As a mom to two young children, Jodie Slater Hastings dreaded the part of her day — particularly after her second maternity leave — when she left for work in the morning to a sobbing toddler who didn’t understand where she disappeared to.
“Being a lawyer is hard enough, and really hard when your 3-year-old says ‘Please don’t go to work. Please don’t leave me,’” says Hastings, a commercial litigator-turned-entrepreneur who today has a six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. “When you stay home for three months… they can’t understand why you’re going to leave them.”
As hard as that daily heartache was for the working mother, it inspired an idea for Hastings: a children’s book that would help her daughter understand and appreciate what her mom does as a lawyer and what she had to do to enter that career.
“For lawyers, it is a privilege to practice law,” Hastings told The Texas Lawbook. “Not just anyone gets to do that job. Why not instill in our kids some notion that this is a privilege so they don’t react to you leaving for the office with disdain or sadness?”
Instead, “They can look at you and feel some sense of pride and feel that you have a special place in this world that you get to do this job.”
Hastings launched My Mommy Is a Lawyer earlier this year and designed it as an interactive storybook that serves as one part fable and part game that children of female lawyers can play on electronic devices to learn the story of a mother’s long journey to becoming a lawyer.
In addition to serving as a constructive use of a child’s time while on digital devices, Hastings said she hopes My Mommy is a Lawyer will help young children better understand and embrace the two-parent working structure of the modern household.
“We need to widen the focus — it’s not just the dads who should be sent off and received each day by their families to do hard work,” she said. “Let’s be honest: mothers run a marathon before 8 a.m., and they deserve recognition. Mothers deserve to have their children view their departures from the home with a reverence our society only reserved for dads not so long ago.”
A Fortuitous Jury Service
Hastings had no qualms with writing the material for My Mommy is a Lawyer; the primary obstacle she faced was navigating the publishing process.
But two years ago, Hastings got lucky when she received notice to report to jury duty for an auto accident trial. To no one’s surprise, Hastings did not get selected to serve. But against all odds, she was seated next to someone during voir dire who would help bring Hastings’ book idea to fruition. His name was Joshua Wilson, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington who taught game design and app development.
Hastings gave Wilson a call after jury duty and told him about her idea. He agreed to work with her and enlisted three of his students to help create an app that would put the storybook out to the rest of the world.
Today, users can download My Mommy is a Lawyer in the Apple Store, Google Play and the Amazon Appstore.
Tailored to children ages six to eight with lawyer moms, the app takes young tablet users back in time through the steps the character’s mom took to become a lawyer — from law school and graduation to studying for the multiple-day bar exam. A friendly owl explains the many kinds of lawyers that are out there and also takes users to a law office where the main character learns how their mom earns a client’s trust every day.
The cartoon-like interface encourages young players to scour the entirety of each scene’s environment where they will have the chance to decorate mom’s law license, fetch the pin number so mom can log into her 2 p.m. conference call and — because it’s also a game — find hidden bunnies to earn golden carrots. The more carrots you snag, the more points you have to unlock different avatars.
“I think children are quite curious about their mother’s days,” she said. “Our children want to know what we do and where we are all day. While we may know that the days a lawyer spends can be mundane or taxing, the truth is, in the eyes of our children, it’s mystical.”
As she learned during the app developing process, Hastings’ book also presents the opportunity for adults to learn about the process of becoming a lawyer.
“I asked the developer what he learned and he did not know that the bar exam was three days,” Hastings said. “I don’t even think the general public realizes [what all goes into becoming a lawyer]. We’re a little mysterious and in our own silo.”
The project turned out to be a family activity. The voice of the owl is Hastings’ husband, Locke Lord appellate partner Scott Hastings, and the little girl is her daughter’s voice.
Although the challenge of transitioning out of maternity leave helped launch Hastings’ idea, she said she first came up with the book when her firstborn was nine months old and she looked for a children’s book that explained what moms in the legal profession do. There were none, but there were “about 700,000 about mailmen.”
“All the kids’ books are about farmers, about tractors, about wonderful community helpers that we do need to applaud … but we need one for lawyers too,” she said.
Hastings said she hopes to expand her creation to storybooks about other professions such as accounting, architecture and consulting.
My Mommy Is a Lawyer is not Hastings’ first entrepreneurial endeavor. At the end of last year, she left her legal career at Standly Hamilton to open The Slate, a female-focused co-working space in Dallas, with her sister Shelly Slater, a former news anchor with WFAA in Dallas.
Hastings serves as The Slate’s chief operating officer and general counsel, a role that she says has allowed her to utilize her legal degree “probably to its optimal level.”