Full Time Practice

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Excerpt from "Walking in a Woman's Heels"

Mormon attorney moms need mentoring from similarly situated women to learn how to handle attorney workloads, in addition to handling their home demands. In most cases, an attorney mom does not have a stay-at-home husband keeping the gears well-oiled. Men at a firm may say, "Oh, we all struggle with work/life balance. That isn't unique to women." Most of those men have wives who work full-time at home, providing their families with clothing, child care, food, cleaning services, educational consulting, and everything else a mom does for a family.

For that man to say "Oh, we're all learning work/life balance" neglects the huge amount of work his stay-at-home wife does on his behalf that the attorney mom sitting across the desk from him still faces when she returns home that night, because no one else was there to do it. Most Mormon attorney dads fail to understand this radical difference between the jobs they do as attorney dads and the jobs some of their female counterparts do as attorney moms.

Life as a Mormon attorney mom stretches me beyond any capacity I ever thought I had--and then some. I am grateful to my firm for providing a flexible scheduling option that encourages me to be both a mom and a lawyer.

Yet even in my most desperate moments when I feel like quitting a job I love to stay home in my pajamas after sending the kids off to school, to do the dishes, to go to a workout class that isn't at 6 a.m. or 9 p.m., to clean my home, to work in my garden, or to spend a few minutes reading a book or visiting with a friend, I remember that God knows what I'm about and has a path for me that I must walk if I am true to what He has asked of me.

Then I don my work clothes and head for the office.

Tiffany Smith is an associate attorney at Kirton & McConkie in Salt Lake City, UT. She enjoys juggling being a wife, mother of three, and a lawyer, with all the other opportunites life affords.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I am a new mom and it is nice to hear the experiences of other LDS women attorneys, particulary those that are practicing and have children. Although I know a lot of women attorneys, I don't know very many that are LDS and working. I find the "work/life balance" is particuarly tricky when you add church responsibilties into what would already be a very full plate. There are also the implicit judgments that I feel from other members of our faith. I just came back from maternity leave and am practicing part time and enjoy the depth and variety that my new family and my work bring to my life. I feel very lucky.

  2. I appreciate Tiffany Smith's post regarding the work/life balance issues for Mormon attorney mothers and the need for mentors. I graduated from law school in 1988, and I have four children. After working for a private law firm, I made a career change to the federal courts and found that it was a better fit for family commitments and church callings. I did not have a female mentor who was a member of the church, but I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful female attorneys and judges who have successfully blended family and work commitments. I have now entered another interesting phase of life as my youngest child left to serve a mission in Chile, and I was called to be the Primary President in an inner city ward.

    My recommendation for young women lawyers in the church is to focus on the many ways in which your training as an attorney can bless the lives of others, whether immediate family members, ward family members, or those people in your communities. You can be a great influence for good in your respective work places, and the experience and insight you bring to church callings and ward councils is invaluable.

    I am happy to serve as a mentor to newer female LDS attorneys; we can brainstorm about the potential for creating family/church service/work-life balance.

    Denise Asper

  3. As a woman lawyer, I think that the JRCLS women are working in a positive direction, and I pray that it will continue.

  4. Denise, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Your insight is inspiring.

  5. I so appreciate a forum that recognizes the joys and frustrations I feel as a "Mormon female attorney mom" - those are a lot of labels that can bring a wide range of emotions during the day!

  6. I agree with the author that working mothers usually carry a heavier load than working fathers, especially in our church. However, her statement that if she quit her job she could "stay home in my pajamas after sending the kids off to school, to do the dishes, to go to a workout class that isn't at 6 a.m. or 9 p.m., to clean my home, to work in my garden, or to spend a few minutes reading a book or visiting with a friend" really bothered me.

    To me, this kind of statement is very polarizing for women and plays off common stereotypes of women who stay home. There are benefits to staying home and their are benefits to working outside the home. Making these type of characterizations, however, does not help women reach out and support each other despite different life choices.

  7. Hi Maria,

    Thanks for commenting. I certainly did not intend to offend by including tasks I would do if I were to stay home. The brief list I mentioned was a sketchy wish list, not a complete catalogue of tasks in which I would revel if I were to stay home.

