Name: Kristin A. Norse
Job Title: Partner, Kynes, Markman & Felman, PA.
City: Tampa, Florida
Number of Children/Other Dependents: 1
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated? Why?
I do not think it is realistic for anyone to think they can truly have “it all,” unless they are independently wealthy enough that they don’t need to worry about earning a living. The reality is that many of us need to work to be able to support ourselves and our families in the way we would like, and sometimes that means working more hours and putting in more effort at our jobs while still trying to enjoy the time with our families or for ourselves. But as attorneys we do have the fortune of a profession that can allow us to make a very comfortable living while allowing us some flexibility on when and where and how we work. Finding our personal balance is the realistic version of having it “all.”
What does having “it all” mean to you?
Primarily it means being able to have a career and have a family and personal life, whatever one’s family looks like (children, dogs, cats, extended family, close friends). It means having some flexibility to decide what level of work you do to fit your financial needs and what time you spend outside of work to meet your emotional needs.
What is the best advice you have ever received on balancing your personal and professional lives?
Remember that your client’s problems are not really your own problems or something you have the control to truly “fix.” As a young attorney, I had a tendency to treat my client’s problems as if they were mine and to feel that it was up to me to fix them. As a result, a defeat in court felt like a personal defeat. It was up to me to advise the clients and to do my best to represent their positions in court. But beyond doing my best, the control or ability to fix things lay mostly with the client and certainly outside of my control. It’s important to strive to do your best, but also important to go home after you have done that, no matter what the result, knowing you did what you could and the rest was not in your hands.
If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?
In theory and at this moment, I would like to think I would spend it doing one thing for myself – a bike ride, a yoga class, or writing. In truth, another hour would likely be consumed as the current 24 are, filled with whatever comes my way in the way of responsibilities for family, clients, firm, etc.
Looking back at when you started in the profession, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry, everything will turn out okay if you keep persevering. In law school it seemed as if the world might end if I didn’t get recruited into a large law firm making as close to a six-figure salary as possible. That was a narrow view of the practice that overlooked the benefits of working in a smaller firm or as a law clerk, or in other positions. The economy was poor when I graduated and the road was harder than I expected to find employment. But there are ways to make inroads and contacts that will help you develop as a lawyer. Don’t give up hope! The more you struggle in your early career, the better a lawyer you will be and the more able to tackle any legal issue someone throws at you.
Do you deal with guilt in trying to balance your personal and professional lives?
Constantly. As a parent, I think we constantly try to second guess whether we have made the right choices. There are weeks when both my husband, who is a lawyer, and I are coming home exhausted and cranky. There are times when I am running back and forth between work and my child’s activities and feeling like I am excelling at nothing, lacking focus in everything, and risking mediocrity in both parenting and the law. I have to remind myself that there are positives and negatives to any of the life choices we make, and that the best one can do is to stay true to themselves and make the best of the challenges presented to them.
True story: When my daughter was in childcare I used to fear being the last parent to pick up their child. I would rush out the door to make sure I got to her preschool at least 15 minutes before they closed at 6. One day I was cutting it very close, and I arrived just at 6. I was so worried but then relieved to see there was still one more child – I wasn’t last! My daughter, however, jumped in the car very upset. She demanded to know why I picked her up early. Turns out, she wanted to be the last child there. Her ingenious childcare provider always gave the last child a treat. The moral of the story: Sometimes we put more guilt and stress on ourselves than others put on us.
What single change do you believe would have the biggest impact on work life balance or quality of life?
Flexible schedules without fear of negative consequences are the most important, in my experience. This isn’t a cure-all. Leaving at 3 to pick a child up at school might mean working at 9 after they go to bed. But having the ability to work when and where you can is a big plus.
What part of “balance” do you struggle with?
Any attempts at a work-life balance require constant shifting and analysis. The demands of family and practice can vary daily, so balance is always a work in progress. As demands grow on my time, I find I need to stay mindful of the choices I am making. With my current schedule, every “yes” I say is a “no” to something else. I think it’s also easy to neglect the very people we love most. I find my husband, my extended family, or my friends often get pushed aside due to parenting and job demands. I know they will understand and forgive me, but I also know those relationships are so valuable and I need to give them the time they deserve also.
What part of “balance” are you improving at?
I am getting slightly better at knowing when to say no, and not feeling guilty about it. There are many demands on us, and we can only do so many things well.
As a working parent, how do you balance your career and your role as a parent?
I try to maintain some flexibility in my schedule so that I can be available when I am needed. I have a wonderful husband, who pitches in on all family obligations. Advance planning and organization is key – a detailed calendar and making sure I have as many things mapped out well in advance helps me keep all the balls in the air.
How important is civic and/or professional involvement to you and why?
I think professional and civic involvement is critical to our community. Giving back and trying to make your community and the world a better place is something I believe strongly in. I have worked hard, of course, but I have also had great fortune and the help and guidance of so many. I want to pass those gifts on to others.
What’s the advice you would give a young lawyer seeking to strike a “balance” between family, self, and the practice of law or achieve better quality of life?
Beware the golden handcuffs. Watch the amount of debt you take on in school. Work to reduce it and keep your expenses in check to save a nest egg. Being a lawyer can offer you many options to build or create a practice that works for you and the lifestyle you want. But you won’t feel free to take those opportunities that might require a financial risk if your debt or lifestyle requires a salary you can only earn working overtime.
Any other parting words of advice?
Balance is an intensely personal struggle.While it’s always good to hear how other people handle similar struggles, it’s also important to recognize that what works for others might not work for you. And your own preferences may change. Take time every so often to think about how you spend your time and whether you are striking the balance that is right for you, and try not to compare your situation to others or let others’ comments or criticisms affect you.