By Melissa Ford
Have you ever been introduced to someone and were instantly impressed by that individual’s strength of character? That was my experience when I met Heena Musabji, a mother of three children, ages seven, four and one; and if that isn’t enough, she’s operating a successful solo law practice.
While attending a West Cook Pro Bono Network planning meeting, I learned that Musabji had co-founded a law firm for working mothers. Although this firm is no longer in existence, Musabji gained extensive experience and knowledge in the day-to-day operations of running a business. Not to be deterred, Musabji informed me she plans on opening another such firm so women can successfully balance careers and motherhood.
How does one create a law firm that supports working-mothers?
Searching Google, Musabji found a Swedish law firm that supports its female attorneys. Talking to the managing partner, Musabji learned about flex schedules, maternity leave polices, and attorneys who were encouraged to bring their children to work. Unlike our ways, the Swedish culture supports mixing professional and personal lives. Musabji said, “Their clients didn’t have a problem if the attorney wasn’t there to take their call at that moment. ‘She’s home with her child. She’ll get back to you,’ was a response that clients were comfortable with. In our culture, receptionists are instructed to cover for an attorney at home with her child. ‘She’s in a meeting,’ is the only appropriate response.”
What did you learn from co-founding your first practice?
Musabji acquired many new skills from her first experience such as how to run a business, work as a team member, and the importance of steering clear of office politics by keeping a larger vision in mind. Musabji believes women can be “fantastic attorneys and moms, without being superwomen.” As she puts it, “You can continue your professional career if you are willing to try non-traditional paths that look different than the typical male law firm environment.”
How do you create a balance between your work and life?
Currently, Musabji is a solo practitioner working approximately 20 hours a week from her home office. Her oldest child insisted upon setting up his own “office” in her workspace, which she enjoys. At night she spends time writing her briefs and motions. She says, “For each individual, creating balance requires a different approach. Being a mother doesn’t mean your profession has to take a backseat. I think you can combine them both, if you are willing to experiment and try non-traditional ways of doing things.”
What drives you to keep practicing law?
Musabji says there are many reasons. When I press her for answers, she thoughtfully responds, “Post 911, I needed to be a mouthpiece and openly show myself as a Muslim. I wanted my children to know that I wasn’t embarrassed about my faith and culture.” She went on to explain that seven years ago, she began wearing the traditional Islamic scarf, the hijab. She wanted to show the legal world as well as the working world that Muslim-Americans are not “women confined to the home and uneducated.” She added, “I’d rather have people ask me questions about my faith directly rather than listen to the media, and the scarf encourages them to do so.”
Moreover, Musabji keeps practicing law for her children. “I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where they feel demonized and I want them to be proud of their faith.” She also considers herself a role model for her children, an example that women can be successful parents and have flourishing careers. In addition, she wants her boys to know that they don’t have to fulfill the traditional role of full-time bread winner; women are capable, too.
Finally, Musabji is earnest about providing a legal voice for her clients. “In Immigration and Civil Rights work, people aren’t given a voice. They may not understand the language or have the financial means to hire an attorney. I use a sliding scale for those who can’t afford a larger private firm.”
What advice can you give to women contemplating leaving their legal careers in order to take care of their families?
Musabji recommends to look into all options to ensure that leaving your legal career is truly what you want. “If that is what’s best for your life, then you should,” she agrees, “However, there can be opportunities created, non-traditional routes taken, or even approaching an existing law firm and offering to create a niche you could fill.”
Musabji also suggests joining West Cook Pro Bono Network, a group of female attorneys (most of whom are mothers) that give back to their community. “If you are scaling back on your practice or thinking about getting back into law, this network of women is a great place to get your feet wet again,” Muscabji enthuses.
For more information on Heena Musabji Law Offices contact firstname.lastname@example.org