Halle Butler Hara ’98, Tracy Kozicki Stratford
Liza Larky ‘99: Finding a Balance Between Career and Family
Halle Butler Hara ’98 was on maternity leave at Thompson Hine LLP in Cleveland when a friend called to tell her about a part-time position opening with Judge Donald C. Nugent at the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio. She says, “That kind of job just does not open, so I expressed interest immediately.” Halle had worked for Judge Nugent as a law clerk in 2000, and the person holding the part-time clerk position at that time had held the job for years. Halle explains, “Thompson Hine was very family-friendly, and my work was manageable and challenging. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to leave when I heard about this law clerk position. But I knew it could be a long time before I had another chance to work with Judge Nugent in a part-time capacity.”
Josh and Halle Butler Hara '98
Halle job-shares, working every Thursday and Friday, and every other Wednesday. The woman who shares her job works opposite days, and they both have their own caseload. Halle says she knows this arrangement is rare, and she feels “very appreciative” of the opportunity to job share.
Halle was practicing commercial litigation at Thompson Hine. She says litigation, where your schedule is at the whim of the court, is not a practice area that meshes well with the whims of children. Halle points out that “although some employers, like Thompson Hine, are willing to provide flexibility for employees,” it’s the “nature of the business” that litigation is not always flexible. Halle enjoys litigation though, and the law clerk position allows her to continue gaining hands-on experience at the trial court level.
When Halle accepted the job, she says, “I was concerned about finding part-time daycare; this is often a concern for parents who want to work part-time. The daycare we found is willing to accommodate us. My son loves going to the daycare now; he is two years old and knows the staff and the other kids really well.”
Halle’s husband Josh owns his own graphic designing business and works from a home office. On the days Halle works, she leaves before her son wakes up, and Josh does the morning and early evening routines with their son. Halle notes, “He definitely works full-time hours, usually making up for lost time by working nights or weekends.” She says, “When he’s working we don’t see him…except for the time I called his office phone line and said, ‘Come upstairs, our son is walking!’”
Halle's son Jonah
What Halle likes most about her situation is that she gets to “have equal time as a mom and as a lawyer.” She says, “I get to spend time with my son, Jonah—we do things like Gymboree class—and at the same time I keep my foot in the door and stay current on litigation issues.” She says it is also good that her husband gets to spend some one-on-one time with their son on the days Halle works. Halle explains, “We have a tag-team approach to parenting: we take turns, help each other, and both do more than our share. Even though he works a lot more hours than I do, he still shares a lot of the workload at home with me. We don’t have a clear line dividing ‘his’ and ‘her’ tasks.”
Halle says when she entered law school, she didn’t consider how
she would one day juggle family and law. She says, “It’s a
tough field to find balance in, but I definitely think it can be done.”
And, although Halle plans to return to full-time legal work eventually,
for now she has found a solution that works for her.
Tracy Kozicki Stratford ‘98 says, “Juggling my career and my family is very stressful when it’s not working, but when it is working, I think it actually makes me a better lawyer and mother.” She explains, “It helps me see the big picture at home and with my current caseload; in both parts of my life, I have to figure out how to get everything done with limited time and limited resources.”
Tracy Kozicki Stratford '98 with Hayden and Emma
Tracy has a four-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter. She has been at Jones Day in Cleveland for more than eight years, and her workload is increasing as she gains more responsibility at the firm. Despite the many demands on her time, Tracy manages the ever-shifting balancing act by counting on others. “I have a great support system at home and at work. There is an incredible woman who watches my kids, my husband and I communicate pretty effectively about who’s taking care of what, and I couldn’t ask for more support or accommodation from the lawyers and staff at Jones Day.”
Tracy has had to “do things differently than I did before having kids. I have to fit my work into different time slots.” She recounts a time a few weeks ago when she had a brief due the next day. “My son was sick and crying for Mom. I told my colleagues that I’d be home but checking email. My son just wanted to be held, so I waited until he fell asleep that night and then I finished the brief. It meant a late night at the computer in my pajamas, but in the end I got to stay home with my son and still finish my brief.”
