I and many of my fellow parents attending law school (PALS) have just completed our final round of exams; we graduate shortly! PALS is a student organization dedicated, as the name suggests, to parents and caregivers pursuing a law degree. This group is special to me not only for the camaraderie but also for the excellent advice.
Final exams are a particularly trying time because, for about two weeks — reading week and exam week — we are simply unavailable to our families. I imagine this period mimics other periods in one’s legal career (during a trial, for example), when an attorney must sacrifice family time in order to further an important goal. I’d like to share some wonderful advice from my fellow PALS. Much of it has to do with overcoming your better angel:
It’s not over until it’s over
Before law school, I used to think that shortly before a paper was due, or before an exam, “If I don’t know it by now, it’s my fault.” Perhaps this is true, but today, I don’t care. I swallow my guilt and email professors questions the night before the exam. Sometimes I even call. The result is either I get an answer or I don’t. The worst that can happen is that the professor echoes my conscience: “If you don’t know by now, you’re in trouble.” (And I actually did get that answer once — and it didn’t kill me.).
The best thing that can happen is that I get an answer and then nail the exam. Once, the night before an exam, I realized I didn’t understand ERISA. This was not a wonderful position to be in, as health-law attorneys are well aware. I called the professor, got a fantastic explanation of the Savings Clause, and what do you know? It was on the exam and I got an excellent grade. The benefit outweighed by far the potential for embarrassment.
Before law school, it pained me to inconvenience anyone; I would much prefer to inconvenience myself (and really, still do). During law school, the stakes were raised and I learned to really reckon with the cost of inconveniencing myself. For example, two hours before my Federal Courts final, my landlord showed up and started a noisy construction project just outside my door. Every cell in my body wanted to let it go — after all, his tools were out and he drove all the way over here. Nevertheless, I overcame my better angel and (politely) asked him to stop until I left to take the exam. Losing an extra two hours of study was just too great a cost.
I refrain from housekeeping
This is a very difficult thing to do as a caregiver; the urge is powerful to ensure everyone has fresh sheets, that the microwave sparkles, that everyone has five servings of vegetables per day. During finals, I just stop — housekeeping takes too much attention from the study of the law. At the end of finals, my refrigerator looks like a Superfund site. But you know what? One of my family’s favorite law school “traditions” is cleaning after finals; it feels like springtime.
Finding ways to reduce, rather than completely eliminate housekeeping, is also a great option. The former president of PALS used to reduce chores in her home by using paper cups, paper plates and plastic cutlery during finals. Another PALS member prepared for finals by making casseroles that she defrosted throughout the week. Yet another made good use of her slow cooker. I love all of these ideas and used them myself.
I curate my life so I get adequate representation
This is a little more abstract, but it makes a difference: I made an effort to read books by and about female lawyers and to read books by and about successful women, generally. I don’t go nuts, obviously, because who has the time (of course, “fun” reading occurs well in advance of finals). I usually grab whatever is in the “Just Arrived” section of our public library, because it’s easy to get something as I chase after my kids who have bee-lined to the children’s section. When I find a few moments, instead of checking social media, I opt to read a few pages.
In the few weeks before finals, I was moved by “Chasing Light,” a beautiful photography book by Michelle Obama’s White House photographer. I was impressed by Megyn Kelly’s book, “Settle for More” (She billed 3,000 hours at Jones Day!). I borrowed from a professor books from Susan Blakely’s Best Friends at the Bar series, which contain little vignettes about successful female attorneys. Knowing that successful female caregiver attorneys are the rule—not the exception—has strengthened me.