I recently had a chat with an old colleague from law school. He sent me a belated congratulations on the birth of my daughter and starting my own practice, and said, “I could never do what you do.”
When I asked him why he felt this way, he explained that being a new father himself, he found that the parental responsibilities were monumental, and felt he couldn’t imagine having to carry the load and responsibility of one’s own practice at the same time.
I found the comment surprising – why wouldn’t he be able to do this? – and it prompted me to reflect on my own experience in balancing these big life changes and what I wish I had known at the outset, and to share my thoughts on how new fathers out there can manage both a busy practice and fatherhood!
Take advantage of resources available to you!
Childcare supports come in different shapes and sizes. Whether that means leaving your little one with your parents or a daycare, participating in a babysitting exchange with other parents, or even, with a willing and able partner, taking on homeschooling, everyone takes the time to ‘figure it out’. Don’t be shy to do so yourself – you’ll find that right arrangement for you and your family eventually. It’s about the process more than anything.
However, the key here is to take advantage of the resources around you, and don’t be reluctant to ask for help. Many lawyer parents I’ve spoken to have told me about their childcare plans, and there are a lot more common aspects than you might think. One resource that I came across in speaking with others was the LSO Parental Leave Program that is available for sole practitioner parents. This program helps you cover the costs of maintaining your license during the course of parental leave. For those of you considering staying at home with your little ones – be sure to look into this resource to see how you could benefit from it!
Develop a network of fellow sole practitioners
This was particularly helpful to me, and I wish I had thought of it ahead of the arrival of my daughter. Having a network of other sole practitioners not only helps you feel supported but can be a way for you to get that next referral that could really make your practice grow. In addition, there is also the benefit of having a network to cover your court appearances at the last-minute due to emergencies, and vice-versa (who else would be more understanding than a fellow sole practitioner?).
Establish capacity limits for your practice, preferably in advance
I had to learn this the hard way – figure out in advance when you should say “no more clients.” This capacity may be lesser than what you were prepared to take on before the arrival of your little one, but assessing this in advance will help you make sure you know when you're taking on too much work and must decline a client.
Some of you may be thinking “how do I know when to say stop?” You may already know the answer to that question. However, you need to take a second to make sure your plan has been calibrated to this major new addition in your life. Your practice should work around your plan to care for your little one, and whether that means you’re doing daycare pickup or cooking at home, your practice’s demands need to be adjusted to that plan.
Create a schedule that allows you to be there for your baby and partner
It can be tricky to come up with a timetable that ensures no parent is overwhelmed and that encourages, as often as possible, an extra set of hands and eyes on the baby. Your schedule will depend almost entirely on your baby’s sleeping habits, but some other factors, too – like whether you’re an early riser or a night owl. I found myself to be a night owl and capitalized on that by making sure that I was available for dinner and bedtime routine, while having my list of tasks and work ready for that late night session. However, if you’re an early riser (something I will likely never be), work that into your routine and capitalize on those early morning productivity vibes!
Remember – the more time you create to be with your family, the more productive you will be when you have to be away from them to work.
About the author
Sherif Rizk is the principal lawyer and founder of Rizk Law Office in Ottawa. His diverse practice includes personal injury and civil fraud litigation, as well as family law and wills and estates services. Sherif is passionate about helping fellow lawyers, and often mentors younger lawyers and law students on practical ways to achieve their full potential by reviewing law school applications and helping other sole practitioners with their practice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.