THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 73: Kendra Basner Mallen, Attorney

Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious—and maybe a little obsessed—about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”

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No. 73: Kendra Basner Mallen, Attorney

Age: 37
Where I live:
 San Francisco Bay area
Job: Attorney, Litigator
Kids: A daughter, Brey, 5, and a son, Kade, 3

584Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
I continue to work for the same law firm I did before children. After my daughter was born, I went to 60% part-time, although I quickly realized that a part-time schedule is not possible for a litigator. No matter how understanding my superiors, co-workers, and even my clients may be, the courts do not take my schedule into account. Court deadlines are firm, no matter what may be going on in my life.  After billing well over 100% time for more than a year, and during a big trial requiring weekly travel to Los Angeles, I changed to 80%, so I could maintain at least a little flexibility.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
It depends on how “it all” is defined, which I believe is personal and, thus, differs for everyone. To me the expression “having it all” connotes materiality—possession. The definition promoted by society typically centers on the “having” and shows life through rose-colored glasses, portraying mythical perfection, which is ultimately a disservice to each of us. “Having” something does not equal fulfillment. I “have” an amazing husband, two healthy, spunky children and a promising legal career, but rarely, if ever, do I feel like I’m 100% a good wife, 100% a good mother, and 100% a good lawyer, 100% of the time. “Having” whatever one personally defines as “it” may coexist “all” at the same time, but each component of “it” must be compromised to varying degrees when focus is placed on another component for any period of time. I make daily sacrifices to the other parts of my “it all” depending on which part I am focused on at that moment.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
The “ME” part! My priorities are family and work, in that order. This does not leave much time for “me.” Often times “me” is not only ignored, but flat out neglected and abused. There are only 24-hours in a day. The very first part of my “it all” that I compromise and sacrifice to maximize maintaining focus on any of the other parts is “me,” whether it be sleeping, exercising, eating well, etc. The part of my “it all” that takes a close second is my marriage. My husband has a very demanding job as well, so neither of us is doing well in this department. He further sacrifices his own well-being too. Thankfully, we operate well as a team and work together to find ways to juggle “it all” each day. Putting the kids and our jobs above all else may not be healthy or getting us any closer to attaining true “balance,” but at least we are on the same page, right? Something we need to work on!

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I’m not sure I’m getting better at any of it. It’s a daily tug-o’-war. Some days are better than others. Overall, I don’t think I’m improving, just periodically adjusting and surviving. However, I believe, or at least hope, this is all a part of the process. Constant tweaking, trying new things to determine what is the best fit for me and my family. My kids are still young, so maybe by the time they’re in college I’ll have this whole “balance” thing figured out.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
The one piece of advice I have received from various sources, in particular my mother and my mother-in-law, is that it is okay to ask for help. As a Type A control freak this is very difficult for me. I get it, and often repeat this to my busy friends and colleagues, but, for some reason, I have trouble making it a reality in my own life. I don’t want someone else “raising” my children or even spending more time with them than I do. Of course, that is an extreme. Until recently, I was under the impression that my mom did “it all” with little, to no, help. I have always reasoned that if she did it, I can do it. Recently, I mentioned this to her and she informed me that I was flat out wrong. This not only gave me some sort of permission I didn’t realize I was searching for, but it also opened my eyes to see things from a child’s perspective. I can’t recall all the babysitters, missed birthday parties, or being picked up late (okay, I may remember that happening once or twice). I remember my mom being there for all the moments I hold dear. I remember her doing “it all” and doing “it all” well, at least from my perspective. She is a strong, resilient woman, who set an amazing example for my brother and me. If I’m lucky, when my kids look back on their childhood, they won’t focus on the fact that I didn’t volunteer at their school as much as the other moms, or that they were constant fixtures in before- and after-school care, but rather they will similarly remember that I was there for them, period. I only hope I manage to set the same example for my children that my mother set for me.

If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
Ideally, I’d like to say “exercise” or “sleep,” but the reality is the list is endless, my to-do list that is. I would cross off as many things on my to-do list as possible within that hour, which, without kids in tow, could be very productive. I get a little giddy just thinking about it.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
Litigation is not exactly a family-friendly career choice.

What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
That I made the right choices for my family and myself.

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Exercise and sleep, assuming, of course, I could reap all the benefits.

Whose job do you wish you had?
A gratifying, low-stress, 9-5, where I could leave work behind at the end of the day. Does that job exist?

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Any job requiring lots of travel away from my family; and, a waitress, I’m a terrible waitress.

Favorite books?
Anything by Shel SilversteinTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. Also, dramas and murder mysteries, particularly if told from the perspective of a woman, like books by Gillian Flynn.

What are you reading right now?
You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz; but I should clarify, I don’t “read” for pleasure because I read (legal briefs and cases) all day long. Instead, I listen to audiobooks during my commute.

Biggest vices…
Activity? 
T.V. After a long day of reading and writing legalese while staring at a computer screen all day long, T.V. is the easiest way for me to unwind. Documentaries, train wreck reality shows, and the hot dramas, like Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, and Girls, are my shows of choice. 
Food?
 Raw batter and cheese.
Website? Etsy, Joss & Main… I don’t have time to go into a store to shop and I love unique finds.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
Six if I’m lucky, but usually about four hours. To maximize my time with the kids on the evenings and weekends, I use the time after my kids go to bed to work or get other things done on my to-do list.

What do you read every morning?
I am in charge of my practice group’s social media accounts, so I scan legal journals, websites, court cases, etc. for recent developments in the area of legal malpractice, legal ethics, and risk management in order to prepare and post daily content to each of our social media outlets.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: need a vacation.
I wish I: could go on vacation.
My kids: are my everything.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
I am constantly reminding myself not to judge or compare myself to others. Each woman defines “having it all” differently and must individually decide what “balance” works best for her and her family. What one woman is willing to sacrifice may not work or be possible for someone else.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I am very lucky to have some kick-ass role models in my law firm—amazing mothers who have weathered the storm and have not only had great success as litigators, but their kids have turned out pretty awesome, too. I also have an incredible group of fabulous girlfriends who make balancing a career and kids look easy, but they aren’t too cool to admit their seemingly invisible shortcomings or commiserate with me. Women need to be supportive of one another and raise each other up.  It’s okay to let another woman behind the curtain. Nobody’s perfect, and, chances are, you likely have a lot more in common than you think.

PastedGraphic-2PastedGraphic-2 Kendra Mallen & kidsAbout Kendra:
Kendra grew up in the suburb of West Chester outside of Philadelphia, PA. She attended Duke University on an athletic scholarship for women’s lacrosse. Seeking to continue to fulfill her competitive nature, Kendra began her legal career as a prosecutor in the criminal and fraud units of the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, but eventually made a move to San Francisco, where, for the past nine years, her litigation practice has focused on professional malpractice, specifically legal malpractice, legal ethics, and risk management for the international law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.  In 2014, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP was named Best Lawyers’ Law Firm of the Year in Ethics and Professional Responsibility Law by U.S. News & World Report. She also heads up all social media for Lawyers for the Profession®. Kendra has two blond-haired, blue-eyed children, a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son, neither of which looks like her. When she is not fighting off questions about her maternity, she enjoys photography; gardening; frequenting antique stores, consignment shops and garage sales; and weekends away with her family in Napa. She also strives to squeeze in a workout a couple of times a month!

Find more about Kendra here:
www.lawyersfortheprofession.com and www.hinshawlaw.com
Twitter: @lawyersforprof
Facebook: Lawyers for the Profession

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