Law School Alumni are Balancing Family and Law
Jessie VanCamp was about 14 years old when thoughts of becoming a lawyer first entered her mind.
"We had neighbors who had gotten into some trouble with the law," she remembered.
The woman told her that the public defender assigned to the case "had made the whole process bearable," she said.
The incident planted a seed, and eventually led her to the practice of law focusing on family law and criminal defense after earning a law degree at UND in 2012.
Since having her first child, a daughter, in January, she's been balancing the demands of motherhood and building a new law practice at Rosenquist and Arnason law firm in Grand Forks.
As a wife and mother, she sees the law — and people affected by it — in a new light, she said. "I see the (law's) effect on children even more so now."
As a new mom, she's grateful that her employers, Kerry Rosenquist and Joel Arnason, have been "very flexible" and supportive, she said.
While earning her law degree, she began working for them as a law clerk at the firm where she witnessed their flexibility and collegiality. It was the friendly, team-oriented environment that prompted her to accept their job offer after law school, she said.
When she got pregnant, she was the first mom they'd had on their staff in a long time, she said. They have been "really generous," giving her the time she needed "to have a life."
Returning to work, after five weeks of maternity leave, was "overwhelming," she said, "especially the physical part of it."
Her job sometimes requires her to represent clients in a courtroom trial. She also needs to pump and store breast milk at work.
Since her bosses are older men, she was "kind of surprised" by how accommodating they were, she said. "They said, 'Do what you need to do.' They bent over backwards to make things work when I came back."
"It was hard to come back to a full case load," she said, "but now that I'm back in the swing of things, it's fantastic."
Work, life balance
These days, law students in general "have a desire for more of a work life balance," said Patricia Hodny, director of career services at the UND law school.
"It used to be more of a concern of women" but now men also want careers that allow them time to spend with their families.
Of the 90 law students who graduated with VanCamp, about 30 were not married and had no kids at the time of graduation, Hodny said.
"The single, unattached law student is becoming the minority."
When counseling students, Hodny's goal is to help them determine what their personal priorities are.
"I ask them, 'Who are you making decisions around? What kind of lifestyle do you want after graduation?' "
The consensus of the panelists speaking at the school's annual Helen Hamilton Day, an event that features outstanding law graduates, in April was that "you can't do 100 percent family and 100 percent job," Hodny said.
"You have to know what your priorities are and what you're willing to give up and be OK with it. You have to be OK with whatever decision you make."
For the female attorney who's aiming for partnership in a firm, "you're going to have to do the same work as the guy in the next cubicle," she said. "You'll have to make the same sacrifices as men in the firm, but maybe at different times."
The concerns of the one or two single mothers she sees in most law classes "are a lot different (from married moms), depending on their support network."
Most women lawyers say they couldn't have succeeded professionally without a support system, Hodny said. "That was crucial."
In this region, the practice of law is generally favorable for women with families, she said. "In most cases, I don't see a lot of 80-hour work weeks.
"Lawyers have incorporated those family values into the firms they created."
Among attorneys she knows, "the ones that love what they do, they don't bat an eye at working 15 to 20 hours extra in a week," Hodny said. "Those who don't love what they're doing don't even want to do it eight hours a day."
Being a young mother in the workforce is generally "getting easier," VanCamp said.
"I think the hardest thing you have to deal with, really, is being pressured to stay home or being pressured to go to work.
"Some people try to shame you. They criticize you if you put your child in day care. You get the feeling you're passing the buck to someone else."
Being a mother has altered VanCamp's perspective on the world and the consequences of behavior, she said. "We see a lot of addictions."
"I see as a mom now, too, the effects on children."
In family law cases, she helps clients navigate the legal roadways, guiding them through divorce, custody issues, adoption, grandparents' rights and guardianship, she said.
"When the family is dissolving, it's a chaotic and emotionally distraught time. You can have a lasting impact on their lives," she said.
She is mindful of the long-term effects of her work.
"Usually there are children involved," she said. "If I can bring them through it, with some kind of amicable relationship, I feel good about that."
For Jennifer Albaugh, judicial law clerk for Chief Judge Ralph Erickson in Fargo, her baby boy has changed her perspective.
"Having Hudson has definitely caused me to work harder," she said. "I only get a couple hours a night with him ... I do everything in my power to get all of my work done to avoid having to stay late.
"However, there are times that my husband and I bring work home and work after we put him to bed. It's all about balance and finding your rhythm as a new mom."
Because VanCamp's practice centers on criminal defense and family law, she has "a unique perspective of life," she said. "I see the negative side of life" on a daily basis.
"You don't see families if they're having a good time in life," she said.
Her cases involve issues such as termination of parental rights, child molestation and sexual abuse of children.
While others see occasional news reports of these crimes, "When it's what you deal with every single day, it affects your perspective," she said.
As a result, she carefully questioned potential day care providers before choosing one, she said.
"Our chunk of the world deals specifically with the bad. I'm overprotective (of Cadence) because of what I see."
Her husband Scott, a corporal with the Grand Forks Correctional Center, is also in contact with people who've run afoul of the law, an experience that also makes him "very protective," VanCamp said.
"Sometimes I hug my husband and my daughter," she said. "We're very thankful for what we've got — our little family. We know how lucky we are to have the life we do."
Lawyer moms produce 'gavel' babies
Within a year after graduating UND law school in 2012, these four friends became pregnant with their first babies.
Jessie VanCamp, who practices law with the Rosenquist & Arnason law firm in Grand Forks, realized that the first letter of their last names spelled GAVEL.
The group got together in Fargo in February and snapped this photo. From left are: Rachel Gehrig holding one-year-old Jackson; Jennifer Albaugh with Hudson, 5 months; VanCamp with Cadence, 1 month, and Sarah Estep-Larson with Nora, newborn.
All are working full time in the field of law — Albaugh and Gehrig in Fargo and Estep-Larson in Fergus Falls, Minn.