Molly Shadel

Mother in Law: Juggling a Legal Career and a Personal Life

Work Stew


A couple of weeks ago, I went to the movies with some friends to see I Don’t Know How She Does It. I found myself nodding in recognition at the heroine, Kate Reddy—I, too, have driven myself crazy trying to be both a perfect mother and a perfect professional. Then I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking, wow, I am so glad I don’t have her type of job anymore; I’m so grateful for my job, instead. And then I grew angry at the notion of gratitude for a job that doesn’t require me to live the crazed life of Kate Reddy—because no one should have to live like that. If we want a happy workforce, and especially if we want to keep women from exiting it, then we must shift the norm so that workers can be both professionals and human beings being at the same time. Law, in particular, should care deeply about this problem.

I used to be a practicing attorney; now I am a law professor. I want to tell you about how I got here, including mistakes that I made along the way, because many of the choices I have confronted are typical for women in my profession. But the point of this story is not that everyone should quit practicing law and go teach. Instead, I would like to suggest that there are challenges endemic to both legal practice and the legal academy that (despite everyone’s best intentions) will disproportionately affect women who have (or want) children, or on whose shoulders care for other family members (such as aging parents) will fall. I have two audiences in mind:  my students, who are aware of some of those challenges and are puzzling over how to confront them; and lawyers and law professors, who are in a position to change things.


Molly Bishop Shadel, Mother in Law: Juggling a Legal Career and a Personal Life, Work Stew (November 20, 2011).

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