Nancy MacKimm, the partner in charge of Jones Day's Houston office, says firms and lawyers with children need to take a long-term view of a career. She says when her son was young she worked part time for a couple years when she was an associate.
"I want women coming up behind us to know you can do this. A hiatus of a few years can change the direction of your career, but it doesn't need to derail it. … You may not be able to be the best trial lawyer in Texas and the best mom in Texas, but if you find happiness that you are doing both reasonably well, that's a really good thing," she says.
Texas Lawyer's 2012 Women in Law Survey shows that 17 of the largest firms in Texas have a formal policy allowing lawyers to work a part-time schedule.
Women Lawyers at Large Firms in Texas
Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Benefits at Large Firms in Texas
Texas Companies on the Fortune 1,000 With Women General Counsel
Part-Time Partners at Large Firms in Texas
That was not the situation in Texas in 1989, when "mommy track" became a buzzword and part-time or flexible work schedules were rare and unlikely to provide women lawyers with a route to partnership.
Tracy Christopher, a justice on the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, left Vinson & Elkins and joined the firm now known as Susman Godfrey in 1986 after the birth of her second child. As she told Texas Lawyer in a 1989 article about the choices women lawyers with children had to make, Christopher had left Vinson & Elkins because the firm at that time chose not to accommodate her with a part-time schedule. She worked part time at Susman Godfrey but was not on the partnership track due to that schedule.
In a recent interview, Christopher says she never made partner at Susman Godfrey because it was not available then to part-time lawyers. She has been a judge since 1995, first at the 295th District Court in Houston, and later at the 14th Court of Appeals.
Christopher says her move to the bench in 1995 was a good thing -- her children were 7, 8 and 10 at the time -- because she could work a 40-hour week without having the late nights, travel and weekend work that is part of a litigator's schedule.
She says she is not sure how much better the opportunities are today for women lawyers with children. "Anecdotally I hear that some women are working that out, but I still heard anecdotally that generally means you are not on partner track, which is reflective ultimately in the fact that statistically women are still making less than men," she says. However, Christopher adds that the law practice does provide men and women some flexibility in schedule.
Christopher says she recently reflected on her career choices because her oldest daughter, Sarah, is an associate with a Los Angeles firm. "She just recently got married, and we discussed some of these issues, and I don't have solid advice on it. I really think it's an individual decision," she says. "The nice thing about the legal practice is it is giving women more options. When I started working part time, it was unusual."