Dual Love: Three Partners Share Their Pursuit to Motherhood and Careers in Law

Friday, March 8, 2024
Dual Love: Motherhood and Career

Statistically speaking, lawyer moms are often confronted with the notion that a career as a practicing partner and parenthood can’t coexist. But there are countless journeys and testimonials to be told to the contrary. It may take a village. The path may be winding. And it simply may not be the prettiest picture all the time. Morgan Lewis partner moms Pamela Wu, Julie Silva Palmer, and Ali Rivett’s family photos and anecdotes illustrate a day in the life of a working mom and provide some meaningful moments to show what that journey has looked like for them. We celebrate their stories this Women’s History Month.

Tell us a bit about how your career evolved after becoming a working mom, and any meaningful moments?

Ali: I’ve essentially grown up at this firm and a large part of my career has been as a working mom. I had all three of my kids, now 6.5, 4.5, and 2.5, while at Morgan Lewis. In terms of meaningful moments, this past September jumps out. While I was in the throes of our partnership evaluation process my oldest had just started kindergarten and my naturally introverted 4-year-old was heading off to pre-K for the first time without her big brother—all major and nerve-racking milestones for my family happening at the same time and literally in the same week! The day I left for my partner interview was actually my daughter’s first day of school. She was a complete champ—picked out her own special outfit, no tears at drop-off, and was very proud to report she had a “great day.” I was totally channeling HER strength and courage for my big day at the partnership interview. 

Pam: My career trajectory seems to have followed a similar course as my kids’ growth, who are now 5 and 3 (yes, a pandemic baby).My first child was born as I was transitioning from being a midlevel associate to a senior associate, and my second child was born shortly after we transitioned to being fully remote due to the pandemic. As I was being challenged to transition from associate to partner, my kids were transitioning from being at home to part-time school, both coming out of the COVID bubble and experiencing meeting other little people. My kids were getting acclimated to school, and I had to find my way as a new partner—tackling new responsibilities and traveling more, while continuing to dissect the latest and greatest trends and developments in the fast-paced energy sector. I haven’t looked back on either of my decisions to have a family or a career.

Julie: I have a similar situation where I’ve had a birth—my kids are now almost 3, 6, and 11 years old—at every major phase of my legal career, from junior, mid-level, and senior associate to partner. My third child was born while I was up for partner and I actually went through the partner promotion process as I was ramping up to come back from maternity leave.

I was able to keep on top of work and family by preparation. For the partner promotion process we have clear expectations and transparency. I knew the timeline two years in advance, finished a first draft of my business plan over a year in advance, and honed it with my practice leaders and mentors before my leave. This preparation allowed me to take my third maternity leave, dedicate my full attention to my family during this time, and feel like I wasn’t missing a beat.

Julia Silva Palmer and family

Julie Silva Palmer with her family—Daniel, Chamberlain, Raley,
and Wells—in Stockholm last summer.

How do you blend your roles?

Ali: It often feels like I’m swapping on and off two very different hats: professional and mom. But the two worlds inevitably collide (ask anyone who’s been on a Zoom call with kids popping in) and I think sharing the “mom” side of myself has been a really positive thing. Everyone has personal and professional things they are trying to balance, and blending the two roles has been a really good way to connect with colleagues and clients on a more personal level. 

Julie: It’s really a marathon. I look at life in three-month chunks so I have mini-deadlines and don’t fall behind on anything. You could always work another hour in the day, but most things can wait until tomorrow if you need to be present at home. I think the more kids you have and the more senior you get, the better you have to be at making space for everything. You have to remember that work and family are both important as it’s easy to lose sight of the thing that’s not right in front of you.

Pam: There’s not a perfect way to do this or a perfect allocation of time to each role. It really depends on what I have going on at home and at work. But one thing I have been working on is giving myself grace from the mom guilt and the desire to be everywhere at once. With all of the roles and responsibilities that come with being a working mom, I focus my attention on the task at hand and being 100% present in the role I’m in at that time.

For example, my son’s birthday falls during the week of our partner meeting, so we always celebrate the weekend before and usually have another small celebration after I return. But we talk a lot about why I enjoy working: the mental challenge, the problem-solving, and the ability to be creative. Having those discussions and helping my kids understand why I choose to work is important. We also integrate the kids by bringing them to firm family events like our summer picnic and Halloween party. Enabling them to make their own connections with my colleagues and their families allows them to better understand the concept of working parents.

