Real Gals is a series in collaboration with the nonprofit GlamourGals (GG). GlamourGals encourages high school and college students to volunteer with the elderly in senior homes across the United States, creating a unique bond between two generations of women.
Since GlamourGals empowers women of all ages, Real Gals focuses on women of all ages, as well, and the careers and passions that make them who they are. Some are seniors served by GlamourGals, some are advisory board members for the nonprofit, all have the most wonderful adventures and advice to share.
For part seven, meet Amanda Bassen. She's a criminal defense lawyer at Duane Morris LLP who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Bart Clareman, and her 4-month-old daughter, Ava. (Amanda's also an advisory board member for GlamourGals.) Here, she talks maternity leave, finding a job that's the right fit, and what it's like being a new mom.
On being a new mom "Life with Ava is amazing. She's playful and joyful, and her giggle is my favorite sound. We can tell already that she is also very headstrong! There is nothing better than waking up every morning to her smile. We go to weekly mommy and baby exercise classes, which are a lot of fun. Ava even rolled over (very unexpectedly!) at a baby yoga class. Watching her develop in these short months has been incredible. My life has changed, no doubt. I have learned that I need to be flexible and patient—it's nearly impossible to stick to a strict schedule with an infant."
On having to prove herself as a female lawyer "In criminal law in particular, the criminal bar is very male-dominated, so you do have to constantly assert yourself. When I was in law school, I applied to a criminal appeals clinic. I was still a student, so that’s where you get assigned cases and you do work on real cases with very close supervision. I remember my interview for the clinic, and the professor asking me about some of my other interests. I told him about my interest in the elderly and trying to help improve the quality of care and he looked at me so skeptically and was like, 'Are you sure you’re cut out for this kind of work?' I was like, 'Yep, pretty sure I can have multiple interests.' I didn’t get on that clinic, he didn't accept me. I got on the criminal defense clinic later the following year. I remember thinking that was why, you know? That I was a woman; I expressed I guess what he considered a softer interest, and he thought I couldn’t cut it. I remember feeling so disappointed and like that was so unfair. You can have multiple interests and that doesn’t make you weak or not cut out to handle something. It has nothing to do with your ability to handle tough cases."
On taking maternity leave from her firm "I'm very lucky the timing of it all worked out, because I was at a very small firm before. I found out I was pregnant the day after I got this job offer, where I am now. I don’t think I would have been able to take any paid maternity leave at my old job. I guess I would have just quit, I don’t know what I would have done. The two should not have to be mutually exclusive: working and being a parent. I knew [having a baby] would be a step in the next couple of years—I didn’t think it would happen immediately like it did—so I was looking at firms that had good policies, and Duane Morris has a really good policy for maternity leave, they give you four months paid leave. You get two to recover and the other two are as a primary caregiver, so it’s more modernly structured. It doesn’t have to be a woman, it could be if two men are having a kid, or two women, or if you’re adopting. From talking to other parents there, they said it’s a diamond in a rough in terms of big law firms where you can work and be a parent and be successful at both. My husband has his own company, so he took a month off. I’m very lucky in that regard, but it’s so important, and it’s really horrible when women are forced to pick between their career and their child and financial considerations, too. It can be really tough."
On her wedding day "Bart and I were married at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown, New York, on July 4, 2015. It probably sounds cliché, but the wedding really was perfect. It rained all morning and then just before the ceremony, the sun came out. It actually shined through the clouds during the remembrance portion of the ceremony. It was such a special day! The planning was fun, but hectic. I did it myself with a lot of help from my parents, stepmother, and in-laws. I was working on a five-month-long trial at the time, so it was a busy period. My dress is from Amsale. I can't say enough good things about working with that company."
On her favorite spots in NYC "I love strolling around Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill [in Brooklyn] with Ava. There are so many families and local stores, not to mention a weekly farmers market. For peace and quiet, which I don't get too much of these days, I find my bedroom extremely relaxing. I love to curl up in bed with a good book. Our bedroom design makes it feel a bit like a ski lodge—it's very cozy!"
On being picky about where you work "I started working in bankruptcy law because the market was really bad and that was what was available at the time. And it just wasn’t the right fit. Follow what you’re passionate about and don't be afraid to make changes. Work hard for what you want. I remember people telling me that I wouldn’t be able to make money and be a criminal lawyer, people said, 'You’ll never be able to support yourself, you’ll never be able to make money,' and it’s just not true. If you do what you believe in and you’re passionate about, you’ll be good at it and the rest will come. When I was slogging away in an area that I didn’t care about at all, I wasn’t very good at it. That’s my main advice, to not be afraid to follow your dream and not let other people dissuade you."
Thank you so much, Amanda, for sharing your amazing advice, thoughts on maternity leave, and what life is like with sweet Ava!
Photographs provided by Amanda.