Because it's still hard for women lawyers to be a success in the courtroom and at the conference table and also rear children, Houston lawyer Rachel Smith started a Houston networking and support group for women lawyers with children.
Smith, a partner in Baker & Hostetler in Houston, says in 2011 she decided she needed to do something because she couldn't shed her workaholic ways -- even after she fell asleep behind the wheel while driving home from her firm in the wee hours of the morning three years ago.
"A lot of the women I've grown up with in the profession and went to law school with, sometimes we feel like some of the women who came before us sacrificed too much on the family side. For some of them it worked out professionally, and others it didn't … ," Smith says. "That kind of prompted me to think: What can we do about this, how can we make a difference?"
Her goal with Moms-in-Law, which has 132 "likes" on its Facebook page and about 150 women on its activity distribution list, is to build a support network that "really tries to give credence to both of these priorities."
Smith's efforts come more than two decades after Felice Schwartz, the founder of Catalyst, wrote a 1989 article in the Harvard Business Review that advocated a career model for women with children that became known as the "mommy track." More recently, the hiring in July of the pregnant Marissa Mayer as chief executive officer of Yahoo has brought new attention to the logistical challenge working mothers face.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "mommy track" as a "career path that allows a mother flexible or reduced work hours but tends to slow or block advancement."
Linda Chanow, executive director of the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas School of Law, says firms in Texas and elsewhere have made institutional changes, such as part-time partnership track schedules, that give women lawyers more opportunity than when Schwartz wrote about the mommy track. However, Chanow says firms, practice areas and partners are not equally accommodating.
"The mommy track is alive and well. I will say, however, we see increased opportunities to either not get on the mommy track or to move from the mommy track to other opportunities. It's no longer the sort of death knell it used to be, but it goes back to the individual firm, the individual relationship," Chanow says.
Chanow says she worked on a 2009 study for the Project for Attorney Retention titled "Reduced Hours, Full Success: Part-Time Partners in U.S. Law Firms," which was based on interviews with 101 lawyers around the country. A key finding, she says, was that 55 percent of the women lawyers who went part time at their firm made partner while on a reduced or flextime schedule.
"We found stunning examples of this working within firms," Chanow says.