Pam Wu and family

Pam Wu with her husband Eric and children Noah and Olivia.

How do you do it?

Pam: The short answer is collaboration and coordination. At work, I’m fortunate that within our energy and project development practice we have overlap in skillsets and specialties that allows us to tag-team seamlessly to provide uninterrupted client service while allowing for flexibility when needed. On the home front, my husband is also a lawyer and is a very understanding and supporting partner. Managing our responsibilities at home and our kids’ schedules and activities often pulls us in different directions, but our teamwork and communication keeps the trains running every day.

For example, before any work trip, my husband and I get organized. With the kids, I try to make the days leading up to a trip extra special by reading an extra story at bedtime, leaving them a special note or sticker in their lunchboxes, or doing a surprise pick-up from school. When I return, I’m always met with extra chatterboxes, numerous questions about my trip, and stories about their days. Those conversations really make for meaningful moments that bring us even closer and make us cherish our time together even more.

We also work on having dedicated family time. Now that my kids have more developed and stronger interests, we started having “choose your own adventure” days on the weekends. These adventures aren’t necessarily huge excursions, and could include visiting a local museum, enjoying a meal out, going to a new playground, or just making waffles together at home.

Julie: I try to have a plan for every day as something is bound to go wrong with three kids and a job, and when something inevitably goes wrong I try to just go with it and not sweat the small stuff. Things almost always work out. Last month was a horror show—I had COVID, my family had two stomach bugs run through, two rounds of colds, and then my daughter burned her hands and needed treatment. This all hit with calendar year-end client demands. As soon as word got out at the firm about my daughter, my phone lit up with text messages from colleagues offering to take my work over. Just as you think things will never end and you’re in a moment of crisis, it always seems to work out and the things that need to be achieved are—particularly with Morgan Lewis’s resources.

Ali: I’m very lucky to have “my village.” My husband is fully in on both of his roles as a working dad and has no problem handling the kids solo when I have early morning calls or work travel. My parents and in-laws are saviors when it comes to always watching our kids, covering on sick days, doing early school pickup, sports drop-off, etc.

I co-lead Morgan Lewis’s Parent Lawyer Network and this past year we started doing small group sessions broken up by the age of your kids. I’ve loved these discussions because you feel a camaraderie among others who are in a very similar stage of life and going through similar things. We share ideas of how to make things easier, how to be successful, and how to stay sane. On the last point, I try hard to just laugh at the craziness that is raising three little humans and not take the little things too seriously.  Nothing is ever going to be perfect.

Ali Gramaglia and family

Ali Rivett with her husband Will and their children Cole, Reese, and Sage, celebrating Cole's pre-K graduation!

What is a goal you’ve set for yourself for this coming year as a partner mom that others in a similar position may appreciate hearing?

Ali: Nobody gets sick! If only that could actually happen. So instead, be more present and in the moment. When I was about to have my first baby, one of my earliest mentors at the firm told me that the “golden years” are ages 4-10 (you’re out of the baby phase, but your kids still actually want to hang out with you all the time). With a 6.5, 4.5, and 2.5 year old I’m entering that phase and don’t want to let it slip by. I also just started an exciting chapter as a new partner at the firm. It’s hard when you have a million things you have to do in each partner/mom role, but I’m trying to avoid constantly thinking about my “list” so that it doesn’t take me away from what I’m currently doing with my family or at work.

Pam: Same here in wanting to continue focusing on minimizing, to the extent possible, multitasking. I want to continue working on being more intentional, focused, and in the moment.

Julie: Prioritizing is the key. I can’t be everything to everyone all the time and that’s OK. I’ve set a goal to figure out the things that I need and to make sure those happen. Also, giving myself more grace and flexibility. One of the things we talk a lot about in our firm’s Parent Lawyer Network is letting go of things that create stress and are unimportant but that we thought we had to do as a parent because that’s what the family stereotype called for to have a storybook life.

Well, what does “perfect” look like for your family? For me, I don’t eat dinner with my kids. Eating as a family only stressed me out and caused frustration because my kids are not good eaters. Once I allowed myself to let go of what I had always pictured as a family norm, we were all happier because the time we get to spend together each day isn’t spent arguing. Our real quality time is after dinner and bedtime. I’m trying to focus more on the things we like doing and find meaningful as a family rather than on things that I thought I just had to do.