Bloomberg Law
March 28, 2023, 8:00 AM

Being a Parent Can Also Make You a Better Lawyer—Here’s Why

Brittany Johnson
Brittany Johnson
Starbucks Corporation

Parenthood changes everything. I expected parenthood would completely alter my life and relationships. I knew I’d never probably sleep again. If I’m being deeply honest, I also thought parenthood would change my career—and not for the better.

Despite examples of successful working parents around me, I pictured my own relationship with parenthood and career as a zero-sum game. As parenting responsibilities and exhaustion increased, my career performance and satisfaction would decrease.

Quite unexpectedly, parenthood taught me skills and provided perspective that improved my work and relationship with my legal career. As others before me discovered, parenthood, like other life experiences, can build professional character.

There’s No ‘Right’ Way

As a new parent, I spent huge amounts of time trying to parent the “right” way. I researched how to cast the perfect spell of swaddle + sound machine + pacifier that might, just might, allow three solid hours of sleep. I researched how to create playtime that was stimulating, but not too stimulating. I researched how to ensure each and every feeding ended with a happy baby and a full belly.

Eventually, I realized there’s no “right” way to parent. Sure, some ways are flat-out wrong. But, what works for my child might not work for any other child. Heck, what worked a few hours ago might not work later the same day. I needed to be flexible and willing to change approach when something wasn’t working. I needed to give myself permission to take bits of advice and create my own parenting style, without being locked into one specific method.

Parenthood showed me this holds true in the practice of law. There’s no singular, correct way to be a lawyer or build a legal career. We can try on new skills and sample different ways of working. We can keep the skills and tidbits of advice that improve us and discard those that don’t. Removing pressure to practice law the “right” way creates freedom to develop new skills and practice law differently.

Discover New Superpowers

I’d made it through physical and emotional exhaustion of those early weeks. I’d seen hours of the night that I didn’t know existed. I’d nurtured a life that was totally dependent on me. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done, but I survived and my child thrived.

Parenthood armed me with grit and confidence that, frankly, I lacked before becoming a parent. Suddenly, taking on new challenges didn’t seem as daunting. If I survived days of caring for my son on 20 minutes of sleep and four-day-old baked ziti, I could accept that stretch project.

Parenthood forces rapid skill development that can add value in the legal profession. Some new parents become better multitaskers. Others develop deeper empathy, making them better managers, leaders, and delegators. New parents might become more patient, leading to more measured decision-making. Still others find new energy, more driven to provide for their new family.

Focus on Essentials

Early on, it was easy to descend into the endless questions that ran on a loop in my mind. Why won’t the baby wear shoes in the grocery store? When will he use a fork? Cheerios or blueberries? I decided to focus on what was most important—that my son was healthy and happy. If it didn’t have a tangible impact on his health or ability to thrive, I had to let it go. It didn’t matter if the baby wore shoes in the grocery store.

When returning to work, I continued to sharpen focus. I concentrated effort on the items that achieved results for my team and clients. I’d get to the other stuff, too, but it needed to take a backseat to the mission-critical items. Not everything would get done at the same time, but the most important items would be done first and would receive my full focus and effort.

Caregivers are, by necessity, masters of prioritization. In the practice of law, they are well‑equipped to focus on the critical while deprioritizing the nonessential. Parenthood further provides lawyers with perspective on what truly matters, helping filter out distraction.

Seek Expert Advice

The Terrible Twos crashed in and my sweet baby turned into an adorable, vicious maniac. Moments of “what-have-I-done” panic seeped in. After a few weeks of failing at everything parenting-related, I decided to call in an expert: a parenting coach.

Yes, parenting coaches exist, and are amazing. The coach spotted patterns and suggested strategies I never considered. Within hours of implementing the coach’s playbook, the clouds parted and parenting became manageable again. Others might seek expert support from family, seasoned parents, or a therapist. As they say, it takes a village.

Parents who lean on others for support understand when to ask for help and seek collaboration. At work, perspectives of colleagues, peers, coaches, and mentors can help uncover new solutions, reducing unproductive time and helping achieve results more quickly.

Make no mistake, parenthood is both endlessly beautiful and fraught with challenges. Inadequate family leave policies, expensive childcare, the motherhood penalty, and a profession that is often unfriendly to working parents, especially mothers, compound those challenges.

But remember, those very real obstacles do not mean that parenthood makes for any less of a lawyer. Leave open the possibility that parenthood can help build valuable, transferable skills and perspective that support a thriving legal career.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

Author Information

Brittany Johnson is director, corporate counsel, at Starbucks Corporation. She and her team lead legal support for domestic and international expansion through brand licensing. Johnson is a mother, a mentor, and a coffee lover with an early morning writing habit. Her views in this column do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

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