Editor's Note: Inspired by the many speakers WLALA has presented over the years, we’ve taken notice that we can all benefit by sharing our experiences, wisdom, ideas and hopes for the future. For the younger generation, it is easy to forget how far we’ve come and the paths those before us have paved. For the older generation, the focus on work-life balance and the drop-out rate among younger attorneys may seem disappointing. In this “Generational Perspectives” series, WLALA will feature articles written by female attorneys of all ages – from those who have been practicing for more than 35 years to those who recently graduated from law school -- to share their thoughts on how far we’ve come and where we are headed.
To Everything There Is A Season
by Barbara A. Reeves Neal, Esq.
Forty years of law practice interwoven with life as a single young woman, prosecutor, marriage, partnership in big law firms, family, two step-sons, four more sons being born and a son’s death, in-house counsel and executive, children growing up and moving on, an empty nest and a collection of dogs and cats that the kids left behind. What are the lessons learned?
At first I tried the analogy that life is a marathon, not a sprint, and your career as a lawyer is a part of that marathon. But that doesn’t convey the fun and excitement of combining a long career and a lifetime of experiences. I trained for a marathon once – it was grueling. So on to the “To everything there is a season” approach. Take your pick: seasons of life, seasons of the year, television seasons, video on-demand seasons, baseball seasons, it all works.
The seasons of a legal career begin with high energy as the young lawyer realizes that there is an incredible amount to learn and the sooner she learns it, the sooner she succeeds at – whatever. You put in long hours, network, put in more long hours, and devote your life to your career. Over time you become accomplished at what you do, you then find that there are even more demands on your time to be responsible for business development and practice management, and you realize that no matter how good you get there is always more that you can be doing.
Meanwhile the seasons of a personal life are unfolding. Life as a young single woman, with no entanglements or commitments, gives way to married life of a committed relationship with someone, childbirth, young children, teenagers, and young adults out of the house.
The problem is that the demands of the seasons of your personal life and your professional life don’t seem to be very thoughtful of each other. How do you bill 2000 hours while nursing an infant and raising a toddler? How do you spend evenings entertaining clients or networking at bar functions when you should also be having a family dinner? What happens when you are out of town at a partnership retreat and the babysitter calls to tell you that the teenagers and their friends came home and hit up the Jack Daniels? And just about the time you begin to get some control over your professional schedule, the kids are moving out and don’t need or want you around. You now have time to take all those trips you wanted, to pursue a sport and take courses, but do you have someone with whom to share the experiences? Have you found yourself wondering whether you could live your life backwards, taking time with the family and time to travel and explore hobbies while you are young, and devoting yourself to your profession later, when the kids are grown and you’ve seen the world and hiked all the mountains?
This is a Generational Perspectives column, so here is my perspective: you can practice law into your 70s or 80s (seriously, my father-in-law still goes into the office at his law firm where he is a name partner at age 94, but no, I do not intend to do so) but your children claim their independence (except financially), leave home, and don’t call unless they need money after about eighteen years, and your marriage or relationship needs your attention from the beginning. Yet you need to learn your profession well when you begin your practice. So focus on the things that need attention in each season, the things that won’t be there or can’t be done ten or twenty years from now. And enjoy! Life is not a dress rehearsal.
WLALA Member Barbara A. Reeves Neal, Esq. is a full-time neutral with JAMS where she handles arbitrations, mediations and court-references involving commercial, intellectual property, insurance, employment and construction disputes. She lives in Malibu with her husband and various dogs and cats. Her three sons occasionally remember to call her.
*If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact the WLALA Communications Officer, Heather Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org.