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March 10, 2021

Work-Life ‘Balance’ — Don’t Drop the Plates or the Brief!

By Marquetta J. Bryan, Melissa Foster Bird, Ginger Barry Boyd, Katelyn Fredericks

Partners Katelyn Fredericks, Melissa Foster Bird, Marquetta Bryan, and Ginger Boyd answer questions posed by firm associates on maintaining work-life balance, a constant tension in the lives of working mothers since they entered the modern workplace.

What tips would you offer on dealing with the “guilt” we sometimes hear that working mothers feel?

Look, the reality is that you can’t be 100% anything every day, but you can be intentional about bringing your best and recognizing the default tendencies and thoughts that cause you to feel guilty. When feelings of guilt arise, it is important to validate the feeling, but not stay there.

My advice: Be purposeful about choosing to show up as the best you can be. Reflect each morning on one thing you are grateful for about your family and your practice. Your thoughts will change your attitude more quickly than you think.

Marquetta Bryan, Atlanta partner


Is there an imbalance in the treatment of single vs. married with or without children vs. single mothers vs. empty nesters, etc.? Do you feel like we are compartmentalized as women in terms of treatment and/or accommodations?

Yes, I think this is part of the implicit bias that women experience in the legal profession and as part of the workforce generally. I think the bias shows when women are divided between the haves and the have nots as it relates to children. Women with children are perceived as having their “loyalties” split between family and work, and women without children are perceived as being only devoted to their work and having nothing else in their lives. Either of those views may or may not be true, but the assumption should not be foisted upon any person/employee without their input. I think it is incumbent on leaders to recognize and confront this bias, and I think it is necessary for successful women in firms to use their voices to point it out when it occurs. Without confronting the implicit bias, it will not change.

Melissa Foster Bird, Huntington partner


Does the balance get easier (or at least more familiar) after the early years of parenthood?

I try to avoid using the term balance — in part because it feels like an unachievable concept. There is a constant push/pull between my work life and home life. I think the longer you manage the tension, the more adept you are at adjusting and re-prioritizing.

Ginger Boyd, Tallahassee partner


What lessons from Nelson Mullins programs (e.g., High Potentials) do you think less senior lawyers could employ even now or earlier in their path?

Recognize that mentorship and sponsorship is a key to success in a law firm. If you don’t have that, proactively seek it out for yourself. I’ve found that more often than not, people are willing (and want) to help. Set structure to your business development practices and think of it as a key component of your job from day one. Don’t just engage in business development when you can but proactively make time for it and incorporate it into a routine.

Katelyn Fredericks, Atlanta partner