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June 20, 2008

Going Solo; Confessions and Inspirations - Annie Tunheim

This post will resonate with many women, wives, mothers....those pregnant while in law school or studying for the bar.  Annie Tunheim is a solo practitioner in Colorado who writes a very uplifting and inspirational post for those women who are making those hard decisions about motherhood and the practice of law.... as a solo practitioner.

Guest Blogger - Annie Tunheim

Competing Loves

I’m going to come right out and admit that I fell in love my first year of law school. I was completely smitten with my legal studies--my brain felt so alive, and the style of thinking came naturally to me. I was in my mid-twenties, newly married to an art teacher (a great balance for my analytical mind—the attorney/attorney relationship would never work for me), and we had just bought a small 120-year old fixer-upper in an up-and-coming neighborhood near downtown Denver. Like many of my fellow students, I had visions of working at one of the big-name firms upon graduation and paying off my rapidly mounting debt with no problems; I had my career path all figured out.

But then, at the start of my second year, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with our first child. To be honest, the tears that fell upon finding out were not ones of joy, the way one might expect. Although there were some nontraditional students at my school that had school-age children, I had never once seen a pregnant woman on campus, and law school seemed far from an ideal time to have a child.

Nevertheless, as my second year of school came to a close I found myself in love again, this time with our new little son, Jackson Tate. When school started in the fall, I juggled baby duties while taking advantage of University of Denver’s night classes, working as Managing Editor of the school’s Journal of International Law & Policy, and participating in the Civil Litigation Clinic. Jackson never took a bottle, so my husband drove him to campus in the evening so I could breastfeed between classes. My initial concerns of having a child while in school never panned out; instead, it was surprisingly convenient to have a student’s schedule and an infant. My grades never took a hit, and I was solidly in the top 25% of my class.

In early spring of my third year, we made the decision to have another child. I was pregnant at graduation, and then capped off each of my bar review courses with a nap on a library couch before waking up to study. I took (and passed) the Bar exam, and was blessed with my second son, Alexander James, in December.

Some people told me that having kids meant career suicide, and when I think back to my original plan of working for a big firm, they might have been right. But that vision of my career didn’t have the same appeal it once did. I wanted to be around to watch my children grow up, and couldn’t picture myself coming home from work with just enough time to read a quick story and send the kids to bed.

At the same time, I also couldn’t picture myself turning into June Cleaver. I get antsy and impatient if I’m cooped up in the house too long with the kids, so I knew that life as a stay-at-home mom wasn’t in my future. My love for law and need for a challenging, rewarding career was still present, but my love for these little boys shifted how I had originally seen my path.

I spent one year at a small litigation firm, specifically chosen for its reasonable billable hour requirement and supposed family-friendly atmosphere. I enjoyed the litigation process, but found the firm dynamics -- the demands to ‘come up the same way’ the older male partner came up and the pressure to treat the support staff as below me – incompatible with how I wanted to contribute to the firm. Besides, I made less than half of what my friends at the big firms were made, but I dealt with many of the same hassles. I left that firm and haven’t looked back.

So I don’t hunt for case law anymore, I hunt for bugs in the front yard with my boys. I traded lunches with the firm’s partners for family picnic dinners with our neighbors. It’s not what I envisioned in law school, but I know in my heart that this is what life is truly about. I recognize now that I don’t have the desire to chase billable hours because I’d much rather chase my boys around the yard while their superhero capes trail behind them. And that’s not a negative thing to admit.

This spring, I welcomed two new loves into my life: my solo trademark practice, and my third son, Kenyon Edward. At first I found it daunting to go off on my own, but I have quickly learned to enjoy the many benefits. It allows me to be the kind of attorney that I want to be, and that I naturally am. I enjoy my clients, who are small-business owners with fantastic products. And many of them are women like me, also carving out a niche of their own in an industry while balancing family life. I take pride in helping these businesses protect the brands they are building, and I believe my clients feel more comfortable working with someone like-minded – not someone who acts as an attorney with a capital A.

As a home-based solo practitioner, the work hours are flexible but the work day is never over. I take calls from clients after my children are in bed and on my way to soccer games. My husband jokes that he should invent some sort of laptop hip-holster, so I can always have my laptop attached to my body. (If he does, he’ll know where to go for the brand trademark!)

I’m sure my story is a common one: Ambitious woman struggles to balance a satisfying career with a loving family. Becoming a solo practitioner has allowed me to achieve that ideal balance and cultivate my love for family and law; I’m proud to call myself a great mother, wife and attorney.

Annie Tunheim

Tunheim Law LLC

info@annietunheim.com

www.annietunheim.com

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Comments

Brad

Great story. I went through something like this. I had a partnership that broke up. Rather than "find a job," I began an in-home appellate/motion practice doing contract work for other attorneys. I was never happier. Writing briefs in my underwear! Also, the practice worked out great.

Brad

martina

Inspiring story! Kudos to you for finding such a creative solution to a problem that so many professional women face. Best of luck to Tunheim Law LLC!

Laurie

What a wonderful story! As another mom of 3 boys I enjoyed your words and your solution. Good luck with your practice!

Sharon

Twenty one years ago, I faced the same dilemma- my children or my law practice. In 1989 I started a legal research and appellate writing practice which served me quite well as an at-home Mom. I was lucky to have a husband who is a software engineer who encouraged me to subscribe to an early on-line legal research service and I could retrieve cases using Boolean searches, which seemed like absolute magic to the male attorneys I contracted with who would never have been caught dead using a keyboard! How times have changed! My 4 kids are nearly grown (the youngest is in junior high), and I was able to practice law on my own terms. The only problem I had was that I never felt like a "real" lawyer, despite many winning briefs. Attitude is everything!

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