How to lawyer your baby to sleep // Life Without Parole

Mother with baby
Do what you do to opposing counsel — let them cry it out

By Sharon Bauer

On Monday December 5th, 2016


You know the cliché “sleeps like a baby”? Well, it’s a cruel misnomer. Babies don’t sleep.

Before my son was born, a few years back, I expected him to keep me up now and again with crying and diaper changes. I wasn’t worried. I know a thing or two about pulling all-nighters. After all, as a lawyer, I have to bill 2,000 hours a year.

Having a newborn couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Basically, yes. My colicky son pretty much never slept, especially at night. During my six-month working mat leave, I had to train him to do what I thought was a natural act. And there wasn’t time for anything else. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. The puffy, dark circles under my eyes. The knotted hair. The spit-up-stained pajamas I’d worn for a week.

Having a type A personality, I knew I couldn’t give up on this disaster. And around his one-month birthday, I realized something: all the lawyer skills I started to develop back when I was a junior associate could also help me sleep-train my little one.

To a feisty associate, the billable-hour target matters more than anything. One way to keep yourself motivated is to track your hours. That means docketing, on time and all the time. So I brought that logic into the nursery and downloaded a sleep-tracking app to monitor my baby’s sleep patterns (and my awake hours).

After two months, the app said I’d spent 372 hours awake with him in the middle of the night. If he were my client, I’d be rich. But of course, I’m doing this pro bono. Unlike my billable hours, I wanted this number to go down.

I started to lose motivation again. This is common in life, but not among us lawyers: we feed off of the chance to out-bill and out-lawyer our co-workers. So when I heard all the moms in my mommy group (with their skinny jeans) bragging about how much sleep their babies were getting, I started to think of these mommies as my competition. My son would get more sleep (and I would soon be able to fit into my skinny jeans).

So I did what any good young lawyer does when faced with a seemingly unsolvable problem: read. If memorizing the Rules of Civil Procedure put me to sleep — I mean taught me how to survive in court — then surely there’s something I can read that will teach me how to survive this dilemma. I took a pamphlet from my ob-gyn’s office, which recommended letting him “cry it out” and not to enter the room and console the baby. Well, this approach worked with some opposing counsel. I thought it was worth a try.

Success! The day my son turned six months old, I slept for more than four consecutive hours, the little guy not crying once.

When most lawyers do their readings, trounce the competition and meet their billable-hour target, they get a bonus. But as a parent, achieving my goal only meant that, on that morning, I actually had time to brush my teeth.

Mother with baby


Sharon BauerSharon Bauer is a partner at Fireman Steinmetz Daya LLP and Precedent’s parenting columnist. Follow the mother of two on Twitter at @SharonBauerLLB.



This story is from our Winter 2016 issue.




Photography by Jeannie Phan