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Breastfeeding in the early stages of your legal career

eleanor-chung-generation-jdHow do you get started in a legal career when you have to either nurse or pump every two hours? It is highly doable, my friend.

If you don’t have time to read this entire post, let me also leave you with the two most important tips:

  • While pumping, watch a video of your baby crying. You’ll pump twice as fast.
  • When securing accommodations, allow adequate time for dealing with the insolence of office life.

During the LSAT

In 2012, LSAC finally allowed for nursing mothers to take extra breaks to either pump or nurse their babies.  This is such an important accommodation for new mothers, making it very, very possible to take the LSAT and to do well.

Unfortunately, I used my maternity leave to take the LSAT in 2013 and did not get the memo that such an accommodation was possible. Even though I “trained” my baby by feeding just before the test would start, and just after the test would end, the pain of two-ish missed feedings was reflected in my score.  The second time, my baby was old enough that I didn’t request an accommodation.  The upshot is that I have a great miserable experience to add to the “war story” file, or to guilt my son with later on.

The two most important factors to balance are the benefit of starting your legal career earlier — thereby maximizing your earning potential — against the fact that logical reasoning requires sleep — and babies not only hate sleep, they hate it when other people sleep.  While it still slightly pains me that I probably could’ve gotten a higher score if I’d waited until my baby turned 1, for me, getting started earlier was the highest priority.

At law school

The Affordable Care Act requires lactation rooms. I highly recommend, when you are a few months along, doing a trial run to figure out the timing. I had my second son during my 1L summer, so I perused the facilities mid-1L.

Long story short, the UM Carey Law lactation room was not accessible enough to meet my needs; it was too far away from classes.  After a bit of lobbying by yours truly, it was moved to the same building as classes.

Even with the room closer to classes, I still missed a bit of class, as I only had one 10-minute break between two two-hour classes. I opted to go late to the classes that were recorded, instead of skipping out of the unrecorded classes early.  This worked well and my professors were very understanding, as they are lovely people.

While interviewing

Many interviews take place away from the law school. The way to deal with this is to pump or nurse before leaving and then pump on arrival. For example, from Baltimore, I would typically sit in 90 minutes of traffic to Washington and then wait 20 minutes for the interviewer to be ready. If you wait to pump until after the interview, you’ll be hurting and distracted, because you’ll be well past the two-hour mark.

When interviews take place in hotels, call ahead and see what accommodations are available. For example, the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City hosts the Equal Justice Works job fair, one of the largest career fairs in the area. There isn’t a lactation room, but the staff is very nice and provides an office.

For interviews in a courthouse, I asked a law clerk for a place to pump. The clerks were always very nice and a conference room was always available.

While a student attorney

By the time I was a 3L student attorney, my pumping was infrequent enough to allow me to be at a courthouse or prison for as long as necessary. So I recently called the city and federal courthouses, and none had a designated lactation room. However, all seemed amenable to working something out.

As a student attorney, I represented a client in a hearing that everyone thought would take two hours. Of course, it ended up taking three times as long, because we ended up getting interrupted by a trial. Had I been pumping, I would’ve snuck out during the trial to pump, although I would’ve been terrified of being late. Not being able to adhere to a schedule is tremendously stressful, although doable.

Also as a student attorney, I argued before the Court of Special Appeals. Had I needed to pump, I would’ve checked in with the clerk  and pumped in a conference room during earlier oral arguments. (Commercial contract arguments are great for pumping because they seem to take forever.) This would’ve been eminently doable; much easier than at the trial level.

While visiting a client in prison, I would have pumped in the car ahead of time. Can you think of anything more fruitless than trying to get a pump through prison security?

During the bar

The Maryland State Board of Law Examiners allows accommodations for those with a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ACLU says that Maryland lumps nursing mothers into this group. You must apply well ahead of time.

Final thoughts

If you are a student, you might qualify for WIC, which, thanks to the ACA, provides high-quality, free-of-charge pumps. They truly rival the expensive Medela kind. Your school also might have commercial pumps, the gold star of efficiency. The University of Maryland’s School of Nursing and School of Medicine have them, but not the law school. (At least not yet. Law seems to be the final frontier for commercial pumps.) To pump in the car, you will need a fancier pump with a battery pack or a cigarette-lighter charger.

The generation before me surely is the “war story” generation, who experienced terrible discrimination in pursuit of a career and motherhood. I am eminently grateful for those who paved the way.  I would characterize my generation as the “doable, but sometimes unnecessarily stressful” generation.  My hope is that the next generation will characterize their experience as “doable, and pleasantly so.”

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