Posted on 28 Feb 2013

Training contract and family life – not so incompatible…

Before starting my training contract, I googled the words ‘training contract’ and ‘children’. They aren’t the most comfortable fit. Mostly all I found were desperate people on forums saying ‘I have a 1 year old, is it impossible to balance family life with a training contract’ or ‘I’ve found out that I’m pregnant, shall I give up my training contract’. The answers were all pretty damning, stating that the hours and the rigour of a training contract were completely incompatible with a family and even suggesting in one case that the girl in question should strongly consider an abortion.

Now I have two children. Two boys; one 7, the other 1 and a half.

This blog may be far away from the minds of most prospective trainees – but I know that there must be many trainees out there combining family life with work life. So for those of you googling like I was, I hope that this blog provides some insight and comfort.

When I started applying for training contracts I was a single parent living in a little flat in Newquay with my eldest. I had a part-time job but was mostly reliant on government benefits. All I could find on forums and websites were tales of long hours and trainees being sent to meetings or evening appointments at the drop of a hat. I felt that this wouldn’t really work for me – who would look after my child? Many websites of law firms emphasise the ‘work-life balance’ when recruiting trainees, which I am sure everyone reads with a good helping of salt. I suppose I felt that if a firm wanted me as a trainee and knew that I had a young child to care for alongside, they would make the right allowances. Naïve? Perhaps, but what could I do?

I approached the application process for a training contract with caution – should I or shouldn’t I disclose on the application that I had a child. I tried both. I had to cover a gap in my CV, but knew that it was private information – an employer has no right to know whether or not you have children. I had interviews at most of the firms I applied to, so I really think that putting it on my application form didn’t jeopardise anything. In fact, I worked extremely hard to get a Distinction on the GDL so I could prove that being a single parent wasn’t getting in the way of my work ethic. If you are reading this and you have children, you might identify when I say it makes me work harder – it’s not just your career, it’s their future at stake too.

The interview process was interesting. Mostly, the fact I had a child was not raised. However, at one firm I interviewed at, one of the partners was sat quietly reviewing my CV. He looked up at me and said ‘you had a child very young, didn’t you? What on earth made you make that decision?’ As I sat there, feeling extremely shocked and uncomfortable, one of the female partners hastily started covering, saying ‘because we really are a very inclusive firm’. Clearly.

This interview was the day before my interview at Michelmores. You might think this ridiculous, but I thought I would bring the issue up in my Michelmores interview. I realised it was actually a thoroughly good way of finding out if I wanted to work at the firm. I was interviewed by Kim Tomlinson and Tim Richards. If I remember rightly, Tim had asked me how I managed my time and how I fitted in the activities I had referred to in my application. I laughed and said ‘with difficulty, as I do have a 3 year old son to look after as well’. The reaction of both Kim and Tim was such a good feeling. They both immediately smiled, were interested, asked me questions about my son. To say I felt like crying wouldn’t be an overstatement. It was such lightness after the horrible feeling I had had the day before. I knew that Michelmores was the right firm for me as such a reaction couldn’t be manufactured. The weekend before I found out I had been accepted was a very long one…

Now that I am here, and six months in, attitudes are no different. Luckily for me I am now married and have a very supportive family, but I have found Michelmores to be very accommodating. I tend to leave most evenings by 5.30pm, which gives me plenty of time to eat dinner with the boys, give the youngest a bath, read their bed-time stories and do all the things a parent should do. Perhaps one or two nights a week I will arrange babysitting cover and work late, but I have never left the office any later than 7pm. We are asked to help out at events occasionally, but these are always enjoyable so I arrange babysitters and treat the events like a rare evening out.

I will be very sad to leave commercial property at the next seat rotation, as the people I work with are fantastic, but I am sure that my next department will be just as good. I find that lots of the partners, associates and solicitors (and clients) have young children, so to be honest it’s a great way to get to know people as everyone likes to talk about their kids! 

I’m not going to say it’s not hard balancing family and work life, as any parent would tell you, and sometimes I am at work when I would rather be at home – the first day of my training contract was on my littlest son’s first birthday, which wasn’t ideal. And when it’s 10pm, I’ve had a busy day and just want to relax but instead am stood at the bedside of a child screaming with teething pain, it’s a nightmare. A full night’s sleep is a luxury I can only dream of. But when I say I’m not the first to balance a training contract and a child, I mean it. One of the solicitors at the firm trained at Michelmores when their son was still very little, was retained by the firm and now has a very successful career. I hope my story turns out the same.

And as a footnote, a few days after I accepted Michelmores, I had a phonecall from the other firm who interviewed me to tell me that I had been unsuccessful. You can imagine my pleasure in telling them I had a much better offer!

Lola Becker