Parenting for lawyers

I’ve been a mother now for longer than I’ve been a lawyer.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. My dad’s nickname for me as a child was “I know, but” – because I’d take any particular proposition and argue against it, often just for the sheer fun of it. Temperamentally, I think I’ve been a lawyer all my life. It just took me a while to get round to the qualification bit.

We’re a niche group, I know, but lawyers – by temperament or qualification (NB – having the temperament of a lawyer does not authorise you to practice as one. Sorry.) – may struggle with certain aspects of parenting.

1. Your retainer fee is always in arrears

We know that some clients pay a certain amount regularly to ensure that they always have legal advice to hand. Suddenly, your account is being settled with cuddles, shared lurgies and the occasional half-melted chocolate button.

2. Disclaimers don’t work

It is tempting, I know, but it honestly isn’t the done thing to ask a play date’s parent to sign a form confirming that they are leaving their child at their own risk and will hold you harmless from any, well, harm that should befall. Nor is it acceptable to attempt to discharge your duty of care by murmuring “be careful” as your children hurtle off slides and down hills – or at least not to expect it to cut any mustard with them when they get hurt anyway.

3. The contract’s not worth the (sweetie) paper it’s written on

Lawyers should make ace parents. After all, our negotiation skills are up there with the best of them. We like to resolve situations beyond reasonable doubt, ensure that all parties know where they stand, clear up any possible room for doubt. Yeah, forget that. Whatever agreement you come to with a small child is never going to stand up in court. You think your child is the client or the other side? They are actually judge, jury (and quite often executioner too).

4. Losing on appeal 

You may well have right and the weight of evidence on your side, but sometimes, you shouldn’t argue your case any more. Let it go.

5. What’s yours is mine

Property rights? Title deeds? Personal space? You can try to register your ownership in something (and if you have more than one child, they will – usually with indelible pen in a conspicuous place) but family life is essentially a commune. Particularly hard for the conveyancers among us.

6. WiP report

Suddenly, no-one’s recording your chargeable hours any more. Yet at the same time, you’ve never been under so much pressure to get stuff done. The beauty of it is, there’s no-one to bill. It’s all a work in progress from here on in.

7. Explaining what it is that you actually DO.

Never will you have wished so much that you were a doctor, or a hairdresser, or a teacher, or anything a child recognises as of value. Perhaps easier if you work in criminal law, but if the highlight of your professional life is scrutinising the terms and conditions on a purchasing order for engine oil, explaining your 9-5 is difficult. “I tell people the rules and help them keep them” you say, feebly, as your offspring survey the near-anarchy in which they live and look faintly incredulous.

8. A frolic of one’s own

We lawyers, perhaps naturally, like to find the best way to do things. We research it. We look at precedents. We apply training and reason and care. But the best bits of parenting are those that happen when you’re not really thinking about it at all. Enjoy.

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