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Latham & Watkins has enhanced its maternity leave program for attorneys by giving new mothers up to 18 weeks of full-pay leave. The new parental care leave program, which affects associate and counsel positions, also provides four weeks paid leave for non-primary caregivers, usually fathers, and enables attorneys to return to work at a reduced pace for six months without seeking prior approval. The new policy is intended to help lawyers balance work responsibilities with demands at home, and is part of a growing trend of improved family-friendly benefits among law firms seeking to retain associates, especially women. “It’s not in response to any dire problem, but we’re always looking for ways to make sure we have the highest morale possible,” said Rick Bress, a partner in Latham & Watkins’ Washington office. The new program essentially extends leave for birth mothers who are primary caregivers from 12 to 18 weeks. In addition, it gives 18 weeks leave to the primary caregivers of adopted children and provides four weeks for non-primary caregivers. It also gives 10 weeks to nonprimary caregivers who become primary caregivers, such as fathers who take over child-care responsibilities after their wives return to work. The 2,181-attorney firm already gave attorneys the option of returning to work at a reduced pace for six months after taking family leave, but it now allows them to do so without obtaining prior approval. Other law firms recently have boosted family-friendly benefits, including Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski, which has back-up dependant day care programs that provide services when the usual caregiver is not available and the attorney cannot stay home. Some of Alston & Bird’s offices provide special on-site daycare and special parking spaces for expecting mothers. Still other law firms have breast-feeding rooms for mothers. A recent report issued by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Workplace Center found that 31% of female associates leave private practice entirely, compared with 18 percent of male associates. The gap widens among associates with children, to 35 % for women and 15% for men.

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