Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Nadia Bettac to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
Thanks to the pandemic, the workplace has changed. Specifically in the legal profession, more women than men left the profession to tend to household duties and childcare. Many workers discovered that balancing it all took a toll and led to burnout. There are numerous studies and articles discussing the issue, like this one from CNBC.
On what seems to be a weekly basis, someone posts in an attorney mom social media group about burnout and wanting to change jobs or leave the profession. I see these posts most commonly from moms in litigation- or family law-heavy practice. A slew of women leaving litigation practice are looking for nonlitigation roles or leaving law completely.
The stories are the same, balancing childcare, household duties, and a full-time job that is filled with conflict is not sustainable anymore. Truth is, it never was. The pandemic refocused the importance of being present for our families and showed that our country lacks support for working parents.
For now, leaving the practice or at least practice area seems to be the answer to alleviate some of the issues. (Taking this approach creates new issues that this article does not address, like not having enough women in leadership positions in these areas of law.) Career shifting is not easy though. Starting your own business, switching areas of practice, or switching careers after you have been practicing for years puts you in a struggle position. If you switch practice areas, how do you gain experience in the new one? How do you overcome being told you are behind the ball because the younger generation is being trained in the area you are looking to get into? How do you deal with financial ramifications that the career switch may bring? How do you become a business owner when law school did not give you the tools to run your own practice?
These types of questions can be a deterrence, but if you have come to the decision that a career change is needed, you have to jump this hurdle. To do so, go back to the basics and rely on your network. If you do not have one, rebuild it. That part is daunting and scary. However, with the right network, technology tools, and people like a certified public accountant, you can be successful and it is never too late to start building this tool.
I made the jump this year. After 13 years of insurance defense/personal injury practice, I decided that having my own mediation practice would allow me to be a mom without the stress of litigation. However, it was not my first choice. Privacy seemed like a flashy area of law that houses recovering litigation attorneys. Perfect fit, right? I reached out to privacy professionals both in-house and through our local bar. I went to lunches, grabbed coffee, took LinkedIn training courses, and studied for the CIPP/US exam. However, I realized I was pushing myself to learn something that I was not sure I really wanted. I was so focused on running away from the stress of litigation. I did not dislike litigation itself. Going to trial, using trial strategies against opposing counsel, winning, and seeing your client happy is satisfying. After realizing that running to an entirely new practice area was not the right direction for me, I took what I liked about litigation and turned it into a positive, redirecting to mediation. I reached out to people in the alternative dispute resolution circle and ran my ideas and built a new network.
As a new business owner, I had to put myself back out there. This was something I had not done since I started practicing years ago. It was like I was on the job search all over again. Yes, I did local bar activities, but now, I needed to get the message out that I was looking for business. Handing out my cards at events reminds me of my young lawyer days — when older attorneys would be polite but would just walk way. In order to be successful, I found that I needed to switch my strategy.
In April 2021, I was part of the second cohort of the LBJ Women’s Campaign School at the University of Texas at Austin. There was a lesson on stump speeches and learning “what’s your why?” Based on Simon Sinek’s TED talk, your why is what is important. If you start with your why, you can focus on you and cut through the fluff. It is memorable and impactful. I have to be effective with my time because I do want to get home to my child, so being memorable and impactful was key in my reimagined networking approach. Now, I pick the events that would be the most beneficial to my networking efforts and create a schedule of events. I research the event, try to gauge who will be there beforehand, and focus on a few key people I want to approach. I am prepared with a brief introduction, my why, and then I move on. Of course, if the conversation is going well, I let it continue and only move on when the conversation naturally comes to an end. Being prepared allows me to be clear, own my message, display confidence, and not feel like I’m starting over as a brand new attorney once again.
Burnout is real. Finding a solution is difficult. If your career and family allow it though, you can navigate to a different area. Your network and networking are important. Do not be afraid of reintroducing yourself to your legal community.
Nadia Bettac is a highly accomplished personal injury litigator and adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law. She owns her own law firm and mediation practice, Bettac Advocacy and Mediation, PLLC. Volunteering in her community and advocating for diversity has been her passion since childhood. She is an award-winning director for the Austin Young Lawyers Association and continues her passion through various projects with the Austin Young Lawyers Association and the Austin Bar Association. Nadia enjoys spending time with her husband and son who keep her adventurous.