Yesterday was my last day in my role as a Partner at a large, global law firm.
For those who know me personally, you know this is big step. For those who don’t know me personally: trust me, it’s a huge step.
I just returned from a long walk, in which I was thinking about what message I wanted to convey as I shared this news with you. If you’ve ever tried to find words to explain something while you’re living in the middle of it, you’ll understand why I may feel a bit like I’m fumbling here. This story doesn’t yet have a well-worn groove. Often, when writing for this blog, I pause for a minute (or a week) before sharing personal experiences. Until the framing of the event in my own head has a little more time to gel. Not so, today.
Knowing this community, though, I suspect you’ll forgive any roughness around the edges. The public nature of stepping down from this type of law firm role (public, at least, with a LinkedIn update and necessary bio corrections) prompted me to want to share this news with you in whatever raw state it is in. You also probably know of me that I believe there’s value in sharing the raw stuff. In being open and honest when things are happening to real life working parents.
Okay, okay, I’ll cut to the chase and answer the first question first. What’s next? While I will indeed still be practicing law as the Principal of my own (solo!) firm called The GME Group PLLC, I will be devoting a majority of my professional workweek to Mindful Return.
How am I feeling about this? Elated!!! I’ve traveled through the waves of terror, feeling like I was jumping out of an airplane and wondering if the parachute would open. The nausea and sleeplessness leading up to telling my colleagues was real. And now, I’ve turned a corner. This week, I’ve been jumping on my kids’ COVID trampoline every day at lunchtime out of sheer joy. Oh, I am not kidding. The neighbors probably think I’ve gone off the deep end!
My “Portfolio Career” Journey, One Baby Step at a Time
For the past 6 years, I have worn two professional hats, as both the CEO and Founder of Mindful Return, and as a Partner at Dentons. I’ve come to believe deeply in the benefits of taking a so-called “portfolio approach” to a career. But how’d I get here?
The early days of my legal career were much more traditional. I clerked for a judge the year after law school. Then, I went straight to the law firm where I had been a summer associate (Vinson & Elkins). I worked there as a health care associate for a few years, until my practice got taken over by another firm (King & Spalding), and then I went to that other firm. As a 4th year associate, I then decided to make a move out of BigLaw, and I took an in-house policy job at a trade association (the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC).
While working at AAMC, I had both of my boys. And I returned to work full-time after maternity leave after having each of them. At a time when 1 child + 1 child felt like 85 children, and the emotional wheels were coming off, this risk-averse lawyer started dabbling in being an entrepreneur. Why? Sheer desperation. I wanted to create for working parents the program I wished I had for myself when I went back to work after baby.
In the early days, Mindful Return was but a 20-minute-per-day passion project. I’d squeeze in blog-writing and course-planning in tiny bits here and there. In evenings, during kid naps on weekends, and on long cross-country flights for work. I was impatient for it to grow. But as a mama of two kids under 3, I had to breathe through my impatience. And be as okay as I could with the baby steps of progress I could make. (I wrote more on that feeling here: Dream Big. And Be Realistic. A Paradox for Working Parents.)
Over time, this Mindful Return program did grow. Back when we had about 12 employer clients (now there are more than 75!), the Washington Post wrote an article about the Mindful Return course. This helped get the word out. As did my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.
About 18 months into starting this company, I decided I wanted some daylight hours to work on it. So I left my full-time role at AAMC and (perhaps ironically), decided to go back to a law firm. I joined Dentons as a Partner on a 60% schedule in August 2016. In January 2020, I scaled back to a 50% role.
I have thrived living in both of these legal and entrepreneurial roles simultaneously. My legal work lets me use both the analytical part of my brain and my accumulated expertise in a niche area of law. And my entrepreneurial side lets me use my creative juices for writing, storytelling, and community-building. It’s been fun to live between these two worlds.
Which is why I will still be doing both. Just in a different capacity, with the emphasis on the other syllable. Law as my side-gig, so to speak.
Wrestling with Identity and Leadership
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I’d considered leaving my firm to do Mindful Return full time, I’d have been a millionaire a few years ago. So why did I stay in my law firm Partner role for 6 years? There were many reasons, not the least of which included having a great team of colleagues, doing work I believed in that I know makes a difference in the world, and yes, financial stability.
There were two other things, though, that kept me there.
First, there was the somewhat hard to admit truth that my ego and identity were caught up in the “Partner” title. This was the status everyone worked so hard to achieve, right? The coveted pinnacle of a legal career? In the hierarchical world that is law firm culture, I dreaded the loss of professional status that I feared would come from giving up that title.
