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 Jamie Szal back to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
Mothers are invisible — or so popular media would have us believe. Even where women lawyers are involved in the plot line, we’re either hippie tree-hugger single women à la Sandra Bullock in “Two Week’s Notice,” or the infinitely powerful (still single, still childless) Jessica Pearson in “Suits.” A quick Google search suggest that no works of fiction written for adults feature a lawyer who is also a mom.
But what if lawyer moms stopped being invisible? What if we were not just visible, but were represented as the force of nature that law moms are. (Clearly a totally biased opinion on this point.)
Several years ago, the founder of MothersEsquire took up this mission and wrote “My Mom, the Lawyer,” a children’s book celebrating not just the myriad ways people lawyer, but the myriad ways moms do it all while also being moms.
Sarah Waldelich, mom of two little boys, put it this way. “I love the book as a way to introduce [my boys] to what their mom does while she’s away from them all day. I think it also helps normalize women as attorneys to them, which is very important to me.” Lindsay Roach, fellow mom to a boy, agreed. “To have a book like this is to humanize our profession for children” and is invaluable.
Melanie Garner, mom of a daughter, also loved that the book includes so many different types of lawyers and moms of diversity. Any lawyer mom can find someone in the book to relate to! Moms in hijab arguing in court, judges, moms with physical disabilities heading out to the office (with dad at home as primary parent!), in-house moms working their way through contracts at home. Admittedly, suggesting that we read contracts in funny voices helps — and perhaps it would help us as lawyers in general to inject some levity into our work lives on a more regular basis. Not only can every law mom find representation in the book, as Melanie put it, the book also is an example for her daughter to be as powerful as she aspires to be someday.
You see, representation matters. When we can see ourselves in books — when children can see us in books — we can start to stem the tide against the motherhood penalty and against the stereotypical notion that women cannot both be mothers and ambitious professionals. What is more, we can inspire the next generation of legal leaders to rise up and step into their own ambitions with pride.
On the flip side, the first few weeks and months returning to work after parental leave as a parent are hard. Just as mothers seem invisible in popular media, lawyer moms can sometimes feel like a unicorn in the legal industry in general. The motherhood penalty, where women in the workforce experience a cascading set of negative effects amplified by the perceived or actual expectation that women will become parents, is widespread in the law. Mothers suffer a penalty relative to nonmothers and men in the form of lower perceived competence and commitment, higher professional expectations, lower likelihood of hiring and promotion, and lower salaries. One concrete way to fight back against these penalties is to elevate women and mothers into positions of seniority and equity partnership. In other words, ensuring there is representation for the next generations to aspire to.
Speaking from personal experience, the book makes a fantastic gift to the new lawyer or new mom in your community. The gift of a book like “My Mom, the Lawyer” from a fellow attorney goes a long way to helping that new lawyer or new parent feel supported in their personal and professional journey. It is a reminder that they are not alone. Someone else has gone through a very similar experience and can be, in many ways, yet another form of representation in the workforce. Another mother pursuing both personal and professional ambitions, and reaching out with a hand of support not judgment.
So to all the law moms out there, I’ll see you in court or over the negotiating table, on Zoom or in the same room. What is more — I’ll see you. And I hope through books like “My Mom, the Lawyer,” more of us will truly be seen for all that we are, mom and lawyer — powerful.
Jamie Szal assists businesses understand and strategically approach state and local tax compliance. Outside of work, Jamie is an active volunteer in her communities: serving on the Trinity College Board of Trustees and as a founding member of the college’s Women’s Leadership Council. She also is a member of the Board of MothersEsquire, involved with the Maine State Bar Association Women’s Law Section, and President of the board of Community Dental of Maine. She co-authored best-sellers “#Networked” and “Women in Law” about the power of women supporting women. Jamie enjoys chocolate, singing, and exploring Maine with her family.
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