9 Lives for Women Blog

Joined In Business Matrimony | September 9th, 2012

When Christina Paul and her husband, Matt, were students at the University of Connecticut Law School, they were moot court partners—and once their relationship took a serious turn they talked about some day starting a practice together. Three high powered, big law firm jobs, one apartment, two houses, four children and thirteen years later they established Paul & Paul, LLC in Southport, CT—just a few miles away from home and their children’s schools.

When two parents work, travel, entertain and keep very separate and busy schedules, they often feel like two ships passing in the night. It’s not so common—outside of the typical Mom and Pop retail establishments—to see a professional husband and wife team up to create more work-life balance for the entire family.  Since many couples work in the same industry, Christina’s story might shed light on an alternative work arrangement if you’re not sure if you can keep up the corporate grind.

Christina and Matt started out as many young law school graduates do:  eager to get high-caliber experience and make some significant money. After passing the Connecticut and New York bars, they both joined big law firms.  Christina took the corporate route and Matt specialized in litigation. They worked crazy hours and enjoyed financial and professional rewards.

In the early days it didn’t matter how late Christina and Matt worked, because they were newly married and didn’t even have a dog. But then two years into her new job, Christina was expecting their first child. Initially, she thought she would just keep working and figure out a way to be both a mother and a lawyer. She knew she did not want to have a full-time nanny—and she also was not ready to entirely give up her job.

Law firms are not known as the most family friendly work environments, but Christina was lucky to have an employer willing to offer her a part-time schedule. The corporate group was less forward thinking, so she was offered a part-time position with the regulatory team.

That was in 2000, and I know that even now women in law firms face very hard choices. In fact in the 10 years I was a recruiter, I met so many women who left their law careers for family reasons—but not one who wanted to return. But I digress. Back to the story…

For four years Christina worked a 60% schedule, generally three days a week with a 45-minute commute. The icing on the cake was child care that her own mother provided.

Sounds like the ideal arrangement, but children have a way of growing up and creating complex, competing schedules. Christina hired a nanny to tag-team with her mother, but the non-family nanny proved unreliable. Family logistics became too complicated, and Christina headed home. Though Matt is a caring parent, Christina did a lot of single parenting as he worked endless hours at a big, demanding New York City law firm.

Many women just accept the fact that their husbands are never home, but Christina and Matt had long discussions about what they both came to feel was an unacceptable lifestyle. Their sons asked Matt why he was not at work on the rare night he could join the family for dinner.  He was glued to his Blackberry. And everybody winced when his son asked why he even bothered to come to his hockey games if he was just going to be on the phone the whole time.

That’s when the long ago idea of starting their own firm crept back in to their conversations. Matt felt confident that a few important clients would follow him, and with their fourth son starting school soon Christina felt ready to return to a part-time schedule.

The Paul’s took the plunge and launched their firm at the beginning of 2011. Matt’s clients did follow and provided immediate income.  Christina set up the office and all the technology. Now they share a suite of offices where Matt continues his civil litigation focus, representing public and private companies in a variety of business disputes, as well as property owners in local property tax appeals.  Christina sticks to more easily scheduled work like bylaw reviews for non-profits and residential real estate closings. She basically works school hours and manages her workflow according to the time of year, the schedules of her children and the availability of grandparent pinch hitters.

These days the Paul’s children see a lot more of Matt, and they love to visit the office and do their homework in a quiet place. They say they’re proud that their parents own their own firm. And Christina, the mother of four boys, likes the fact that her sons see her as both a mother and a professional.

As time goes on and her children get older, Christina expects to devote more and more hours to the family firm. In the meantime she has found a way to keep her professional credentials, continue to gain business experience, go back to what feels like law school days with her husband and be the Mom she wants to be.

You can read more about Paul & Paul, LLC at www.paulctlaw.com.

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