Values

Alumni Chats: Lori Mihalich-Levin: A Mindful Return to Work for New Parents

“I get the question all the time of ‘what if I don’t get to do the one deal that will make or break my career because it happened while I was on parental leave?’ My response is that your career and the world have an infinite number of amazing opportunities that will come your way, and you need to choose what’s right for you at a particular moment.”

Returning to work after having a baby can be a difficult transition, particularly for attorneys. Lori Mihalich-Levin, a former V&E associate, knows this firsthand—and she wants to help others in their journey.

In 2014, Mihalich-Levin founded Mindful Return, a four-week online program that helps shepherd parents through the transition back to work after parental leave. More than 80 employers, including V&E, currently offer Mindful Return courses to their employees as a benefit.

In addition to providing online courses on such topics as managing the logistics of the return to work, Mindful Return helps build communities of working parents. After completing the course, alumni can connect with one another through monthly calls and private Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

Mihalich-Levin wears many hats. In addition to being the CEO of Mindful Return, she’s a health care lawyer and has her own boutique law firm, The GME Group, PLLC. She is also the author of the book Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.

V&E recently caught up with Mihalich-Levin to learn more about Mindful Return, the impact her V&E years have had on her career path, and the advice she gives to young lawyers.

What sparked the idea for Mindful Return?

Sheer desperation sparked my interest in creating Mindful Return. I went back to work full-time as a health care lawyer after having my two babies (who are now 8 and 10) and it was challenging, so I looked around for resources that would help me in the transition to working parenthood.

I could find plenty of resources that helped my baby—and that’s great! But I didn’t find anything that would help me navigate the personal and professional identity transition that happens when you become a working parent, so I set out to create what I wished had existed for myself.

V&E offers Mindful Return classes to all attorneys and staff. What are the benefits to employers looking to offer Mindful Return?

First and foremost, you are signaling to your employees that you care about their return from leave, you value them as individuals, and you want to help them come back and hit the ground running. This leads to better retention. We ran some data last year on about 1,000 parents who had been through Mindful Return. We found that the retention statistics were massively better than the national average. Nationally, about 66% of new moms go back after leave. Of the 1,000 people we studied who had taken the Mindful Return program over a 5-year period, 85% of those employees were still with their employer, and 93% were still in the workforce.

What are your ambitions for Mindful Return? How big do you want the program to get?

I think all working parents should have access to a program that supports them through their transition back to work after parental leave.

Lately, Mindful Return has taken on a bit of a global reach: We now work with employers in both the UK and India, in addition to the US. We’re also launching a Spanish-language version of Mindful Return in early 2022.

Do you have one piece of advice that you would give any new parent?

Yes: Don’t beat yourself up if you’re at work and you miss a baby-related milestone. Your baby could do something for the first time in the crib in the middle of the night, or in front of grandma, or while you’re brushing your teeth and your back is turned. You will be just as excited about that first when you actually see it.

Also, as a society, we need to be valuing caregiving by both men and women alike, so if there’s a piece of advice I can give to the new dads, it’s to take the parental leave that is offered to you. The more we can do to normalize and destigmatize taking parental leave for both moms and dads, the more equal our workplaces will wind up being.

Any tips for making the remote work environment a success?

My mantra is: “find your people, keep finding them, and keep connecting to them.” Set up a lunch or a coffee with another parent who’s at your firm for that first week you’re back, so you can make sure that you’re connecting with people who are going to understand what you are going through.

That doesn’t change in a remote environment. I’m counseling new parents right now to reach out and find out who they can have the virtual coffee date with to really remember that those personal connections are what make our careers. I’ve done some amazing in-person outdoor socially distanced masked walks with colleagues to reconnect.

You wear many hats. How do you balance it all?

First and foremost, I hate the word “balance.” I don’t really think that word sets anybody up for success. It’s more of an integration than a balancing act. My own life looks like a gigantic patchwork quilt.

I also don’t use the word “busy.” I banned it from my vocabulary seven or eight years ago. I’m very strategic and intentional about my priorities and my time, and I truly believe that making sure that I prioritize my own health—getting seven hours of sleep a night, getting three hours of alone time every Saturday—is probably critical to my ability to do all of this.

Who was your mentor at V&E and in what way did your relationship with your mentor help you in advancing your career?

I had amazing mentors while I was there. My No. 1 mentor was the head of the health care practice. His name is Dennis Barry, and he’s since retired. He made all the difference for me and my career because he took an interest in developing my legal skills.

I remember he would sit me down in front of his gigantic whiteboard and explain things in excruciating detail. Perhaps most revolutionary for me, when I wanted to go to a policy role and to leave law firm life, he was the one to help me take that step.

What message would you give to young lawyers working at V&E?

I get the question all the time of “what if I don’t get to do the one deal that will make or break my career because it happened while I was on parental leave?” My response is that your career and the world have an infinite number of amazing opportunities that will come your way, and you need to choose what’s right for you at a particular moment.

It doesn’t mean another equally amazing opportunity isn’t going to come around the bend next month. It’s okay if you’ve chosen your family as the priority for today. Tomorrow, you can choose the deal as your priority.

I always considered myself to be a risk-averse lawyer who couldn’t possibly be an entrepreneur. But that was simply a story I was telling myself that just wasn’t true. I encourage people to be open to the idea that they may have skillsets that they haven’t discovered yet.