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Working mom

Time management tips from law student with kids

Friday, January 08, 2021 @ 11:12 AM | By Oksana Romanov

Oksana Romanov %>
Oksana Romanov
The first semester of law school is over, and exams are behind us. Unfortunately, we have to go through this cycle five more times. What can practising lawyers as well as law students learn from a mature student who started law school at the tender age of her early 40s with a family and two kids?

1. Create your refuge

Both child-rearing (at least the North American style parenting) and learning how to become a lawyer tend to consume one’s life and time mercilessly. Needless to say, if you are already practising, you know that your desk, your computer and your files are always there waiting for you. Why not use one to balance the other? As paradoxical as it sounds, taking care of a child or children may create that unexpected refuge for someone who is getting overwhelmed with the demands of legal practice or law school, especially approaching exam time. Notably, the revered late Notorious RBG shared in her book My Own Words that, unlike her classmates, she was lucky to have a family and a child (her daughter Jane) to escape her law school workload. Throughout her legal career, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg relied on her husband, Martin, whom she lovingly called Marty, to cook all the family meals. He was a lawyer too, by the way.

For example, I would make it my mission to drop off and pick up my daughter from school almost every day, so that we can share that morning routine, breakfast time and a walk to school. Maintaining that routine gave both of us a sense of normalcy and presence in each other’s lives. However, come dinnertime, I would have to redirect her attention to my husband and plan my escape into the office to continue to study for what’s to come the next day. You do not need me to tell you that children need us while they are young. Please do find time for your children even if you are too busy setting a precedent.

Don’t get me wrong. There are, of course, limitations to this approach. Finally, not all of my moves were successful. For instance, while holding up and being entertained by other family members, my daughter would still think about me and keep trying to escape the play area and sneak into my office. Given that most firms went virtual during the pandemic, most practising lawyers have to maintain a home office and balance work and home life. As recently as two weeks ago, my daughter pounded on my closed office door and cried to be let in right before the end of my final examinations in both contract law and torts. It was stressful. I did feel torn and sad that I had to continue working through my exams without any interruptions. But we reunited within 15 minutes of that emotional low point, and she had my undivided attention for at least a couple of hours thereafter. As a practising lawyer, you face filing deadlines and important ZOOM meetings any day of the week. Maybe my approach would work for you as well.

2. Read, take notes, read again

I used to fall back on my photographic memory when it came to reading and learning materials during my undergrad and master’s. It worked to a certain degree because I took notes during lectures and “photographed” what I had written. In law school, however, regardless of whether one has excellent or average memory, it is a must not just to take lecture notes but also notes of the assigned readings. The latter comes in handy for writing essay questions on the exams. During the first few weeks, I did not take proper notes. My casebooks were covered with coloured sticky notes and handwritten nota bene. However, it did not take me long to realize that other things take priority and distract my beautiful mind from remembering everything. So, I ended up rereading and taking notes. The solution is to do it right the first time around.

For practising lawyers, taking notes and documenting everything is a rule of good practice management. Doing things digitally rather than on paper and then transferring notes onto the computer could save some precious time which you could spend with your loved ones, friends or pets.

3. Join study groups

It is intimidating and difficult to connect with people when one is doing law school primarily online. We have to overcome those barriers and connect with our classmates to share the load. I still read all of the chapters, but it was a lifesaver when I did not have to write notes for every course every week. I look forward to working with the same group of people next term as well as connecting with new colleagues through small group assignments and projects.

To avoid feeling isolated, a practising lawyer may find it useful to take professional development courses alongside her colleagues, attend digital socials and informal coffee chats. The group format is conducive to professional learning and networking.

4. Nourish your body

I cannot stress enough how important it is to nourish your own body and feed your family. One cannot go on depleting physical and mental resources. Don’t just eat something, but rather try to eat healthy and nutritious foods that will nourish your body and mind. I have an instant pot. My girlfriend gave it to me on my birthday in anticipation of my busy law school schedule. My husband is a big fan of this present now. I am truly grateful for all his help in feeding our family on weekdays.

5. Life requires movement

Back in the fall, it was easy to hop on a bike and ride around for an hour or so between the online classes. For a practising lawyer, there might have been an option to attend a ZOOM call while taking a stroll outside, exercising on an elliptical machine, or a spinning bike. Since I am not the most athletic person, I admit that I am working on including exercise into my routine. I remember one evening in November when I could not feel my legs any more from sitting while reading for too long. On top of that, my reading speed and focus dissipated. I had to stop what I had been doing, get up and move around. Finally, I used to listen to the recorded lectures on my rowing machine. I couldn’t take notes, but then, again, nobody is perfect.

I hope that my candid narrative will help practising lawyers as well as law students going into the next semester. Moreover, I welcome feedback and would be happy to hear what strategies have worked for you. As much as law school is an individual pursuit, it is a collective enterprise where our survival depends on sharing and caring. So is work: we are bound to be on teams.

Oksana Romanov is a member of the inaugural class of Ryerson University, Faculty of Law. She is passionate about fostering inclusive communities, effecting social change and advocating for human rights of persons with disabilities in order to remove attitudinal and environmental barriers to their full participation is society.To learn more about the author, you can visit her LinkedIn profile.

Photo credit /  Dmitrii Musku

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