Family Matters: How to be a great lawyer and still make it home for dinner

We lawyers like to play Tetris with our time. We break days down to the hour, if not the minute. We appreciate deadlines and the consequences of failing to meet them. As a criminal prosecutor, I’m never late for court and I always make deadlines. As a business owner of several stone quarries, I’m on top of my game. But as a father of four, I’m often late for family dinner — or worse yet, I miss it altogether.

For years, I blamed my absence on external forces. Court got out late and I needed to prepare for tomorrow’s trial. The commute took longer than expected. I had to make a call just as I was walking out the door. Then, I came up with internal excuses. I’m a hard worker. The better I perform at work, the better things will eventually be at home. People rely on me because I’m committed to my to-do list. If that means missing family dinner here and there, well that’s simply the cost of doing business.

Then, one day, a friend challenged me: “If you’re so keen to complete your to-do list, Paul, why not just add be home for family dinner to the list?” And he was right.

I instantly began to make changes. The result was transformative for me and for my family. Here’s how you crush it as a lawyer and still make it home in time for dinner.

 

Live backwards

Reverse engineer every day, beginning with family dinner. That’s the deadline. Meet it. Break down your day by time slots rather than tasks — and aim to eat the ugly frogs first. My day might look like this:

8:30 to 10:30: Prepare and file motion
10:30 to 12:30: Confirm discovery dates, begin memo to partner
12:30 to 1:30: Lunch meeting
1:30 to 3:30 Finish memo
3:30 to 5:30 Put out unexpected fires
5:30 to 6:00 Margin for error
6:00: Leave work
6:45: Get home, wrestle kids, eat dinner. Then, begin bedtime bribery routine.

 

Pack your bags

At the start of each day, pack an item you can easily work on from your couch at home, along with your favourite pen and highlighter. (Don’t pretend like you don’t love your highlighters. I know you do.) This way, come quitting time, you can easily walk out the door when you planned, and no time is wasted scrambling to find suitable work to take home.

 

Start small

Making it home for dinner five days a week may be too tall an order. Put it in your to-do list for three days and work your way up. Better to succeed at three, than fail at five. The most important principle? Don’t give up when you do fail. Treat dinner like any other goal — when you hit it, celebrate. And when you miss, try again right away.

 


Paul Attia, Lawyer, Family MattersPaul Attia is a husband, father of four, business-owner and assistant Crown attorney in Toronto.

 

 

 


Top photo from Beatrice Murch

The Referral: Why you should get an AGO membership

Recommended by:Jason Beitchman, Rayman Beitchman LLP

Recommended by:  Jason Beitchman, Rayman Beitchman LLP 

 

 

 

Making the case: “We have a family membership to the AGO that comes in handy all the time — not just on rainy weekends with the kids — mostly because the museum is only three blocks from the courthouse,” says litigator Jason Beitchman. “Sitting in the hallway at 393 University can be pretty dour, so from time to time I wander over to the art gallery for a change of scenery or to grab a coffee in the upstairs espresso bar (in the fantastic Frank Gehry redesign). It’s usually quiet during the week, so I can even get some work done. Plus, with the great rotating exhibits they have, there’s always something interesting to check out when I need a distraction.”

Where to find it: 317 Dundas Street West. The stunning, light-filled espresso bar is in the Galleria Italia, on the second floor.

How much you’ll pay: $145 for a dual or family membership (the family pass includes up to five minors). Individual memberships go for $110.

The fine print: An annual membership includes free admission to the permanent collection, free coat check and 10 percent off food, drink and gift-shop stuff.


This story is from our Spring 2016 issue.

Making It Work: Unfiltered advice from lawyers with kids

Can you be a killer lawyer, a great parent and a well-adjusted non-zombie-like human despite the sleep deprivation that parenthood entails? Yes. Is it easy? Well, no. But these working moms and dads have a few tricks for making the process less painful. We’ve got advice, war stories and real talk from Toronto lawyers who’ve had kids, excelled in their careers and lived to tell the tale.


