A Parent or a Partner?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The ongoing pandemic has tested many parents as they navigate remote work, virtual school, and constantly changing social guidelines. But this isn’t the first time many of our Morgan Lewis parents have been tested. David Monteiro, Alishia Sullivan, and Stephanie Schuster share how the support of the firm and their colleagues has helped them survive and thrive as parents and as partners.

David Monteiro

My wife Michelle and I are both practicing lawyers. We had the first of our six children (five wonderful daughters and a newborn son) when were both still in law school, and so the only way I have ever known how to practice law is as a father. But I got off to a very important start: I stayed home with my oldest daughter until she was six months old while I studied for the bar exam and Michelle interned for the U.S. Department of Justice. I held her in my left arm while handwriting my notes—listening to the bar classes on stereo speakers—with my right. Having that time with her firmly established me as both a lawyer and a father—not balancing the two, just both.

I have always taken the full amount of leave our firm’s gender-neutral policy permits, even in the year I was being considered for (and promoted to) partner. And it’s why I strongly encourage everyone I work with—new mothers and new fathers—to take advantage of the full amount of time our firm’s parental leave policy allows. Taking that time has been essential both to my legal career and to Michelle’s.

Being a parent-lawyer, not a lawyer trying to be a parent or a parent trying to be a lawyer, is at the heart of who I am.

Monteiro Family

Alishia Sullivan

I joined Morgan Lewis in 2019 as a seasoned lawyer and parent. I had navigated Big Law through the birth of a child, an international adoption, a diagnosis of child’s chronic illness, and all of the daily ups and downs that come with parenting and being a partner in a law firm. I believed that “work-life balance” was a myth and that the real goal is “work-life integration.” I thought I had it mastered, but nothing prepared me for the death of my children’s father.

When children lose a parent, they lose an anchor, a tether to their world. When my children lost their father, my ability to project strength and stability for them became exponentially more important. My professional identity is a huge part of my self-identity, and having just joined Morgan Lewis, I found myself in the uncertain territory of getting to know my new professional home and establishing myself as a trusted colleague while dealing with the unthinkable at home. I worried about how I would manage it all and how my new colleagues would absorb and react to this transformative tragedy. In the immediate aftermath, my colleagues in Abu Dhabi worked around the clock to cut through the bureaucratic red tape of dealing with a death abroad, colleagues from all over the world reached out with words of comfort and offers to do anything to help, and after a few weeks I returned to what I thought normal life should look like. Six months later, I felt the façade cracking, and I didn’t know how I could carry on as I had before.

When Steve Wall asked point blank, “Are you OK?” I found support that I hadn’t imagined would be available by acknowledging, “No, I am not OK.” Helping me navigate this situation became a top priority for my partners. After one call with Jami McKeon, she identified resources to support me and the children. The firm helped me right-size my workload to match the situation and ultimately helped me to see that everything would be OK eventually. I found real strength in the people around me, and it helped me to be the parent and the professional I needed to be.

I’ve come to see honesty about our vulnerabilities and needs as parents and professionals as a strength, and I know that asking for help isn’t giving up, but rather refusing to give up. As lawyers we’re engrained to “never let them see you sweat,” but the truth is that parenting children and law firm partnering is sweaty work at times. We best serve our clients, our colleagues, our families and ourselves when our actions and decisions are consistent with our authentic selves, especially in challenging times.

Alishia Sullivan and family

Stephanie Schuster

The best advice I received on balancing career and family is to ask for help when you need it and to take the leave that is available to you. After years of attempting to expand our family, my wife and I welcomed our beautiful daughter, Layla, in summer 2021. My first challenge in balancing parenting and work came the day we learned Layla would be joining our family. As often happens with adoption, we had 48 hours’ notice—48 hours to prepare for a newborn, and 48 hours to prepare and arrange coverage for several months of parental leave. That was all possible, in no small part, because of my partners and other colleagues, so many of whom enthusiastically offered to help in any and every way. Because of their help, I was able to begin a full, meaningful, and bonding leave the moment we met Layla without any concern that my matters or clients’ needs would not be taken care of. The support of my colleagues and the firm makes me confident that I will be able to be a full parent and a full lawyer when I return to work in a couple months.