YOUR LEGAL WRITES: Making room for the junior partner
Kathryn E. Brown May. 1, 2008, 3:00am
Last spring, the Boston Globe printed an in-depth story about female lawyers leaving the legal profession at an astonishing rate.
The exodus was serious enough to be called a crisis for law firms because of the public relations problems that grew out of it. The report, "Women Lawyers and Obstacles to Leadership", developed by the MIT Workplace Center along with local bar associations, highlighted that 35 percent of female lawyers with children gave up their practices completely because of the many demands placed on them by firm management.
According to the study, pressures to bill exorbitant numbers of hours, rigid schedules, and a lack of empathy for the need to balance work and family topped the list of frustrations felt by female lawyers. Has the law firm baby boom really resulted in a career bust for working mothers? Is it realistically possible to add pregnancies to the partnership track? According to blog postings from lawyers across the country, the debate of whether or not a woman can have it all is as exhausting as a midnight feeding.
"Which job is more important? Being a lawyer or being a mother?" asked one writer. "Why do women have to choose?" questioned another. "There is no shame in working for money and stability!" someone shot back. "This entire argument is poppycock! There are laws to protect us, my fellow attorneys! Didn't you learn that?" typed another.
Working Mother weighed in on the debate, launching a list of the best firms for women seeking motherhood and flexible employment opportunities. Referred to as the magazine's salute to "groundbreaking programs" that help women strike better workplace and home life harmony, editors applauded a noteworthy group of firms that offered penalty-free careers. DLA-Piper, Porter and Arnold, Holland & Knight, Hunton and Williams, and McGuire-Woods, among others, were showcased by Working Mother Media, Inc.
In particular, Mintz Levin, an AmLaw 100 firm with offices in the US and UK, seems to have become an old pro when it comes to motherhood. The firm was selected due to its continued encouragement of women lawyers and the innovative policies and benefits that demonstrated appreciation for life outside the firm. This special interest may be the reason why a well-known legal publication recognized Mintz Levin as a firm exceeding the national average of female partners.
In a prepared statement reacting to her firm's honors, Cherie Kiser, managing partner of the Washington, D.C. office (and member of the firm's policy committee, chairwoman of the diversity committee, chairwoman of the communications practice group, and mother of two children) said:
"Long before work-life issues made headlines, Mintz Levin appreciated the unique challenges facing professional women and the need to help people blend their lives. The firm has consistently led the way in its commitment to recruiting, retaining, and advancing women attorneys and set a standard for policies and benefits aimed at supporting working parents and diversity generally."
According to firm reports, Mintz Levin was among the first firms in the United States to introduce part-time and other flexible work arrangements designed to help all lawyers, regardless of gender, manage personal and family responsibilities. As an added perk, the law firm offers backup childcare and extended leaves of absence for parents, which includes non-birth mothers, spousal equivalents, and domestic partners.
Despite the growing popularity of lifestyle firms that place as much emphasis on lawyers' happiness as client satisfaction, some governing bodies are still very reluctant to soften their edges to allow more personal freedoms for highly billable attorneys.
Supporters of flexible law practices would argue that those firms are simply throwing out the baby with the bath water.
Brown is the managing member of The Write Word LLC, a writing and editing agency, and a publicist for a major West Virginia law firm. She is also the mother of two young daughters.