The Prodigal Mom: Pamela Zdunek



Writer, Daniel Burnette

The legal industry is what you could call a “boy’s club”: the majority of lawyers are men, the laws are written primarily by men, and aforementioned laws are mostly interpreted and changed by men. Being a woman in this patriarchal climate poses some challenges that, based solely on gender, are immutable and will be inevitably faced by all women in one degree or another. Perhaps the largest challenge facing women in law (or any industry for that matter) is becoming a mother and balancing work and home life. Sometimes this challenge forces a woman to abandon her career to take care of her children and returning, after significant time, can seem insurmountable. Or is it?

Pamela Zdunek chose to leave her reputable and successful career in law after ten years upon the realization that balancing a full-time job and being a full-time parent to a toddler and newborn was all too demanding.  She was often worn out, exhausted from long hours at the office, which was typically followed by evenings at home raising her children and looking after her family. The decision was nothing short of heartbreaking, but Pamela was committed to raising her children.

After Pamela’s fourth child started attending school, she decided to return to the practice. However, like most things do overtime, the industry changed; there were new laws, new procedures, and new technology. Willing to adapt, Pamela spent several years distributing resumes, networking, and speaking with career counselors, but all for naught. She was then introduced to OnRamp Fellowship, a program designed to get women back into the legal industry after a leave of absence. A comeback is no walk in the park in a career saturated with unfamiliarity. Pamela had to learn all the new technology and adjust her work-life balance again. Ultimately, she managed and is now glad that she went back to work.

Pamela’s case, while motivational, is far from the norm. Many women in the legal field choose not to take maternity or any leave from work for fear of losing their position or being demoted, not to mention the whispers and looks from men in the office when they leave work at a regular time to take care of their children and families. Being a woman in law is hard enough, but being a mother in the legal industry is exponentially harder.  More recently, firms have incorporated initiatives to make women feel more comfortable and confident in balancing work and parenting, allowing parents time to attend their children’s events during work hours and returning thereafter. Additionally, men have begun to take paternity leave. Years later and the challenges continue to persist, but women like Pamela are taking actionable steps to change the narrative.

What do you think? Is it difficult for mothers to be in and/or reenter the legal profession? What are some other challenges that mothers face while navigating a career in law? Comment below. 


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