Read on for Brad’s advice about juggling school and family
By Sarah Fader
Brad Lieber is a father of a three-year-old boy named Kieran, and a husband to Eileen, a speech pathologist. Brad and Eileen were expecting Kieran when Brad was in law school. Brad opens up about what it’s like to be a dad in law school.
1. How far into law school were you when Eileen had Kieran?
We had Kieran about a month before finals in the first semester of my last year (3rd year) so Eileen was pregnant towards the end of my second year.
2. When you and Elieen were expecting Kieran, what were your concerns about juggling academic life and family life? How did you think it would work?
Law school is fairly competitive especially if you want to work for a big firm. You typically have a summer associate job before your 3rd year and hopefully have a job offer by the end of that summer. My first concern while Eileen was pregnant was dealing with the stress of making sure I got an offer from my summer job. I was super concerned about how we could pay our bills while I was still in school and more concerned about having a job lined up so that I wouldn't be unemployed after graduation (and sitting on a massive pile of debt). Once I got that offer it relieved a lot of the long-term financial stress. Then, my concern turned to being able to keep up in class knowing that I would be missing a few weeks before finals when the baby came. I was also nervous about being able to take care of Eileen and the baby when he did come and not have to burden Eileen with my study schedule. I was also concerned about studying for the bar with an infant at home.
3. What was the reality? What was life like having a newborn and being a full time law student?
The reality was that it was awesome and everything worked out just fine. Any time I get stressed now, I just think about how we adapted and were able to manage with so much on our plates - and I was genuinely happy through the whole experience - so, it makes it easy to realize that stressful times are manageable and can end up being the greatest experience if you can stay focused and have a good and supportive partner.
When the baby came, studying for finals while being up around the clock with a baby was exhausting, but it was probably not any more exhausting than if I didn't have to study - I'll let you know
4. What were some of your challenges being a new dad in law school?
I think I probably already covered this above, but the biggest challenge was really time management. I also really wanted to make my work load transparent for Eileen (still do). I don't think it's really all that different from having a baby when you're working. In fact, with the exception of the financial stress, it was probably a lot easier because your time in school is more predictable than being a professional. The only downside is that law school is based not on how well you do, but how well you do compared to everyone else, so to some extent you have to put in more hours than the next guy to do well, but there's a tipping point and by third year, it's much easier to manage your time. Unfortunately, it's the reality of the law school model and the competition for employment when 45,000 people graduate with the same credentials every year.
5. When did you find quality time to spend with Eileen and Kieran?
It really wasn't that hard except for certain crunch times (i.e., finals, bar exam, etc..). In fact, it's probably a lot easier than having a kid when you're working - again, call me after baby #2. For my last semester, I scheduled my classes so that I only had to go to campus two or three days a week. I was commuting from Baltimore to DC which was a pain in the neck, so I wanted to maximize my time. Oh, side note - I had to commute for two years of law school because Eileen had a job in Baltimore and we bought a house there because I never thought in a million years that I would get in to Georgetown’s Law Program. Exactly 4 weeks after we closed on the house I got accepted. Go figure.
Back to the story... I was extremely regimented with my time. I took the train an hour to school and I would go in much earlierthan I needed to. I would do work the entire commute and go straight to the library when I got to school. I would do as much work as I could before class, then as soon as class was over I would hop the train home and study the whole way back. When I got home, we'd usually go to the gym and one of us would work out while the other played with Kieran, then we'd switch. Then we'd have some time at home and I would usually do a little more work when everyone went to bed. I didn't sleep very much, but I was really happy so it didn't bother me all that much. On the days that I wasn't on campus, I would stay home with Kieran and work at night when Eileen got home. We had him in day care on the days we were both at work/school and occasionally I would drop him off there on a day I was home, so I could study, but usually I would stay home with him. I also took him to the local coffee shop a lot and we would have breakfast and he would fall asleep then I would study at the coffee shop while he slept in his stroller. I was also really lucky to get to spend about 6 months at home with Kieran before I started working full time. I was able to work part time between law school and starting at my firm and I would work from home at night so I could hang out with Kieran during the day.
6. What advice would you give to fathers currently enrolled in law school?
Relax and enjoy. You are extremely fortunate if you are able to have a child while in law school. If you plan properly, you can do well in school and get much more quality time with your child than the average working father. I definitely got more time home with Kieran as an infant than I would have if I was working; so I took full advantage of that. However, the job market right now is super tough, so do not let your grades suffer because providing for your family is important. That being said, you can easily do both if you stay focused. Most importantly, communicate with your spouse. There were definitely times when I hit a wall (still do). The best thing you can do is explain it to your spouse and ask them to give you a breather to sleep and recharge your batteries - but make sure to do the same for them. Sometimes, a little sleep is more important than another hour of studying or staying up with the baby when you can't function - you just have to figure out the balance. Lastly, I think having a baby towards the end of second or beginning of third year is completely manageable. I think I would have been a lot more stressed if I would have done it first year. Unfortunately, most of your success in law school is predicated on the first year and it really does require a significant time commitment. I'm not saying it's not doable, I think it's probably just a lot easier if that stress is behind you or at least it was for me.
Last side note... during my last semester in law school - when Kieran was only about 5 months old - my best friend was diagnosed with Leukemia. This is not some random friend, but one of my closest friends that I've known for pretty much my whole life. He was being treated at Hopkins in Baltimore but he lived in DC. His wife ended up staying at our house a lot of the time and pretty much every minute I got that I wasn't at school was spent at the hospital. Kieran ate his first solid foods in the waiting room there. It was hell, but again it was perspective.
During the summer while I was studying for the bar, we found out that he needed a bone marrow transplant and there were no donors in the bone marrow registry. We found out that there was a 1/30,000 chance of finding a match. Eileen, myself and a few of our friends decided that we would set out to find him a match despite the odds. We began organizing bone marrow drives that summer and registered a few thousand people and raised a lot of money. At one point, I asked the people in my bar study class to show up for a bone marrow drive the weekend before the bar exam. No one showed up. One guy told me he was too busy. He said that he hadn't slept in a week. I asked him what he had on his plate and the only thing he was doing other than bar study was going to the gym. Loser... I had an infant at home, a best friend in the hospital, I was organizing bone marrow drives and studying in the waiting room of a hospital. I passed the bar the first time.
I'm rereading this now and it sounds really pretentious, but if I was speaking to you instead of writing, it wouldn't. The point is that I did not have time to screw around. I had to be very efficient with every minute so that the house of cards wouldn't collapse. I think having so many things to juggle made it easier because I just bounced from one thing to the next and didn’t have the time to get lazy.
Eileen will have a different version of this story. She'll tell you that I was a zombie, or that I wasn't pulling my wait at home, or what ever other bad stuff I erased from my brain, and she'll be right. But, for anyone who is going to have kids in school and has to deal with the reality of the rest of life at the same time, I want them to know that it is 100% possible to pull it off and enjoy yourself. I fully credit Eileen for that... I think the fact that she went to grad school first and had some perspective helped, but I really think it just works if you have a good partner and teammate and know when and how to help each other out.
My friend is doing fine now. We did not find a match, but an alternate procedure worked. 6 people found matches from our drives so far though and we are in the process of incorporating a non-profit leukemia foundation.
All in all, time management is key to your success and sanity.
Looking for more info? Check out:
Choosing a Law School: Part I | Choosing a Law School: Part II
Sarah Fader holds a bachelor’s degree from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a concentration in ancient theater and philosophy. She is currently raising two children while applying to graduate school.