Having established her reputation as a litigator before having kids, Tracy says, allows her to make adjustments in her work schedule. “I think my colleagues trust that I will get my work done, and whether my project is accomplished from noon to 4:00 p.m. or from 8:00 p.m. to midnight, it will be finished by the next day. That flexibility has been so important in balancing my career and my kids.”
Tracy’s husband Todd is a high school teacher; he also coaches the debate team and directs the school play. He stayed home for three years after their son was born.
Having a stay-at-home spouse, Tracy says, made it easier for her to take on the greatest opportunity of her professional career: sitting third chair at a federal accounting malpractice trial. She had been working on this particular case for seven years and jumped at the chance to participate in trial. Though she was 8½ months pregnant with her second child, she found a way to accomplish her goal. She stayed in New Jersey for the first half of the trial, leaving only to fly home for doctor appointments. The court had scheduled a five-week break in the middle of the trial, and Tracy’s daughter was born (in Ohio) on the day trial resumed. She rates the New Jersey trial experience as “the most fun I’ve ever had. Even though it was intense and stressful, it was such an adrenaline rush to be questioning witnesses, constantly tweaking my questions and changing my strategy based on developments in the trial.” She says, “There were times when I missed my husband, son, and dogs terribly, but I was doing what I love, what every litigator lives for.” At the conclusion of the first half of trial, her husband and son came out to New Jersey and drove a very pregnant Tracy home.
Despite occasional doubts, she concludes it’s worth the constant struggle. “Sometimes I ask myself, ‘what am I doing?!’ But I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love my job: it’s really hard and really fun. I have a lot of respect for the people I work with. They are brilliant attorneys, and I learn something new from them every day.” Tracy has considered other work arrangements, but, she says, “It comes back to having great relationships with the people at work. It’s so rare to find a team that you work well with, even in stressful situations, that it’s hard to think about ever leaving. Plus, I love litigation – it’s what I do.”
After law school, Liza Larky ’99 worked at a large firm in Detroit, Mich. for five years, while her husband Howard completed his medical school residency. She was practicing corporate finance law and working long hours as the primary breadwinner. The couple waited to have children until Howard completed his residency.
When her husband was offered a job as an anesthesiologist in a Columbus hospital, Liza decided she would stay at home with the couple’s now two-year-old and four-month-old daughters. Liza says, “I knew I didn’t want to continue working in a large firm when I had little kids at home.”
Liza Larky '99 with husband Howard and daughters Jadyn and Elliot
Liza explains that, as an anesthesiologist, Howard has an unpredictable and inflexible schedule. Some days he could be home from work at 2:00 p.m. and the next day he won’t be home until 10:00 p.m. Even if there is an emergency at home, Liza can’t call him when he is at the hospital in a surgery. The rigidity of his schedule contributed to Liza’s decision to stay home. “If we both had inflexible careers, it would be hard to raise kids,” she says.
Leaving the workforce, Liza says, did require an adjustment period. Although the decision to stay at home was an easy one for Liza, the daily reality is anything but easy. Liza explains, “It is definitely a full-time, 24-hour-a-day job. I’m never off the clock.”
Pre-kids, she and her husband both went off to work in the mornings, and they split the household duties. Now, there’s a division of labor that took some getting used to. When Liza has had a challenging day on the home front, she’ll joke with her husband that she’s going to work the next day and he can stay with the kids.
Liza says the best thing about her arrangement has been simply “being there for the everyday moments with my kids. I like spending time with them and seeing them develop.” She explains that they’re always on the go: “We go to playgroups and activities with other moms and kids; we’re not home very often.” There is a downside, though, in Liza’s mind. “My being at home is a double-edged sword, because they are very attached to me.” She explains, “My daughter just started preschool a few hours a week, and that’s been good for her.”
Of her law career, she says, “Law school was a great education, and for right now, I find other ways to use my brain. I definitely plan to go back to work when my kids are both in school, most likely doing something in law.”
A New Program: the Moritz Moms & Dads Lunch Series
Halle, Tracy, and Liza have found unique, personal ways to balance their
children and their careers. If you are a parent making some of these same
decisions about balancing career and family, you may want to participate
in the Moritz Moms & Dads Lunch Series. To learn more, click here.