A Chaotic Education: How Balancing Work and Family Can Make You a Better Lawyer

By Lydia Raw

We all know parenting is no walk in the park. The demands, unpredictability, and relentless demands on time and patience can hit hard, particularly with young kids. But while recently transitioning from one kid to two, I’ve realized that the parenting ground is also a training ground.

The parenting skills I was developing — planning, scheduling, sometimes negotiating — could be leveraged in my career. As a younger lawyer, I sometimes questioned why fellow women attorneys were planning for deadlines so far in advance. The answer is obvious to any parent who’s tried to herd a toddler and carry a baby into their car seats in time for a pending appointment. Anything can happen, a meltdown, a tantrum, a blowout — and it most likely will.

But the skills you gain as a parent are your superpower. I found these powers didn’t just work at home — they have long-term benefits at work. In addition to helping me work more efficiently, research shows the more control we have over our work, the less stressed we get.

Here are five ways I balance work and family life that help me manage my caseload and priorities at Erise.

Plan, plan, plan: This goes beyond putting times and to-dos on a calendar. We plan well in advance, and we have backups for when things don’t go according to plan. At home, the door has a checklist of everything that everyone has to have in their bag before they can leave the house, and everyone’s bag has extra supplies. We have meals planned out six weeks in advance and we have frozen corn dogs ready to go into the air fryer in case someone wants to be a picky eater. In the context of litigation, we set the plan up front. What are the key themes and facts, and what do we need to prove our case? That planning sets the direction for the rest of the case from discovery, through depositions, trial, verdict, and appeal. The backups come when you rely on the team’s past experience, allowing you to pivot when the evidence comes in in a different way than you expected.

Establish priorities: As a parent, I understand the value of my time because it’s all accounted for. In litigation your time is limited too. Often, we only have a few pages in a brief or a few minutes with the judge or jury to make a compelling case. Focusing on the most important things (and being able to leave the rest on the cutting room floor) is an important skill. What’s going to get you the “win” in the litigation? There are plenty of interesting facts and long-shot legal theories in every case, but they don’t belong in the story because they don’t move the needle.

Be decisive: Being a parent has taught me to make the best decision with the information I have right now. As a parent that’s all you can do; everything is new and sometimes you just have to rely on your gut instincts. There are plenty of opinions out there on how to parent and if you tried to focus on that advice it would be analysis paralysis. The same thing can trip you up in litigation. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that just one more document, one more review of the caselaw, one more question you could ask a witness is out there and could make a difference. But that instinct more often than not simply wastes time and client money. Learning to make a decision and take a position with the information available is important. You can always pivot later if you need to.

Know your audience: When your kid doesn’t want to eat or get dressed or get out of bed, you quickly learn what tricks are going to get things moving again. But just because something works with one kid doesn’t mean it will with the other. One thing I’ve found immensely helpful when writing a brief is to look at the last few opinions from the judge – whether they’re on my issue or not. What format do they use in their opinions? How do they incorporate past cases in their analysis, and what do they find persuasive? If you know what your audience is looking for, it’s easier to focus your brief on what matters.

Be intentional with your time: Work is a constant, especially in the litigation world. But whether I am at home or at work, I’m intentional about being present. I’m blessed to be surrounded by amazing examples who demonstrate what it can look like to thrive in the high stakes environment that we work in while also prioritizing kids’ sporting events and being present on family vacations. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t long nights and work on the weekends when necessary. But it does mean that after finalizing something for a critical deadline after typical work hours, I’m going to spend the next half hour intentionally building memories with my kids. Last week that meant doing what my 3-year-old most wanted to do: make butterflies out of Play-Doh. Mentally being able to make the switch from finalizing a brief in high-stakes patent litigation for a deadline to kids’ arts and crafts used to be challenging. Now, I love that I am able to find equal joy, value, and a sense of accomplishment in both.

Crafting clay butterfly