Katherine Hensel

Katherine Hensel

Founding partner of Hensel Barristers
First Nations litigation

Age: 44
Mom of three: ages 18, five and one

She knows when her kids need her most. It’s not just the early years that you have to make time for — it’s also the teen years. “It’s a short time when they’re this young,” she says of her little ones. “They need you again at adolescence. It’s the most difficult time in their lives. They’re struggling to form an identity.”

planeShe tries to limit travel to day trips. Even if she travels as far as Saskatchewan, Hensel will fly home that night. “Psychologically it’s much better for everyone than me sleeping away.”

She relies on lots of domestic help. “It’s real work running a house, raising kids and caring for two dogs. It’s time-consuming,” says the single mother. So she’s hired a cleaner, a live-out caregiver and a backup babysitter. “If you’re going to be a professional and a parent, somebody has to be doing the housework.”


Cynthia Kuehl

Cynthia Kuehl

Partner, Lerners LLP
Commercial litigation

Age: 41
Mom of two: ages 10 and four

She’s made peace with her wacky schedule. The only way she can get home for dinner and make the occasional parent council meeting is to leave the office at 5:30 or 6 p.m. “I go home, hang out, we do what we do. I put the kids to bed at nine,” she says. A few times a week, she heads back to the office for 9:30, where she works until 12 or 1 a.m. A full-time nanny, even though the kids are in full-day school, helps things run smoothly for her and her husband, an assistant Crown attorney.

She makes fitness a priority. In 2008, a senior lawyer said to her, “You need to start working out,” when she looked run-down and tired. Instead of being defensive, Kuehl took the advice to heart. Now she sees a trainer twice a week and unapologetically carves the hours out of her workday.

She makes time for herself. She takes a few weeks off each summer. She goes on an annual ski vacation. She even has a board game night with co-workers. “If you don’t have fun for yourself, this profession is tough. It can be demanding, overwhelming and stressful. You have to balance that.”


Rohit Parekh

Rohit Parekh

Legal counsel and director of innovation, Conduit Law; Founder, Grapplelaw.ca
Intellectual property law and civil litigator

Age: 43
Dad of three: ages 11, nine and six

gavelHe became the parent-on-call. He left Gowlings in 2004 at the end of his wife’s first maternity leave (she’s a criminal defence lawyer). “Something had to give, because it would be daycare and a nanny,” he said of the away-from-home hours both were working. Big-firm culture was not for him, anyway.

He clumps his kids’ extracurriculars together. “The deal I made with my wife is the kids will do activities at the same place at the same time,” he says. “Turns out two of them figure skate and one swims in the same facility. We’re there every Saturday from 9:20 to 2:30.”

The Crock-Pot is the weekday dinner hero. On Sunday, Parekh throws simple ingredients into the slow-cooker to make, say, a huge batch of tomato sauce that he’ll use as the base for pasta dishes all week.


Jake Sadikman

Jake Sadikman

Partner, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
Energy and infrastructure

Age: 38
Dad of three: ages seven, six and three

He sacrifices weeknights at home. “I generally work later hours during the week, so my weekends are as clear as possible,” he says. “We’re Jewish, so Friday night Sabbath dinner is an important tradition I try not to miss.”

His wife is a stay-at-home mom. “She’s the secret to making it all work,” he admits. “There’s no way I would be able to devote so much attention to work without her keeping everything together at home.”fork & knife

Saturdays are Family Date Night. “We go out to dinner. It does a lot of cool things: it bonds us, and it teaches the kids about eating out, about manners and about trying different types of foods.”


Jason Woycheshyn

Jason Woycheshyn

Partner, Bennett Jones LLP
Commercial litigation

Age: 37
Dad of two: ages three, two and a baby due in May

He used to wake up at 4 a.m. to get in a workout, catch the train from Oakville and hit Starbucks at 5:30 a.m. before getting to his desk. Obviously that’s crazy, so nowadays he catches the 6:55 a.m. train. “I also make a strong effort to get home by 6:15 to have dinner with the kids.”

As a senior associate, he brought his baby to a meeting. “My wife said, ‘I’m exhausted, I need some me time.’” So she dropped off the baby at his office. “An emergency strategy session came up and I was holding my daughter. Then she starts crying, and I’m rocking her.” As he remembers, one of the firm’s partners was not impressed. “I thought, ‘Well, this is the right thing to do for my family. If that’s the difference between staying here or not, that’s how it goes.’” Everything blew over the next day.

