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Balancing Act: I Had 3 Kids While Taking the Bar Exam

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Vanessa Olivier, mother of three, shares her journey of finding balance in her role as a mother, a partner -- and in her position as a prosecutor. From Essence.com.

Caribbean-American community, being an attorney yields a commodity worth more than money: it offered power. Attorneys were respected. Attorneys were helpers. Attorneys were agents of change. I was sold on the idea, and by middle school I began working on my biggest case ever: Vanessa Olivier (working class Black girl) vs. The Status Quo.

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knew I'd have to work hard, specifically as a Black young woman from a working class family, to make it to and through law school. For many years I was the textbook example of who was "able, willing and worthy" of becoming an attorney. I went to the best college preparatory schools, excelled academically and had the confidence and savvy demeanor necessary to schmooze with people from all walks of life. Most importantly, I was a hustler.

I worked hard to earn extra income to support myself -- and even helped out my family when I could. By my mid-twenties I could see the light. I was in a dual degree program working on my law degree and a Masters in Education. My career and personal life were on a great track. I was happy, fulfilled and eager to earn the title "esquire." I didn't know another one would come first..."mommy."

During my third year of law school I found out that I was pregnant. Though the timing wasn't ideal, it was divine. My choice to become a mother was also pragmatic. I figured I could still finish up school and take the bar examination. Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy. Due to health conditions I was placed on bed rest -- which meant I could not attend class. Still, I didn't want pregnancy to deter my path, so I became my own advocate. I informed my professors about my condition and negotiated a new contract. I received tapes of lectures. Classmates visited me for group projects. Proctors even administered my exams at my home while I was in bed. I literally finished law school on my back.

After school I landed a job and began to prep for the bar exam. By this time, my son was born and I found it hard to leave him to study. Not so surprisingly, I didn't pass that bar. Undeterred, I immediately began prepping for the next licensing test, and a few months before the exam I found out that I was expecting another bundle of joy. Due to my high-risk pregnancy and the stress of taking the test (spending hours sitting up, lugging books around, etc.) the doctor suggested that I sit out of the exam. I followed her orders and took the test when my second son was a few months old. I failed it again. Sadly, this loss had dire consequences.

Since I wasn't barred I was demoted to a paralegal. That resulted in a pay cut, which meant bringing home less money when I had more mouths to feed. Did I mention I had another baby on the way? Baby number three and no post-degree certification was a recipe for disaster. After a lot of reflection, I set a new game plan. I took time off from work to focus on the test. I contacted other attorneys who were mothers and asked for tips. I enlisted my family and friends, telling them about my need to pass the bar, the amount of study time it required, and I shared my ultimate goals.

When I finally took and passed the bar I was ecstatic. I knew I could not have done it without my mate, family and friends -- and kicking mommy guilt to the curb. I had to be okay with sequestering myself in a library to study for 90% of my time. I didn't even come home the week before the exam; I spent all of my time preparing for the test.

Today I'm balancing being a mother, partner and my position as a prosecutor. I love my children and finding the time to spend with them is currently my biggest hurdle. I know I will only have their undivided attention for the next 3-4 years, and I want to capture every moment. In order to accomplish that goal I'm looking at opportunities that will make our schedules compatible. It's funny how your life can change. A few years ago all thought about was leaving home and starting my career as a prosecutor. Now that I'm a lawyer, and a mother, all I think about is getting back home. I guess that's because I no longer just dream for myself, I also have three little ones to live for.

For more "Balancing Act" stories, go to Essence.com.


next: Mariska Hargitay Adopts Baby Girl
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
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todd April 10, 2011, 1:49 AM

Bar review is what will help you finally pass the bar exam. Barbri and the others are in the past. The future is the new technology and using real questions during real conditions. If you do these things then you should have a good chance at passing and it doesn’t matter what school you went to. Bar Exam Doctor should help you get there. Google “Bar Exam Doctor” for more information.

Rosie May 21, 2011, 2:35 AM

Never seen a beettr post! ICOCBW

Kailan May 22, 2011, 10:00 AM

That’s way more clever than I was expecitng. Thanks!

Cheri June 15, 2011, 9:14 AM

OMG!!!! Vanessa Olivier, you are my twin and you inspire me…. I too am studying for the NY bar, work, and have 3 kids. I had all of my children while attending law school and walked across the stage of my graduation 9 months pregnant. I graduated in 2008 but I did not have the time to fully commit to studying. I took the bar in 2010, but now that I look back, I half-a** studied and failed. I am beginning to study again for the Feb. 2012 exam. Reading your story reminds me that if I am completely committed I WILL PASS… Also, it reminds me that I am not the only one that feels “mommy guilt” but I have to push that aside because when I pass, it will benefit my whole family (hubby and kids)…. Thank You SO MUCH for sharing.


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