I overheard some attorneys talking about these “kids today”. They swapped horror stories and complained about their interns and new associates. “These kids today have such a sense of entitlement”. “These kids today have no work ethic”. And although I have definitely met my share of lazy law students, perhaps for some of us law students our work ethic hasn’t changed, but our values have.
Many of these “kids today” aren’t actually kids; they’re adults with families and children of their own. While I couldn’t find a statistic on the percentage of nontraditional law students, a study from the National Center for Education Statistics showed that in the last ten years, enrollment of students 35 years and over in postsecondary institutions increased by 32% and is expected to continue to increase by 20% in the next ten years. Students age 25- 34 increased by 45% and are expected to increase by 20%. These figures suggest that the age of the average law student is steadily increasing. Considering the diversity of my charter class at Belmont, I can believe it. Several of my classmates (including my fellow blogger Brett Knight) and I have spousal and family obligations in addition to our law school responsibilities.
Consequently, a law student with a spouse and children can’t always commit to a 12 hour work day and join you at every happy hour—well they can, they just may not have a spouse and kids to go home to. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for working hard and paying your dues. My parents taught me “the only thing you’re entitled to is what you’ve earned; and earnings come from a hard day’s work”. I just don’t want my success to be at my family’s expense. Hopefully that doesn’t mean I’ll never move up in my company because Billy Bachelor has no obligations and nothing but time to devout to 15 hour shifts.
I’m sure many of my classmates and I have seen, and/or been the children of, the successful employee that worked their way up the corporate ladder. While some of those employees have managed to get there without sacrificing their most important relationships, Peter and Patty Partner made it to the corner office but along the way they burned bridges with all people who love them most. They have a spacious office full of plaques and awards with a great view of downtown, but when they leave work they go home to an empty house, or a house full of strangers. I’m sure intentions were good as Peter and Patty worked to provide a good life for their family. It was a win-win; Peter and Patty got to pursue their dreams of being a lawyer while at the same time they were able to send their kids to that great private school and move into their dream house. Each time Peter and Patty misses out on one of their kid’s activities they subdue the guilt by calling it “seeing the bigger picture”. They can’t remember the last time they’ve spent time in a room with their significant other without their cell phone by their side and their laptop in their lap, but they are getting closer and closer to that promotion! When Peter’s twelve year old complains that he never makes it home before she and her brother are in bed, Peter tells her, “you’ll understand when you’re older”. But will she? She’ll understand that every time Peter had a choice between her and the job, he never chose her.
No if, ands or buts about it, my priority list is God, family, and career. And I don’t write this article to say that I’ll be calling off for every cough or sniffle that my child has or to say that I’ll never work over time; that wouldn’t be fair or realistic. I know that those aren’t the reality of any occupation, especially a career as a lawyer. Throughout law school I’ve had to accept that I’ll have to wake up in the early hours of the morning to get my kids ready, spend all day in class, come home and start on dinner and baths, put the kids to bed, pick up the books around 9 pm and stay up as long as it takes to get my school work and work assignments done. Additionally, success often hinges upon the relationships you build, so somewhere in between I have to make time for networking. I sign up to volunteer every once in a while, even when I don’t feel like it; I go to that breakfast in the morning with my mentor even if that means I have to wake up two hours earlier to get my kids dressed and dropped off at daycare. One of my favorite quotes from my pastor, Danny Chambers, is “Champions are doing daily what average people do occasionally.” A peek into some of the lives of the world’s most powerful leaders proves these words to be true.
As a wife, mother of two toddlers, and a full-time law student (with two internships) I’ve gained a great appreciation for organizations and employers that acknowledge the importance of family. Just last week the LAW, Marion Griffin Chapter hosted a trip to the pumpkin patch. In a profession where happy hours always end up being the go-to networking event, law students with family obligations often miss out on these opportunities to network. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the pumpkin patch event because I was out of town, but I was very happy to hear about a professional organization hosting a family friendly event.
Proponents of the million hour work week argue, “well that’s what we had to do!…I used to stay in my office until 9 o’clock every night!” “We had to make sacrifices.” “Nothing was handed to us.” Perhaps you did, but you did so when you were young and single and didn’t have a family of four depending on you or you did so at the expense of your family and the people who you love most. Most of us law students know that we’ll have to pay our dues. And I’m sure there will be sacrifices, but we’re not all asking for a handout–just asking that before you judge the intern or new lawyer for leaving at 6 pm instead of 7 that you reflect on how you felt in the moments you were forced to choose between your family and your job and each time you chose the latter what that meant. I plan on working hard and putting my best foot forward, but I hope to do so without losing sight of what’s most important.
What good is it to reach the “top” if the people you love most aren’t there to enjoy it with you?