Craving flexibility, associates find parental leave policies lacking

Matias Lozo, 9, listens to a virtual class as his mother Isabel helps her daughter Ines, 6, on her class, taught by the children's private school, as millions of students returned to classes virtually on Monday after schools were ordered into lockdown in March, due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Mexico City, Mexico August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
  • Parental leave policies can be a big factor for lawyers on the job hunt.
  • A new survey finds many lawyers believe taking parental leave affected their careers.
  • There are policies and cultural steps firms can take to prevent that – but many aren't.

(Reuters) - More than 40% of lawyers surveyed by legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa said parental leave policies play a significant role in their choice of law firm jobs, according to a report released Tuesday, but many firms still aren't doing enough to accommodate parents.

Over 20% of respondents scored their current firm a 4 out of 10 or lower for how it has supported parents during the coronavirus pandemic, when schools and offices shuttered and forced lawyers to juggle their remote work with their children's remote learning.

One in five respondents said taking parental leave at some point in their career affected their access to quality work. Thirty-five percent said it had an impact on their opportunities for advancement.

Since the pandemic hit, firms including Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe have let lawyers work more flexible hours to accommodate increased family responsibilities. MLA found 23% of respondents' firms offer flexible or part-time working arrangements and 18% offer ramp-up or ramp-down periods to help parents transition to and from leave.

But having such formal policies in place may not be enough.

"As much as policy is helpful, I think that the shift that needs to happen is primarily cultural and largely needs to come from the top," said the report's co-author and MLA associate group managing director Kate Reder Sheikh. Partners who never took leave and weren't primary caregivers often don't respond appropriately to associates who are parents and who expect to take leave, she said.

Most of the 154 respondents were women and most were the primary caregivers in their families. Most were associates, most were white and most were in their 30s.

The survey was conducted during the pandemic but it covered family leave policies – like taking time to care for a newborn child – that have long affected parent's careers.

For maternity leave, nearly half of respondents said that their firm offers between 14 and 20 weeks including disability. Eight percent reported their firm offers no maternity leave.

Fathers overall got less time for leave. Nearly one-third of respondents said their firm offers men between one to six weeks; 25% said their firm offers seven to 13 weeks and 26% said 14 to 20 weeks. Fathers got zero weeks at 14% of respondents' firms.

The vast majority of respondents said their firm's parental leave policy was the primary consideration in their decision of how much time to take leave. About half of respondents said that their firm offered a gender-neutral parental leave policy.

"The trend is towards gender neutral. Most of the Bay Area based firms ... are moving in that direction and that tends to be where the trends on these kinds of policies start," Sheikh said. "That feels very necessary for millennial and post-millennial associates – the expectation of dads being able to be there."

That change is important for LGBTQ parents, too, Sheikh said.

MLA found 27% of firms provide assistance for adoption and 12% provide assistance for surrogacy. Twelve percent provide assistance for egg freezing – "pretty far behind tech companies in this regard," Sheikh said.


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Caroline Spiezio covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firms and in-house counsel. She is based in New York. Reach her at