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Catherine Tornabene watches her 2-year-old son bop around to salsa-flavored songs every Wednesday afternoon in a Spanish class for moms and tots. It’s some of the best hours in the Hastings law student’s busy schedule. As she watches Nathaniel laugh and play, she’s acutely aware that she won’t always have the opportunity. “A huge advantage of law school is that your time flexibility is just incredible,” Tornabene, who is in her third year, said. “I only have classes two days a week. You can take off a lot of time. You don’t have clients relying on you.” Tornabene, 33, knew she didn’t want Nathaniel’s birth to coincide with first-year exams, but she and her husband wanted their first child to be born while she was still in school. Once she starts working at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom next year, these Wednesday afternoons with Nathaniel probably won’t be possible. Tornabene’s planning isn’t an exception � law school administrators and students say such careful logic is apparently driving a parent boom among student ranks. Boalt Hall’s, dean of students, Victoria Ortiz, said the school doesn’t keep statistics, but her staff has been buzzing about the phenomenon. “Everyone in my office has commented on the fact,” she said. “There are at least five, maybe six women who have come in to tell us they’re pregnant. That seemed like more such announcements than in any other particular year.” Young people, mindful of the realities of working in the legal profession, are taking advantage of the perks of academia. At the top of the list are class schedules that can be arranged to leave mornings and afternoons free for day care drop-offs and pick-ups, and the option to take up to a full academic year off without missing a beat on return.
Balancing Acts

Is it possible to balance a legal career with any kind of personal life? Our Hot Topic roundup gives it a shot.

It’s not without sacrifice, the students say, but in the professional world, their lifestyles are an exception rather than the rule. As firms lose attorneys for whom the balance between professional and personal is a priority, student parents are finding ways to have it all with as little compromise as possible. NO NANNIES HERE Tamina Alon, 26, is a second-year Hastings student and president of Parents at Hastings � a group of about 30 mothers and fathers. She decided to go back to school while her two sons, ages 6 and 7, were still small. “If I were to choose between doing this while in school and being a fourth-year associate trying to prove myself while having a 6-month-old at home,” she said, “it would be a no-brainer.” Professors and administrators understand that students juggle all sorts of responsibilities apart from schoolwork, she said, including part-time jobs and internships � and kids. That type of understanding seems to be rare at firms, Alon said. Attorneys who come to campus to speak with students do well answering questions about the best places to clerk to ensure a spot with their firm, but they falter on questions about how their 5-year-old feels about their 90-hour work weeks. “They’re very surprised to hear questions from students about work-life balance,” Alon said, adding that the advice she gets frequently is to “work really hard, and pay your nanny really well.” What working attorneys and firm managers are just beginning to understand is that there is a generation entering the profession who don’t plan to pay someone else to watch their children. Daniel Schacht doesn’t want to be the dad who brings home the paycheck and never sees his daughter, Palomi, who is 15 months old. He is 32 and in his second year at Boalt Hall. He and wife Sheela Jhaveri planned for Palomi to be nine months old by the time Schacht started law school. He splits parenting duties with his wife, who works on-campus at the anthropology department. Schacht’s schedule allows him to spend mornings and afternoons with his daughter. At least three times a week he picks her up at 3 o’clock at the university day care and heads home for three hours of family time. “I really enjoy picking her up at day care,” he said. “I can’t imagine working at a law firm and getting off at 3 o’clock every day. I probably wouldn’t be doing much cooking.” That doesn’t mean that being a parent at law school is a vacation. Schacht has found the workload to be a little heavier than he had expected, and he spends nights and weekends catching up on reading. Extracurricular activities have been put on the backburner. He’s had to withdraw his East Bay Community Law Center application twice now, and his trips to the gym have petered out. “One of the things I cut out is exercising,” he said. “I keep saying I have to go back to it, but it’s impossible with a kid.” TIMING IS EVERYTHING To be sure, some years in the academic career are better-suited for parenting duties than others. Boalt’s Dean Ortiz warns against mixing pregnancy and the foundational first year, taught as a unit, in which sequencing and rhythm are important. “To start your first year in the second or third month of pregnancy is probably not advisable, because then you’re giving birth in the middle of the first year, and that’s not a good time,” Ortiz said. Timing is very much on Misti Grove’s mind. Thirty years old and six months pregnant, the second-year Boalt Hall student is due in spring. She’s thinking about taking that semester off. Not wanting to compromise her grades, she also isn’t sure she wants to push back her bar exam to February and negotiate an extension with the firm she will choose to work for. “I’ve had to think of tradeoffs that I didn’t anticipate,” she said. Tornabene, who took a year off to care for Nathaniel, knows a thing or two about such tradeoffs. “I’m actually the only three-year summer associate I ever met,” she said, laughing. The advantage of taking time off in school is that the return is smooth. “You can’t take off for years, but you can take off a significant amount of time and slip right back in,” she said. “I’m really going to miss that time flexibility when I’m working.”

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