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.
Founding partner of Hensel Barristers
First Nations litigation
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.”
She 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.”
Partner, Lerners LLP
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.”
Legal counsel and director of innovation, Conduit Law; Founder, Grapplelaw.ca
Intellectual property law and civil litigator
Dad of three: ages 11, nine and six
He 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.
Partner, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
Energy and infrastructure
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.”
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.”
Partner, Bennett Jones LLP
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.”
Partner, Torkin Manes LLP
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.”
She 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.”
Partner, Hansell LLP
Corporate and security
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.
Associate, Baker & McKenzie LLP
Energy and infrastructure
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 his family at the cottage in Muskoka.
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