It's 5:30 p.m., "face time" at law firms across Philadelphia.

Partners spend time reviewing cases with associates, and associates stick around to tally more billable hours or cultivate future clients through drinks or dinners.

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For attorney Laura Mattiacci, 34, that hour provides an entirely different scenario. She's on her way out the door to start the infamous "second shift," the one that involves home and motherhood. That means rushing to pick up 21/2-year-old Jack from day care, relieving the babysitter who watches 4-month-old Mason, and preparing dinner. Her husband, John, also a lawyer, juggles responsibilities with Laura, but also has extreme demands on his time.

"I'm like so many other lawyers who are mothers, trying to fit into a culture that may be entrenched with Philadelphia lawyers," Mattiacci said, "but that collides directly with our needs and schedules."

It's a scenario that prompted her to help create Philly-MAMA (Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association) in 2009 as a way to share these concerns, gather ideas, and perhaps ultimately change the city's legal culture. Two years later, membership has hit 75, one indication that the legal profession is still not in harmony with the women's lives as mothers-in-the-law.

While there are no specific statistics about lawyers who are mothers, the general findings of a 2010 survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers suggested that women in large law firms don't do as well as men economically, and they are in the minority in the upper echelons of firm management and leadership.

Also, while they represented 47.2 percent of law school students, they are only 31 percent of American lawyers, according to the American Bar Association's Commission on Women.

Yes, the home-work conflict exists for mothers (and fathers) in many careers, but law firms are particularly tough when it comes to advancement for women. That's likely why MAMA chapters exist in Austin, San Diego, Honolulu, Washington, D.C., and the founding city, Seattle. It was there that attorney Rachel Black began the group, currently with more than 550 members, in 2006 after she was forced to finish a big trial in her last month of pregnancy, give birth, and then try to make partner in her firm.

"Fifty women showed up at our first public meeting," said Black, "and more and more kept coming. This organization has really tapped into some urgent issues."

Chapters are being developed in 25 additional cities, including Hartford, Conn.; Providence, R.I.; Orlando; Cleveland; and St. Louis.

Lawyer-mothers share universal concerns.

"After my first child was born, and I prepared to go back to work, I felt so lost," recalled Mattiacci, a graduate of Temple University's Beasley School of Law who is now a partner in the Console Law Offices, with offices in Philadelphia and Moorestown.

Even as she struggled with the anxiety and guilt many working mothers feel about leaving their babies, she also recognized that some issues facing lawyer mothers were unique. "There's the constant stress of trials, the uncertainty of schedules, and a long tradition of being at the office full time-plus, well into the evening. That may work for single women, even married women, but it doesn't work for mothers."

For Erin Gill, 34, a mother of three sons, 5, 4, and 2; wife of a lawyer; avid runner; and cofounder of the local MAMA group, the very nature of law has been challenging.

"You're on the clock constantly, which creates a kind of pressure all its own," said Gill, referring to billable hours - the longtime cornerstone of law-firm billing policy. "You have to worry about how you spend every minute. Before kids, that wasn't so stressful. After kids, it really is."

In many firms, 60-hour workweeks are not unusual, and leaving the office at 5:15 to pick up a child from day care is viewed as taking hours away from the client - leading to what one mother called "internal guilt and external pressure."

Nearly every woman in MAMA logs in nightly after getting the kids to bed, and one of the group's goals is to convince law firms' governing committees that work at home after 9 p.m. is just as valuable as work at one's desk at 5 p.m.

"I walk into each Philly-MAMA meeting carrying a load of personal and professional stress," said Gill, who had her first child before she started law school. "But because of what happens here, I walk out empowered and hopeful, ready to face the world."

Talk at a recent MAMA meeting focused on transitioning into law jobs other than in firms, including being in-house counsel or law professors, and finding strategies to make partner while maintaining sanity as a mother.

Katie Lavelle, 33, ended the stranglehold of what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story in 1829 called the "jealous mistress" of law when she left a firm and became a staff attorney for the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The Philadelphian, mother of a 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, now has regular hours and far less mommy/lawyer stress.

"The bargain I struck . . . is that my personal life and work life are very separate. But what I gave up is the opportunity to make a healthy salary. I carry the same law school debt as most other lawyers - about $120,000 plus," says Lavelle. "But I love my job because it lets me be a mom first and a lawyer second."

Like so many of the other women at the MAMA meeting, Andrea Kirshenbaum, 36, an employment attorney at Duane Morris and a mother of three, may be in her office 10 hours a day, but her job often follows her home. She'd love a more steady and predictable workload, but knows that's not always the nature of law.

"There are unexpected urgencies - client emergencies, new cases that come in the door, the need to seek a restraining order from the court," says Kirshenbaum.

Tanishka Cruz, 29, a third-year student at Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law, learned that she was pregnant just as she received her law school acceptance. She arranged to defer her first year, but joined the fray when her son was only 9 months old.

Cruz was devastated when an older female lawyer at a summer placement job fair advised her to make no references to her child in talking with prospective employers. "I left crying - I thought 'I can't do this. I can't be a mother and a lawyer.' "

When she learned about Philly-MAMA, she began attending meetings for moral support. And she got it.

"I hear their stories and I tell myself that 'yes, I can do this.' "

For more information about Philly-MAMA, visit www.PhillyMAMA.org or call 215-545-7676.