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Over the past three decades, millions of women have entered the American labor force, fundamentally changing family life. Today, only one in three mothers stays at home. They are a vanishing breed, their families are the fortunate few. My siblings and I were blessed with a stay-at-home mother. She passed away several years ago, just shy of 81 years of age. She was a major force in my life for 56 years, shaping, guiding, nurturing, like most other mothers. Of course, there were ups and downs: youthful quarrels about coming in when the street lights came on (even if it was the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded), adolescent spats about hours, and, still later, disagreements about girlfriends and other matters of the heart. The so-called “formative years” were magical. She was always there for us. We were raised in the halcyon years before two-income family units became a harsh economic reality for some and a demanding lifestyle choice for others. Mom, a distinguished graduate of the University of Chicago, gave up a promising career in fashion merchandising with a major Chicago retailer when I came along as her first born. She exchanged her title of chief fashion buyer (a career she found exciting) for the roles of PTA president and Cub Scout den mother. For her, being a mother trumped all. She was lucky. In her generation, the stay-at-home moms were a routinely accepted fact of life. There was no agonizing debate over career v. family. Part-time and flex-time arrangements were rare, and telecommuting had not yet been invented. The two-income family was not the economic reality (or tyranny) that it has become. Being a full-time mom was as revered then as being supermom juggling career and family is today. When mom cashiered her career for family back in the 1940s, there were no shrill feminist voices telling her she had made a colossal mistake. That cruelty came later when “the movement” told her in the 1970s that she could have, indeed should have, done it all-as her younger sisters in the movement were doing. When she heard those radical voices of the early movement, she cried. That rhetoric, thankfully, has subsided. Obviously, I’m shamelessly proud of my mother: the sacrifice, the commitment, the undying love. She never became the chief executive officer of that retail giant; she didn’t even make store manager. But she made a wicked liver sausage sandwich (and I do mean wicked-peanut butter and jelly was always my favorite). And, as a concession to major league aspirations, occasionally she would let us play out that ninth inning in the dark even though homework was only three-quarters (no, maybe half) completed. She would have been a great CEO, balancing bottom-line performance against employee morale. Wall Street analysts would have loved my mom. For the supermoms of today, balancing family and work is a high-wire act that requires limitless energy, endless patience and world-class juggling skills. This is particularly true for lawyer-moms who routinely balance demanding clients and law firm billable-hours expectations with children’s illnesses, school plays and soccer schedules. To be sure, modern technology has eased the challenge somewhat with cellphones, BlackBerrys, laptops, e-mail and other types of 24/7 connectedness. But all that convenience and efficiency has come at a steep price. It has blurred the line (if there ever was a bright line for lawyers) between work time and private/family time. Flexible firms reap rewards Many law firms have taken bold steps to accommodate the delicate balancing act of lawyer-moms. The firms with foresight view lawyer-moms as a long-term investment that will pay enormous dividends over time. These firms offer innovative part-time and flex-time opportunities together with extended partner track programs and pro-rated compensation plans. These alternative career tracks, which typically are made available to lawyers with child-care and other family responsibilities or health issues, have proven very popular among women lawyers, as well as corporate executives. For example, Sara Lee Corp. recently announced that Brenda Barnes, who had resigned her former position as president and chief operating officer of Pepsi Cola North America in 1998 to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom, will become the company’s new president and chief operating officer (now that her three children are in high school). Obviously, in the judgment of the executives at Sara Lee, Barnes’ six years of quality time with her family outside the executive suite did not diminish her stellar talent and experience base. In fact, the hiatus and her resolute commitment to family may have enhanced her overall credentials, making her the best candidate for that Fortune 100 company’s No. 2 job. This shining example from American industry should provide a useful reminder for the legal profession of the benefits of long-term investment in human capital. So God bless mothers-both the super and stay-at-home. And Happy Mother’s Day to lawyer-moms everywhere. Gerald D. Skoning is senior counsel to Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw.

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