United States: Women In The Law: Think Before You Pause

Last Updated: January 21 2019
Article by Heather Fuller

I was working as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. when I decided to take a pause in my career. I was pregnant with my first child, and I didn't think I could juggle a baby along with a demanding career requiring extensive travel. So, I hit pause. I did not plan on staying home raising children for nearly 14 years, but one child led to another, and eventually, I had three kids. A few years turned to five, then a decade, and stay-at-home motherhood continued. Before I knew it, my first child was in high school, and college was looming. Soon, I would be faced with all three of them leaving home and the inevitable empty nest.

That's when I had the thought for the first time: How does an attorney who has not practiced law in more than a decade—and holds an out-of-state law license—find a job? I realized the hard truth: I did not thoroughly think it through before I paused. When I embraced motherhood as my full-time job, I was thinking about the beautiful baby girl right in front of me. I wasn't thinking about a middle-aged woman wanting to reenter the workforce. I didn't consider my law license, and what would happen if I found myself in another state—North Carolina, as it turned out—and licensed to practice in New Mexico. I neglected to take the necessary steps to help ease an inevitable transition back into the legal world.

I learned many lessons along the way and have put so much thought into this issue that I could write a book. But the takeaway is this: I would give my younger self a few pieces of advice. I would not tell her to make a different decision; the years with my children were priceless. I can't be certain that my kids are better off for my choice, but I know that I am. Still, I would advise my younger self to think it through from start to finish and begin designing a reentry plan from day one. Have an occasional lunch with a former colleague or attend a local bar event in order to keep up connections. Every few years, even if you are not ready to dive back in, revisit the idea of restarting your career by putting out feelers and exploring a few opportunities. Consider easing back in with contract work. The point is that when you pause you don't completely stop. Your career may have temporarily halted, but the preparations for a restart should continue.

I quickly became wrapped up in my children's world, so when I paused, I stopped. But with a little luck and a lot of work on the back end due to a lack of planning on the front end, when I hit play, I landed on my feet. I'm now working in a rock star firm surrounded by rock star attorneys. I'm lucky. I've had the best of both worlds.

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