me- man or woman I think this just makes you a good parent to try and remember what truly matters. that being said I work because what matters is to provide for my family- so I do it ALL! I just think some people need to remember if you do not have anything nice to say don't say anything at all- just stop reading the blog.

  15. Thank you all so much for the comments - truly. All are thought provoking, and I love the discussion! Right or wrong, I think a lot of men, and women, think like "Hindsight," and perhaps that is what was most troubling about the comment for me. Given the opportunity to be anonymous, how many people think like that? Probably a lot. And I suppose, when you look at statistics about how many women actually last in law firms, it shows.
    For the record, I seriously loathe the term "MRS degree." What does that even mean? Really? Do you qualify for one if you met your spouse while getting an education? And then for a point in your life, you don't use that education? Then I suppose I have one of those! I can add it to the resume!
    And @ 11:30, you rock. Seriously.

  16. So many interesting comments. And I agree 11:30 does rock, I am 99% sure I know you (hi there, we must catch up, will see you soon!), and you DO rock and somehow manage to do it all. And you do so with such grace and humor. Anyway, I think I'm about to bow out of my firm job for a while when we have another baby. It's not that I necessarily *want* to, but my firm isn't agreeable to a more flexible schedule and I happened to marry someone who has insane work hours, which means that something has to give. So, it will be me. I don't know, I don't think there are any easy answers. I think we as a society just expect women to do it all, and that's pretty much impossible. Something's gotta to give, and, most often it's the woman's career that gives.

  17. I am a veterinarian that graduated from a class 2 years ago that was 80% women. That figure is quickly approaching close to 100% at some veterinary schools. "Hindsight's" view was shared by many women in my class and I immediately assumed it was a woman because of that. Sometimes we are our harshest critics. Regardless, the US is seriously lagging behind with respect to work-life balance.

  18. Jessica said ....

    As a female associate at a larger law firm, and as a recently engaged woman, I would like to add another viewpoint that seems to not have been addressed. My fiance is also an attorney, but at a much smaller firm. In our discussions as to what to do when we have children, the discussion has turned to whether HE would stay home, at least perhaps for a short time, because his salary is half of what mine is. I know that our situation is not the norm.

    Perhaps what should also be discussed, along with "women quit their jobs when they have kids," is the fact that most women, still in this day and age, are making less than their spouses. Financial considerations are always a factor in making decisions about how to best care for children and provide for your family.

    In addition to that, I would wager to guess that many working men with stay-at-home (but still WORKING) spouses would love to have been the one to get to spend more time with their families. However, I would also wager to guess that because of societal pressures and gender stereotypes, they are continuing to get up and head to the office to "bring home the bacon."

    Women are not the only ones missing out on time with their families because of work-related responsibilities ... and women are not the only ones who are forced to make tough decisions. I think perhaps the decisions may be tougher for women because women have worked so hard to "get out of the kitchen and into the office" only to realize that, for some women, maybe that's not what is best for their particular family. But when they do make that decision to either quit their job to care for their children, or perhaps work part-time, there is always the ghost of women activists everywhere haunting them and they likely feel guilty about that decision. Women carry the burden of ALL women with the career decisions that they make and this, I think, is the real travesty.

    One last point and I will get off my soap box! The women (and men, in some cases) who are staying home to care for their families are supporting the careers of their husbands/significant others and without that support, their careers would likely be more difficult, they'd need more time off, they'd need to leave the office more to attend to sick children, calls from the Principal, etc. ... and they'd perhaps be looked over come promotion time. Although staying at home has no quantifiable economic value, I would argue that the value of these women (and sometimes men) to their families and the success, both emotionally and financially, of their families is immeasurable and priceless - and has much more value than my law degree.

  19. Jessica said some of what I came here to comment on. When a dual-career couple (heterosexual for the purposes of this discussion) has a child, there are 2 options: 1) day care, or 2) someone stays home. If option 2 prevails, typically the spouse with the lower income will forfeit his or her career to stay home. Often, this is the woman. This needs to be addressed in our society.

    Furthermore, we need to change the way our society views fathers and fatherhood. Sure, there are biological functions (like breastfeeding) that mothers must provide to their children, but nurture can be provided equally by both parents, regardless of gender. A baby is equally his or her father's and mother's child, but society perpetuates the idea that raising children is women's work. It's not. It's everyone's work. We need equal maternity and paternity leave, and we need to get rid of the stereotype of the bumbling dad who doesn't know how to change a diaper. Until we as a society begin to incentivize and expect active fatherhood and value fathers on the same level we value mothers, women will still face the obstacle of people who think like Hindsight does.

  20. To add to the discussion, it's great to read what Molly wrote above. American society does not value fathers as they do mothers. I'm around the most progressive-minded people most of the time and even they put mom above dad. It takes two to tango as the expression goes -- some women are happy to take over all the kid stuff, and some men are perfectly happy to let them do it.

    As a future father (baby coming in May), I have always felt strongly that child rearing is the role of both parents, equally. I have always wanted to do my part here, so to that end I'm taking 12 weeks paternity after my wife goes back to work after her 12 weeks maternity leave. Usual FMLA stuff, unpaid, but we are lucky to afford it. It's going to cost us, but hopefully it will allow my wife to rest after the birth and for me to spend some quality time with the kid also. I think it's best for us, but it's going to cost us for sure. My wife and I make about the same, one job isn't more valuable than the other.

    Maybe I will write a blog about my experiences taking paternity leave. I already had an interesting reaction from my boss...

  21. @stephen - go you!! My dh's paternity leave was the best time of his life (per him). People take 6 weeks off to have knee surgery for gods sake! The job will be there when you get back, and it will be fine.

  22. Hear hear. Been married to a SAHD for almost 10 years now. We "flex" our situation, and I'm about to go to the "more flexible" end of the spectrum now that he's finishing grad school and ready to find a job. "They just do" isn't an answer to why women leave work more often than men - there are a lot of payscale and societal forces at work there.


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