Exploring your legal career options while family planning

July 5, 2018

On a personal level, fatherhood has been a humbling and exciting adventure that has deepened my empathy for lawyers who are sharing or about to share this journey, especially when they are keen to make a career switch.

Lawyers who are planning to expand their families regularly ask us legal recruiters when the right time is to consider their career options. In short, there is no right answer to this question – every individual is dealing with unique circumstances, so this post is not intended to outline a suggested course of action and instead focuses on shedding often overlooked perspectives.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to exploring career opportunities while family planning, primarily driven by polar opposite concerns:

  1. Hold – Don’t make a move if you plan to have a child in the near term, as it is unfair to the future employer.
  2. Go for it – Make a move even if you plan to have children soon, as it is unfair to yourself to potentially pass up an exceptional opportunity.

Exploring your legal career options – Pros and Cons

A major pro to holding can be the certainty of benefits and capitalizing on the goodwill you accrued with your firm as you go on maternity/paternity leave. Introducing a (or another) child in your life can have unpredictable and dramatic impacts on your ability to work at full speed and also your personal ambitions, so there is a strong case to be made to hold on job searching until your house is clearly in order.

That said, if you are unsatisfied or even suffering at work and otherwise intent on making a move, your dream job may pass during your holding period. Some positions present more often, while others are rarely available. Also, depending on how long and intense you are unhappy at work, there can be serious impacts to remaining in an unhappy environment, including negatively impacting your family planning due to workplace stress.

The main con with holding your search is that it often blindly and broadly assumes that a future employer would rather not hire you until after a parental leave. In many cases, this is true. In some cases, however, I can personally attest that certain employers would happily take a long view of your candidacy and accommodate your family planning considerations. Some will even tailor unique benefits for your circumstances. Consider this: you might actually be doing a prospective employer a big favour by at least inquiring about the role. Most employers would rather know the full extent of their options too – so it can be a lost opportunity for your dream employer to miss on your candidacy based on false assumptions.

The main pro in proceeding with your job search is that you may indeed land a new position where you will be able to thrive immediately and for the years to come.

Disclosing your family plans to a prospective employer – Pros and Cons

There is no obligation, per se, to inform employers about your family planning but depending on how far along you are in your process and on the circumstances, it can be helpful to disclose your situation especially if your interest in the role would be conditional on certain accommodations or benefits. Beyond legal obligations, consider how you want to be perceived by your employer, especially if you are seeking a long-term career opportunity, as being forthright can buy goodwill and allow the possibility for creating a role that would ensure your success.

In the end, career planning can be a delicate, complicated, and sensitive process. Adding family planning to the mix can certainly make things even more nuanced. There are no right answers in determining the right course for you and your family, but there definitely can be wrong or overlooked assumptions, so be sure to consider testing your assumptions before pursuing or holding on your search while you plan to grow your family.

David Namkung, Partner