'The Mom Guilt Is Real'

Christine Leatherberry co-founded Moms in Law to help women attorneys balance work and home

Published in 2020 Texas Rising Stars Magazine

When Christine Leatherberry returned to family law after her first maternity leave, the realities of being a working mom set in quickly.

“You can’t give 100% toward being a lawyer and 100% toward being a mom at the same time,” says Leatherberry. “Something always has to give. The mom guilt is real.”

Those feelings only worsened as her daughters grew older and had more activities. 

“When my nanny would take my daughters to the zoo and get a nice picture with them, it was like a dagger to the heart,” she says. “You think, ‘That should be me!’ But at the same time, you went to school for 20 years.”

She wondered how other lawyer moms did it. A little research told her no support group existed locally, and unveiled dispiriting statistics about women in law.

“We lose so many women when they start having kids, because some law firms are not conducive for working moms,” says Leatherberry, 38. As much as she could use the support of such a group, she felt others might need it even more. The progressive mindset at Connatser Family Law in Dallas, where she spent six years, allowed her to volunteer at her daughters’ schools. 

“You don’t get those years back with your kids,” she says. Leatherberry and attorney husband Jon, have daughters ages 5 and 3. Leatherberry chairs one daughter’s preschool alumni group and volunteers at the other’s school. 

“A lot of women can’t, and they work tremendous hours,” she says. “I was looking for a way for other women trying to find that elusive work-life balance not to give up.”

In March 2016, she co-founded Moms in Law, a Dallas-based support and networking group. She still co-chairs it, along with attorneys Rebecca Nichols and Rocio Gosewehr Hernandez. The group holds lunches and other activities. 

She hopes that, by letting lawyer-moms know they’re not alone and advocating for parent-friendly policies in the industry, the group can keep women in the legal profession, and ease the minds of those who work late and miss putting their kids to bed—or second-guess their career choices when they see Facebook photos of stroller-pushing moms at the park.

Moms in Law, a special-interest group of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and the Dallas Bar, boasts about 300 members. It has a Facebook page and holds occasional early happy hours, play dates and CLE sessions, one of which featured a-male panel discussing how men could be better allies of working moms.

Some members are new moms, while others have kids in college; they represent areas of law ranging from employment and real estate to in-house counsel. At lunches, the women discuss parenting, nannies, day care and, of course, pending court appearances. There’s no agenda or required attendance, just the chance to bond. 

Leatherberry hopes Moms in Law will encourage firms to support concepts like telecommuting and mandatory paternity leave. The group recently surveyed firms about their parental and childcare benefits, hoping to inspire some to emulate those with more generous allotments. “We’re just trying to move the needle,” she says.

She’s proud of what the group has achieved. “It just keeps growing and growing,” she says. “I’m proud to cultivate those relationships and help women remain in the profession.”

Editor’s note: Christine Leatherberry left private practice in January to become director of alumni relations at her alma mater, SMU Dedman School of Law. She continues to handle pro bono cases and serve as co-chair for Moms in Law.

Women in the Law

  • Women make up 36% of all lawyers
  • About 19% of equity partners were women in 2019
  • Male equity partners earn 27% more
  • Slightly more than half the law school students in 2019 were women
  • 22.7% of law firm partners were female in 2019

Source: ABA Profile of the Legal Profession

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