Other highlights of our sit-down with Coughlin are highlighted below.
Tell us a little bit about your work before becoming a lawyer and how it’s played a role in your work now.
I grew up in a really small town, and my family always thought I’d be a doctor or a lawyer. I ended up getting a biochemistry degree and going to medical school in Louisville, but after a semester of med school I felt like I wasn’t going down the right path. I decided to take a leave of absence from medical school and start a masters degree program in social work. I always really loved working with children so while completing my masters, I did a practicum as a school counselor at a local school and served as an assistant director for their after school program. From there, I went to work at a local children’s hospital. While at the hospital, I worked on children’s literacy programming, and breastfeeding and parental advocacy programming, and that’s what I was doing up until I decided to go to law school. It’s all sort of come full circle because now through MothersEsquire, I work on a lot of the same issues like breastfeeding advocacy and parental continuance.
You recently published a children’s book, My Mom, the Lawyer. Tell us a little about it and what made you want to write it.
During my career at the law firm, I always made a point of making it home in time to read bedtime stories and that was always our routine, but I have always had a passion for children’s literacy and that really goes back to earlier in my career as a school counselor. I wrote the book to talk about moms who were lawyers in a positive way and in a way that young children could understand. I also wanted to convey lawyers in a way that they’re often not conveyed in the media—as problem solvers and community helpers. I think the book shows girls that you can be a lawyer and a mom, and (even for little boys) it shows different ways to be a lawyer—almost like a career guide for young children. It was also really important to me that we address some of the stereotypes within the law within the book, so we made a point of showing men in caregiving roles and found ways to ensure that all moms or kids (regardless of age, race, ethnicity) could see themselves in the book.
Is there anything that you’re currently working on that you’d like readers to keep on their radar?
We are trying to advance and encourage court systems in all jurisdictions to adopt a new parental continuance rule. It’s a gender neutral rule which says that in the event that a person, mother, father, adoptive parent etc. submits a request for a continuance in a court case, the presumption is that the request would be granted. Right now the rules are discretionary, and so women are sometimes pulled off of cases because they are going on maternity leave, and requests from dads are oftentimes met with disdain. It’s especially harmful to women and solo practitioners because they end up having to make decisions about giving away cases and income that they’ve spent time on and have built client relationships off of.
What would you say is the most important thing for advancing equity in the legal profession?
The analogy I like to use is- don’t tell me how to repel the brick wall in front of me, tell me which brick you are going to kick out of it. Because the truth is I can lean in and lean and lean all day long, but if I’m leaning into a brick wall, I’m not getting anywhere. The most important thing to me in terms of advancing gender equity in the legal profession is shifting the narrative away from providing programming to women and mom lawyers (and lawyers of color and really all lawyers that are typically left out of traditional power dynamics) that tells them how to adapt to the existing system, and instead begin to focusing on and speaking about how the system needs structural change.