Law Firms Make Parental Leave Trendy for Men and Families, Survey Finds

Law firms do not offer paid parental leave for men and non-traditional families, according to a survey by legal research firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Only 23% of large companies offer 14 to 20 weeks of paid paternity leave, against 43% who offer the same time for maternity leave, according to the survey, highlighting the gap in expectations between young associates and the older layer of partners and leaders. .

“There is a lot of pressure around gender parity, but while some companies are announcing gender-neutral policies, others are silent,” said Summer Eberhard, managing director of MLA’s associate practice group and co- survey author, in an interview.

The issue of discriminatory paternal leave has simmered with a new generation of law firm partners. It gained attention in 2019 with a lawsuit brought by two former married partners of Jones Day, both of whom had served as Supreme Court lawyers and worked in the firm’s elite Washington appeals cabinet. The case could go to trial next year.

According to the survey, 43% of companies covered by Am Law 100 offer between 14 and 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. As a rule, eight weeks of this leave are reserved for parents with children.

“It’s important for companies to pay attention to gender-neutral policies to retain and support their top talent,” Eberhard said.

Even when paid parental leave is offered to both parents, the use of the benefit can have drawbacks, according to the survey.

About a third of survey respondents said their partnership prospects were negatively affected after parental leave, and 16% said their access to more difficult work was affected after taking such leave. Only half said they were offered flexible or part-time work arrangements when they returned from parental leave.

Refusal to work at a higher level, creative credit and partnership – all of which are pay factors – may result from not being visible enough to partners, according to American Bar study May 3 association on the reasons why women leave their law firms. Women partners are hired on an equal basis with men, but they only represent around 24% of law firm partners. This percentage has remained stable in recent years.

In Jones Day, plaintiffs claimed that the company’s family leave policy, which provides mothers with an additional eight weeks of paid disability leave, whether or not their physical condition requires it, discriminates under of federal law.

Julia Sheketoff left the company and her husband, Mark Savignac, was fired in 2019 after complaining about unfair leave.

Jones Day argued that Savignac’s assertion that he was entitled to the same leave as his wife was “legally indefensible”.

Earlier this year, a federal judge allowed the couple to add retaliatory demands, stemming from the cabinet’s public comments on their legal efforts, to their case.

Some companies are working to fill the gaps in parental leave. Among them is Kramer Levin, who announced in early 2020 that his 12-week parental leave policy would apply to new parents, whether it’s a birth, adoption or placement in host family. This is in addition to paid disability.

In March, Akin Gump, Hauer & Strauss improved their adoption benefits and included surrogacy benefits for their U.S. staff. The company also announced a new program with a fertility benefit management company to help families with infertility treatment, adoption and / or surrogacy.

Those who responded to the MP survey, conducted last fall, were largely in their early 30s – the prime parenting moment for many lawyers.

Overall, 22% of respondents said their business offers adoption support, and 9% said their business offers benefits for surrogacy and egg freezing.

Respondents, which included more than 150 partners, associates and lawyers, at a number of AmLaw 100 firms, said law firm management plays the most important role in leave policies.

“There’s parental leave on the books, but how many people actually take it?” said Kate Reder Sheikh, executive director of the MLA Associate Practice Group and another co-author of the study. “It may be that many partners were not directly involved in the early stages of their children and do not encourage such leave.”

The prospect of losing annual bonuses can also affect such decisions, Eberhard said. “Dads will be reluctant to take time off if they think it will affect their bonus.”

Even though flexible work schedules are an increasingly visible factor in attracting and retaining talented lawyers, 19% of MLA survey respondents said their company’s parental leave policies had not been updated. since a year.

“It’s a moderate benefit, but parental leave has a very direct effect on how people view their business. It is a driving force for the associates, ”said Sheikh. “And there is still significant progress to be made.”


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Bernice Dyer

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