Steven Standing: “I don’t have a moment’s regret about part-time work”
“Parenting became much easier for me once I let go of the idea that my career always had to come first.”
As PidKids continues through a second year of success, one thing we have realised is that it is a helpful forum for parents who are lawyers to come together and share war stories and advice on what works for them.
With this in mind, we have decided to interview lawyers in different parts of the profession with varied experiences about being a parent, a lawyer and everything that comes with that.
This interview is with Steven Standing, a Barrister at Fourth Floor Chambers.
Describe your life as a lawyer and parent.
I started out as an articled clerk at Freehill Hollingdale and Page in 1984. Our first son was born in 1989, and our second son came along in 1991.
Not long after our second son was born, I decided to work part-time. Back then it was almost unheard of for male lawyers to work part-time (although women had been doing it for years!) but it seemed like the obvious thing to do.
My wife Christine was a geologist, and working part-time meant that we could both continue with our careers whilst looking after our boys ourselves. Chris and I were able to be flexible with our working days, so that if I had a trial or Chris needed to go on a field trip, we could usually cover for each other, and our employers were happy with that.
The arrangements worked because everyone knew what to expect, and there was give and take on all sides.
I don’t have a moment’s regret about part-time work.
Some of my best memories are of attending the boys’ kindy, pre-school, school and after-school activities (including coaching some of the boys’ football and cricket teams) and just hanging out with them.
I know that finding the right balance between parenting and part-time work as a lawyer isn’t always easy, but it can be done, and it’s definitely worth it — I don’t know anyone who has regretted spending more time with their kids.
A full-time legal career will still be there for you after your kids have grown up!
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a parent that has helped you as a lawyer?
Well, that’s a difficult question! Parents have to be patient, persevering and empathetic, and I guess those are all important (and sometimes neglected) skills for lawyers.
But an important lesson from parenting is a sense of perspective about what’s important and what’s not, and that’s something that can really help when things are difficult in court or at the office!
What challenges you to be both a parent and lawyer, and how do you resolve that?
Looking back, there were a couple of key challenges. When I started in the law, men were expected to be completely focussed on their careers and to become a partner in a law firm as quickly as possible. Working part-time meant stepping away from those expectations, and that was initially quite a challenge.
However, that resolved itself quickly enough, simply because the extra time spent parenting was so rewarding and such fun.
Before I started working part-time I was also worried about how to get through the busy periods, but I had agreed to a written plan with my supervising partners at the outset, and the key to that plan was flexibility — both on my part and on the part of the firm. Because everyone understood the need for flexibility from the outset, time management never really ended up being a problem.
What is your parenting hack?
Well, first, I confess that I needed to do some research to work out that a ‘hack’ is a tip for making something easier or more efficient!
I’m not sure that efficiency is really something to aim for with parenting…perhaps the closest thing I can offer by way of a tip is to say that parenting became much easier for me once I let go of the idea that my career always had to come first, and I realised that it actually made much more sense to focus on keeping a good balance between work and family.
How do you maintain your mental health
For me, keeping fit is the key to mental health. I ride a bike to work most days, and go running about 3 times a week.
Regular exercise is a great way to clear the head and relieve stress.
Having a creative outlet is another good antidote for the pressures of work.
I know some people say they don’t have a creative side, but I don’t believe them! My personal creative outlet is writing, recording (and occasionally performing) music, which can be very challenging but is great fun!