Happy November! So far, the Fall is off to a great start for me. The weather has been crisp, but comfortable here in Washington, D.C. Likewise, the majority of my cases have been relatively quiet as the holidays approach. However, I’m sure many of you, particularly litigators, can relate there is usually calm before a storm. Chaos is often right around the corner.
As I await the next surge of depositions, motions, witness meetings, and trials, I think back to July when I first-chaired a two week-long jury trial. During that time I worked until 2 a.m. every night, seven days a week, over the week leading up to the trial and during the trial. I breathed and dreamt witness testimony, evidentiary objections, and exhibits. Needless to say, I neglected everything and everyone around me, including myself. It was exhausting, but no one was irreparably harmed, and most importantly, we won! So, all is well, right? Probably not. Considering how drained I was in the end, I recognize that tuning out the rest of the world is unrealistic, long-term, and for many it may be impossible now.
This month, I wanted to speak to a Lady Lawyer that does not have the luxury of tuning everything out. Our November Lady Lawyer is a litigator and mom, Kerslyn Featherstone.
Kerslyn Featherstone, Esq.
Patricia Donkor (“PD”): Where are you from?
Kerslyn Featherstone (“KF”): Memphis, Tennessee
PD: Tell us what you do.
KF: I am a Civil Litigator with the D.C. Office of the Attorney (“OAG”), in the Civil Litigation Division. My official title is Senior Assistant Attorney General. Prior to that, I was a Prosecutor with OAG’s Public Safety Division from 2003-2008.
PD: How many jury trials do you have in a given year?
KF: One to two. They typically last 1.5 to 2 weeks.
PD: When do you get into trial mode?
KF: Depending on the complexity of the trial, I typically get into trial mode about a month before the trial. In other words, that’s when I start meeting with witnesses, getting files ready, move around other assignments, and make time for the trial.
PD: Tell us about your kids.
KF: I am a mother of identical twin boys. They are seven years old and in the second grade.
PD: So, as a mom and trial attorney, how do you balance those roles?
KF: It’s a balancing act between keeping up with them in general, their school, staying active in my community, managing a case load of thirty cases, and trying to make time for myself so that I am operating at my best. It can be challenging, difficult, and almost impossible at times, but it is something that I have to do. I have to figure out a way to make it work for my own sanity.
PD: What does that look like?
KF: For me, I have a shutdown period from about 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. During that time, there is absolutely nothing going on in my head. This is after I have put my kids to bed. Even if I have taken work home with me, I will wait until after that down period to do that. I spend an hour doing nothing, reading gossip blogs, or whatever makes me unwind. My mom lives out of town, but she will sometimes come into town, like once a quarter, for a week at a time to give me an extra hand. This gives me time to work out in the mornings or evenings, and gives me a break from having to rush home to help with homework.
PD: We are both trial attorneys, for me, I shut down when I’m in trial, but for you as a mother of two, this may not be possible. How do you do it?
KF: As a single mother, which I am, I don’t have the ability to completely shut down. I have to remain plugged in on some level. Sometimes, my mother is able to come into town for my trials. Within a week of trial, I go into shut down mode, but it is impossible for me to shut down completely. I would love to, but a part of that balancing is actually performing the balancing act.
PD: What would you say to our mommy readers, who are litigators or thinking of litigating, about how you handle business while caring for yourself?
KF: Being a litigator you already have toughness about you and think you can do it all, but you don’t want that breaking point to come at your cost. You have to make time for yourself, have to have an unplug period, have to pull that hour out for yourself, you have to eat lunch away from your desk, and you have to begin to start taking little breaks. You will know when your body is telling you that you have done enough. It is hard to give one answer that fits everyone. It depends on the situation and one’s level of comfort. Everyone needs to find that balance for themselves. Don’t believe that you can do it all. Regarding work, if you are at a place that is requiring 18 hour days, that may not be a place for you. There has to come a time when you decide whether the employer you are working with suits your needs for your ability to make time. It’s a tough decision, but it’s a balancing thing.
PD: Do you think you find that you have mastered the ways to care for self?
KF: Absolutely not. That is why I am affirmatively trying to make time for myself. I have now started to accept that I can’t do it all. You have to find your own center and once you do you will make the right decisions. Don’t measure yourself by what someone else is doing. Don’t look at another mom. Look at your situation and make sure you are making the same decision for your family or career. You can do more or less but that does not make you less of a mom or a lawyer. People can look at me and think, “I don’t know how she does it.” But I may be different. In fact, at one point I would think I’m good, I’m good, but now I am taking more help.
PD: Great advice! Thank you so much for your time Kerslyn.
Self-care is subjective. There is variation depending on work responsibility, home life, etc. However, I think we all can agree it’s important. I’m a work in progress. Hopefully, through the exploration of this blog, I, and maybe you, will get closer to self-actualized self-care.