He would have had his kids when he was younger. “If I could do it again, I probably would have started a couple years earlier.”


Sudevi Mukherjee Gothi

Sudevi Mukherjee-Gothi

Partner, Torkin Manes LLP
Civil litigation

Age: 40
Mom of three: ages three (twins) and one

Her husband used to work in Quebec City as a lieutenant commander in the navy. After their twins were born he could only come home some weekends. “It didn’t work for our family,” she says. He requested a transfer. Now he works near Barrie, a long drive to their Oakville home, but he starts early so he can be back by 5 p.m.

6 p.m. onward is firmly family time. “I leave my phone in my purse and I don’t usually feel the urge to check it.”

diamondsShe takes cat-naps on the GO train. “Sleep has become a premium,” she says. “If somebody were to ask me if I wanted two hours of uninterrupted sleep or a diamond necklace, I’d choose sleep. And I love jewellery.”


Brian Calalang

Brian Calalang

Partner, Hansell LLP
Corporate and security

Age: 41
Dad of two: ages 10 and eight

His home, his office and his ex-wife’s house are all on the Yonge subway line. “You have to think about these things,” he says. “Being close to them is a high priority.” He and his ex share custody. Calalang usually spends time with his kids on the weekends and on one weekday.

He sometimes takes work calls while driving to coach his son’s hockey practice. “Technology today makes it easier to be available to your clients and spend time with your family — you can step away from the office.” He spends a lot of time outside with his kids, going on weekend getaways to the Niagara region and spending a week at the cottage. “Being present goes a long way.”

He’s on-call 24/7. Hansell LLP is a new firm that takes on “mission-critical” cases. But his kids have accepted it. “They’ve come to appreciate that they enjoy a life that a lot of kids don’t.” Technology and the support of his firm allow him to attend to both work and family without sacrificing either.


Maxine EthierMaxine Ethier

Associate, Baker & McKenzie LLP
Energy and infrastructure

Age: 34
Mom of two: ages three, two and another baby on the way in April

She cabs home to save time. “We live near Trinity Bellwoods. The decision to live central allows more time at work.”

The transitions between home and work are stressful. “When you’re trying to get the kids out the door, and when 6 p.m. starts to near and I want to get home for dinner — that’s the struggle. Otherwise, I’m generally fine.”

To succeed in law, you need a partner that supports you. “I know I wouldn’t be able to do it if my husband wasn’t there.” He sells dental equipment, so his time is more flexible.

Starting over isn’t easy. At Heenan Blaikie, where she worked for nine years, “There were a lot of parents with young kids. That was a luxury.” At Heenan, her team had the same motivation to get home for dinner. “Here, the group’s age ranges. A lot of them are single, or they are senior partners with older kids. When I take a call at home and there are small voices in the background on my end of the line, I don’t feel as comfortable because they may not have the same understanding. It was nice to have the certainty.”


Jake Sadikman and family

Jake Sadikman and his family at the cottage in Muskoka.

Cynthia Kuehl and co. on the slopes in Vermont.

Cynthia Kuehl and co. on the slopes in Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


This story is part of The Precedent guide to getting it all done, from our Spring 2015 issue.

 

 


Illustrations by Naila Medjidova

The Crime Traveller: East of Eden (Part One — Quebec City)

“By car?” The person across the table from me has a look of naked scepticism mixed with a touch of disdain plastered across his face.

“With the kids?!” His spouse’s visage is contorted in a mask of abject horror.

I have just told them my plan to travel from Toronto to Halifax and back with a ten year old and an eight year old in the back seat of my wife’s brand new Infiniti JX35 SUV (it’s a pretty sweet ride for a long journey). 

If the thought of spending three weeks on the road with your family triggers heart palpitations, I invite you to join me virtually on this first in a multi-part series exploring the fantastic wonders of Canada’s Eastern provinces (sorry Newfoundland; I’m saving you for a solo visit all to yourself).

