parent opinion

"It's a tough gig." One mum on the stark reality of being a mother working in law.

Being a lawyer has many rewards, but it’s also hard work in ways that may not be entirely obvious.

Sure, the hours are long and the responsibilities are great but what is truly exhausting for so many mothers in the law is that we must practice our profession like gladiators.

That, coupled with the hefty weight of family responsibilities, is a perfect storm.

Clients do not come to lawyers in celebration. “Hooray, we need a lawyer,” said no one. Ever.

Clients come because they have problems with which they are well aware. And then lawyers take the problem and make it bigger – both for technical reasons, but also because we are trained to build in a “negotiation buffer” so there is room to move when we attempt to bridge the legal gap.

I’ve become overwhelmed trying to understand why law is practised with such pace and aggression. Trying to understand why my work must be done in a way that robs me of the reserves needed to be the kind of parent, partner, sister, friend, community member I’d like to be.

Anne-Marie and her daughter. Image: Supplied.

I’m not alone, women in their early to mid-30s are exiting the law in droves – they are opting out at twice the rate of similarly experienced young men.

Something has to change meaningfully for women in the law. So much has to change.

I am acutely aware that most of it is not actually about being a lawyer, it’s about having the personal bandwidth and the wider support to enable me to pursue my work, in the way I would like to work: with energy, vigour and a positive focus.


The narrative of my whole life has been that I can do it all if only I work hard enough. If I parent like I have no career, work like I have no children. But that narrative was naïve.

Michelle Bridges tells us what she really thinks about a work-life balance. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

My professional experience has encouraged me to not spend too much energy wishing things could be done with more time and less aggression. The expectation has been to just get on with it.

Law doesn’t have much room for me: the gentle, kind, feminine, intelligent, sometimes light-hearted, optimistic human being I am. But it seems to have a lot of room for pretending, for denial and for self-sacrifice. Pretending that there is balance.

Pretending that it is amusing rather than heartbreaking to occasionally drop the parenting ball and contribute to that most tragic of hashtags #motheroftheyear.

Pretending that these inner conflicts of what and who I have to be in order to professionally progress are not exhausting.

My social media feed is full of mothers in law trying to work out how to keep going. Sharing experiences, offering advice and survival tips.

It’s become clear to me that the role of my generation of professionals is to think about what the heck it is we are trying to do in our professional lives, and calling out the unacceptable and unsustainable practices which don’t work anymore.

It’s a tough gig – but gee, won’t it look better on the other side.

Anne-Marie is a guest on tonight’s episode of Insight at 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

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