It’s a feeling all trainees will know: It’s late, you’re tired and then someone hands you something terrifyingly important and absolutely bewildering. That’s right; I’m describing what it feels like to hold your new born child for the first time.
In 2015, the average age at qualification was 29.5 whereas the average age of a first time mother was 28.6. Given the overlap, it is surprising how little information there is about what it’s like to have a baby as a trainee.
I was 28 when my wife and I had our first daughter, just a few months before my training contract assessment days. We had our second girl during my second training seat.
I asked myself all the inevitable questions. Will I be home enough to see my baby? Is this career suicide? Will people notice that there is always a small amount of baby snot on my suit?
A year later, now on the brink of qualification, I can answer some of these questions from the perspective of the parent that stayed at work.
Of course, this is only one perspective. The questions and challenges will be wholly different (and greater) for any parent taking longer out of the work place after the baby is born. But there are challenges in how you manage the start of your legal career while at the same time learning to be a parent.
Having a baby during your training contract is hard
The middle of your training contract is perhaps not the perfect time to have a baby – but most parents will tell you there is no perfect time. Newborns are hard work, and there will always be something competing for your time, say the next promotion or project.
Also, unless you can operate effectively on three hours sleep (perhaps ask colleagues in the corporate department for tips) the lack of sleep is a challenge. And, you will quickly get used to managing the inevitable spillovers between work and home – something that all working parents balance daily whether trainee or partner.
In my case, for example, after getting dressed in the dark in an attempt to avoid waking my teething daughter following a rough night, I managed to put on trousers from one suit and the jacket from another. I’m not sure it passed for a style statement.
One challenging area is around the post work networking and team activities. When other trainees go for drinks on a Friday night, I’m at home reading ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ which, along with other weighty tomes like ‘One Ted Fell Out of Bed’ and ‘I Want My Hat Back’, I now have better committed to memory than any law text.
Of course, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. But, networking is an essential part of my role and I have to therefore be more creative in how I approach this aspect of my career. Lunches and coffees work well, but it is also surprising who you meet at soft play!
Having a baby and a career is really really hard – but it can be done
It is important to be honest with yourself about the rigours of a legal career and how you as a family will balance that with home demands. The hours can be long and, perhaps more problematic, unpredictable. Can you guarantee that you will be out of the office at the right time for the nursery pick-up? What’s the fall back plan if you can’t?
I am fortunate to have a wife who understands the unpredictability of my job. She picks up the slack where I can’t and we balance it between us as best we can. Of course, you have to accept also that you won’t always get it right and there will be stressful moments.
Think carefully about which firm you choose; I work for a firm that respects my family life and works hard to help people balance home demands with those at work. I have also had supportive relationships with my various supervisors and that has also been imperative to my ability to juggle work and home life.
I try to get home in time to put the girls to bed and generally that’s manageable. On nights where I need to work later, having the right tech in place means this needn’t be away from my family. With remote IT access, multiple communication channels, and a nod from my manager I can log back on after putting the children to sleep.
And, it’s totally worth it
If this all sounds like hard work, it is, but don’t be put off. I have a wonderful family and a job that I enjoy. Learning to balance both requires support from home and work, alongside perseverance and some trial and error along the way. It’s a rollercoaster journey, but one I enjoy… even when it is occasionally punctuated with calls of ‘are we nearly there yet?’
Christopher Flanagan is a trainee at TLT.