21 days
5602 kilometers
4 Provinces
69 hours and 32 minutes of driving
0 “Are we there yet’s”

Quebec City

The clack-clack of hoofs on cobblestone streets. A steady thrum of conversation in French. Fairytale castles of wood and stone from a bygone age. Had I travelled nine hours by plane, this could be any enchanting European destination. Remarkably, having journeyed for the same amount of time by car, I still find myself in a world so unlike my home in Toronto that I might as well have flown across the ocean.

The skyline of Old Quebec City is dominated by the imposing majesty of the Chåteau Frontenac. Its copper spires pierce the city hilltop just outside the fortifications of La Citadelle de Québec. The fortress and its accompanying battlements tell the story of the three-hundred-year-old violent tug-of-war between the British and the French. With the jewel of Quebec City ultimately wrested from the French by the British, further defensive enhancements focussed on repelling a possible American invasion. I drink in the complex and fascinating history while my kids entertain themselves by clambering over canons, interacting with the soldiers of the famed Vandoo regiment and engaging in a little mock archeology as they unearth replica artifacts from a reconstructed latrine site.

Old Quebec’s charms are best appreciated on foot, meandering through the narrow stone streets, weaving past colourfully dressed buskers while following the wafting scent of a particularly pungent poutine. I set up shop in the heart of the upper town at the Hôtel Clarendon – completed in 1927 and situated beside Old Quebec’s only skyscraper (a 1930s art deco marvel, The Price Building), the hotel is itself a key stop on city tours.

After a long day hiking the city’s hills and valleys, it’s a pleasure to be a mere two blocks from our dinner reservation in Quebec City’s oldest home. Aux Anciens Canadiens dates back to 1675 and is now a warren of semi-private dining rooms. Tasteful renovations maintain the old-world soul of the building while adding a nod and a wink to modern sensibilities such as flatscreen TVs tuned to the flurry of activity going on in the restaurant’s kitchen. The walls are dotted with 18th century muskets, farm implements and kitchen tools. We pass the time awaiting our entrées by studying a framed collection of brass keys beside our table. The fare is classic French Canadian: game meats, garden vegetables and seafood preparations, all redolent with the thick, steamy smells of hearty sauces and stock. After the main course, we indulge in a sampling of maple syrup desserts – I engage in some heated fork swordsmanship with the kids, parrying attacks on my maple syrup pie between mouthfuls of deliciously burnt crème brûlée.

With my hunger for history satiated — literally and figuratively — I seek out a change of pace for our next day. Just a few minutes outside of the city’s downtown we marvel at Montmorency Falls – a massive cascade of torrential water that stands higher than its more famous cousin, Niagara Falls. In less than half an hour, as I hike the wooded forest trials of Canyon St. Anne, the congested city streets are a distant memory. My youngest daughter races back and forth across a swaying suspension bridge giggling maniacally while my wife and eldest daughter fight back nausea as we look down 74 metres at the raging gorge below.

Safely back on solid ground, we make a stop on our return drive at the imposing Saint Anne de Beaupré basilica. Constructed in 1923 to replace the previous chapel, which had been destroyed by fire, the building is an awe-inspiring mix of stone and stained glass that rivals the great churches of Europe. A jumble of canes and crutches are lashed to the entrance columns as evidence of Saint Anne’s miraculous power to heal visitors.

My final day in Quebec City is a smorgasbord of attractions and activities. Walruses, sea lions, polar bears and jellyfish entertain us at the Aquarium du Québec before we travel down into the lower city’s labyrinth of cafés and art galleries. As night begins to fall, throngs of people spill into Quebec’s open port lands, jockeying for position under the stars to catch this evening’s performance of Les Chemins Invisibles. At this open-air Cirque du Soleil production, unimaginable feats of human creativity are given physical form. We sit on the stone steps gobsmacked that a show, which rivals Cirque’s mega productions in Las Vegas, performed using a series of mobile cranes and forklifts that pirouette and sashay amongst the audience, could be offered nightly for free.

Exiting the show, a bright crescent moon hovers in the cloudless sky over the Chåteau — the perfect backdrop to the explosive pyrotechnics that burst over the St. Lawrence River. It is a fitting send off to Quebec City’s balanced blend of old-world European charm, natural adventure and modern cultural playground.

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Edward Prutschi is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or email ed@thecrimetraveller.com.

Travel assistance provided by Tourism Quebec.