    Calling it a "characterization" implies it is not real. I really have stayed in my pajamas while working at home cleaning, gardening, etc. I was a stay-at-home mom for many years and relished the role. Obviously, I didn't wear pajamas the whole time:) The items on my wish list are active and do not suggest lazy pastimes or a negative characterization. To me they represent a woman who takes care of her family, her home, and herself, and who reaches out to others. Hope that helps you understand where I was coming from.

    Also, the blog entry was an excerpt from a much larger piece I wrote. I would be happy to send it to you if you would like to see the bigger picture from which it was drawn.

  8. I don't think Tiffany's post means to disparage stay-at-home moms or say that being a stay-at-home mom is "easy." Being a stay-at-home mom is hard; being a working Mormon mom is hard. Pick your battle. I do think, though, that Mormon stay-at-home moms have a lot more role models, resources, and mentors at their disposal than working Mormon moms, and I think part of the point of this post is that Mormon women attorneys need other Mormon women attorney role models.

    I'm a full-time attorney and mother of two young children. My Mormon friends are almost all stay-at-home moms. None of my working mom friends are Mormon. A lot of my Mormon friends don't get what it's like to be working full time, and although I have a few great mom-attorney mentors, none of them get what it's like to be Mormon (and why some of the choices that they've made to make things work for their families wouldn't work so well for me).

  9. I am a single mom and in my final year of law school. I had a positive discussion with the one LDS attorney mom that I knew before I started school about her experiences, but I still constantly worry about balancing a law career with my family. I have bypassed many opportunities at school because they simply would not work for my family--my responsibilities are far different than most of my classmates. So I also worry about how that influences my job prospects.

    I am one of two LDS women at my law school and my contact with LDS women attorneys is equally limited at this point. I am so excited to have found this blog and to hear that others have made it work! Thank you!

  10. My loving husband (who is not LDS) found this blog for me last night. I don't know how he knew I needed this! I just officially finished my first year of law school yesterday. What an adventure. I tell people that all four of us (including my husband and two kids) are in law school because each of us has had to make sacrifices to be here. Without that mindset, we couldn't have done this. I am thankful to know that there are other women out there similarly situated who are inspired to be mothers and wives and lawyers and faithful church members all at once.

    Living outside the Mormon belt, I have found that my greatest opposition has not come from average law students but from LDS students (especially females). I need fellowship and love and encouragement now more than ever. Thank you for being that for me, whoever you are. The counsel and feelings expressed on this blog are such a blessing to me. I will revisit this site often, I'm sure. I hope each of you is blessed in your endeavors.

  11. Dear ABC98,

    Hang in there. It is hard to be a mom, wife, and lawyer, but I have found it is doable. The key is to seek what you need for yourself and your family, to ask for it very clearly, and to expect to find a path that makes it possible - either by creating it yourself or finding an employer who wants to make it work for you.

    I recall so many well-meaning people telling me as a 1L that there was no way I would be able to work part-time at a large law firm. Just because they had never seen it done well, they did not think it was possible. I knew that's what I wanted to do and found a firm that valued me enough, and others like me, to make it a reality. Other firms in SLC are now taking the heat for not providing as many options for their associates as Kirton & McConkie does.

    You may think I selected my firm based on its reputation for promoting women. Actually, seeking a job at K&M was not an obvious path, and many people tried to dissuade me from working there. Those same people have been shocked to discover that the very firm they heard was hard on women has ended up being the very best place for me to be.

    Therefore, don't give credence to people's advice who have never tried doing what you want to do. Just try it yourself, and then see what barriers you find. You never know, you may find doors instead. I did.


  12. I enjoyed your post Tiffany. Thanks for writing it and for your comments. I haven't quite figured out how to fire up the 'ole work engine again after Baby #4 (which made 4 kids under 6 yrs old!) I'm hoping the path will somehow become illuminated. I miss work sometimes but other times it's a great relief to focus only on home life. It's confusing. It's difficult. There are no easy answers.