Second, I feared I’d somehow be failing working parents and women in the legal profession by stepping down. How could I let myself be part of the women-leaving-law-firms crisis, particularly when I’ve been advocating so hard for our retention? I didn’t want my corner of the legal world to lose another female voice or one that normalized parenthood. I now recognize that I can be (an even more) effective leader in this space by wearing a different hat. But I did spend a lot of emotional energy worrying about these things.
Musings on My Law Firm Legacy
I acknowledge that I was only a Partner at my firm for 6 years and not for an entire career. But I’m proud of what I accomplished there during that time. Above all, I’m proud of having pushed hard for and succeeded in obtaining: (1) permission to start a working parent affinity group at the firm; (2) permission to expand this group beyond lawyers and to professional staff; and (3) the elimination of the primary and secondary caregiver distinction in the parental leave policy for lawyers at the firm. (My hope and dream is that this one day becomes the policy for all firm employees.)
I’m also proud of the practice I developed related to Medicare graduate medical education (GME) payments. Looking back, I discovered that I had a hand in writing 88 different published articles on this topic while at the firm, and I’ve built some amazing relationships with my hospital and health-system clients.
Replacing Control with Trust
“Why now?,” people have been asking about my law firm resignation. Here’s the part where I start to fumble and get a bit ineloquent. I’m finding it’s hard to explain a decision that is a long-time coming but then quickly made. A force larger than myself – let’s call it trust – somehow suddenly inspired me to act on thoughts I’ve had for years.
Like so many others, COVID pushed me to soul search in new ways. The pandemic also decimated working parents with a magnitude that led me to lean more deeply into service through Mindful Return. (At one point during the pandemic, I believe I led 60’ish working parent group coaching sessions over a 3 or 4 month period.) The need is huge, and I feel inspired to meet it.
In the many, many dark and awful months of lock-down, I also started putting into place support systems for myself that were necessary for survival. I was diligent about therapy, yoga, alone time, and connecting regularly to those who would hold and support me in my distress.
Ironically, perhaps, that feeling of being held and supported when I was at rock bottom helped me to learn to trust. To trust that my family and friends would be there for me no matter what. To trust that I can give up control (because really, I never had it anyway) and still be okay. And to trust my own problem-solving skills.
This trust and support network gave me the courage to jump. Knowing the parachute will open when I do.
Want to Support Mindful Return’s Working Parent Mission?
I was also prompted to step more fully into my Mindful Return work by watching the program itself grow by leaps and bounds. In addition to our longstanding courses for new moms, new dads, and parents of special needs children, this past year, we also launched a Manager Training Course and a UK Chapter, undertook a serious diversity self-study, and held monthly webinars for our community.
We are now in the thick of planning for launches of an India Chapter, Spanish language versions of our programs, and a Mindful Return 201 course for all working parents. I could not be more excited about all of this growth, as it means we are able to help even more working moms and working dads feel more supported and confident in their roles.
Want to spread Mindful Return’s growing mission of supporting working parents? Here are some ideas of how to help:
- Reach out to a fellow working parent in your workplace or community, and let them know what an amazing job they are doing. This sounds like a small or almost insignificant step, but believe me. It can mean the world to a working parent whose efforts largely go unnoticed.
- If your employer doesn’t offer the Mindful Return courses as a parental leave benefit, encourage them to reach out for a demo (more here).
- Get involved in a working parent or caregiver affinity group or ERG at your office. (If you’re working to get one off the ground or are the leader of such a group, join the free Working Parent Group Network for support.)
- If you’re looking for speakers on all subjects from preparing for parental leave, to work-life integration, to returning to offices post-COVID, consider our virtual and in-person workshops and webinars.
- Share my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave and our Mindful Return Instagram page, with a new parent colleague or friend.
- Listen to and share the Parents at Work Podcast with a working parent friend.
Thank you, Mindful Return community, for all of your support and encouragement over these past 7 years since I started this company. When you write me e-mails of support, or comment on social media posts to let me know that this community and what I say makes a difference, it keeps me writing. Keeps me getting on my various soap boxes. And keeps me sane.
Finally, I wish you bravery in your own career journey, fellow working parents. Change can – in fact, often does – happen in baby steps over many years, rather than in the blink of an eye. And that type of slow and gradual change is incredibly powerful.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave