X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
In 1995, when the Harvard Women’s Law Association published “Presumed Equal: What America’s Top Women Lawyers Really Think About Their Firms,” the survey painted a discouraging picture of the ability of women to find equal opportunity in the nation’s law firms, particularly once they decided to have children. The book, which drew its responses from female lawyers at dozens of large firms across the country, noted that many attorneys were convinced “that mothers, by definition, are subject to pernicious stereotypes which label them as ‘less committed’ to the firm, regardless of the hours they work or the work product they deliver.” Five years later, the playing field is still uneven for women lawyers, and gender stereotypes surely linger. But in interviews, women lawyers around New York city reported that fundamental progress has been made in the way New York firms treat their female attorneys. A host of firms now provide 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, and many offer women the option of adding accrued vacation time or unpaid leave to extend their time away from the firm. STIGMA IS DISSIPATING And more importantly, the stigma that long attached itself to the partnership chances of women who chose to have children seems to be dissipating. “I think people really understand it’s not an issue,” said Hughes Hubbard & Reed managing partner and mother of two, Candace Krugman Beinecke. “It certainly doesn’t harm you and that’s really a change.” Lawyers said that in part the change in attitudes is a matter of sheer numbers. As women have come to make up a larger percentage of lawyers at firms, they have become an increasingly powerful constituency. “It’s more women in the work force,” said Diana D. Parker, who is of counsel to Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason & Silberberg. She suggested that at her firm, young female lawyers have made themselves so valuable that they were quite naturally welcomed back with the same status after their leaves. “There was a reasoned judgment by partners that the partners wanted these people working for the firm,” Ms. Parker said. In addition, lawyers pointed to a generational shift in priorities as an engine for progress. Young lawyers of both sexes have become increasingly more vocal in recent years in confronting firms with their concerns about quality of life. Marjorie J. Peerce, a partner at 16-lawyer Stillman & Friedman and an adoptive mother of two, said that in the late ’80s or early ’90s, men began placing a higher value on family time. “One of the reasons it’s gotten better is that men in this generation are much more involved in the caregiving process,” she said. “They are really interested in finding quality time with their children.” With young lawyers and even law students announcing family as a priority, firms have followed suit, making their policies on maternity and parental leave, flex-time and part-time work a prominent selling point of firm brochures and Web sites. And confronted by the vexatious problem of runaway attrition, firms have looked to unorthodox solutions like flexible schedules to keep associates around. At Debevoise & Plimpton, for example, 11 percent of the firm’s lawyers are on a part-time program of some kind, under a policy that presumes some parenting responsibilities. “When someone is a good lawyer and is here three days a week, I think the firm gets great value because good lawyers are hard to find,” said Bonnie Kayatta Steingart, a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. “I think everyone benefits.” ADVANCEMENT ISSUE As for the question of advancement, conventional wisdom long held that it behooved female lawyers to wait until after their partnership chances had been settled before making the decision to have kids, for fear of being “mommy-tracked.” But at least in some quarters, that seems to be changing. Jodi Misher Peikin, who took maternity leaves in 1995 for the birth of her son and 1998 for the birth of her daughter and now works a four-day schedule, was recently named a partner at Morvillo Abramowitz. She said that at one point there were three or four associates in the 35-lawyer shop working part-time after maternity leaves. “I don’t think there was any stigma attached,” she said. “We got the same cases we’d gotten before.” Margaret Antinori Dale of Solomon, Zauderer, Ellenhorn, Frischer & Sharp, who had taken a four-month maternity leave in 1997, told the firm she was pregnant again last October, just as she was being considered for partnership. She was made a partner in January. “I wanted them to know that I was pregnant because I didn’t think it mattered and it didn’t,” Ms. Dale said. Debevoise associate Kyra K. Bromley offered that the timing of a maternity leave might delay a partnership decision, especially in a firm that uses a one-year review process. “Frankly, I think it could be hard for the firm to evaluate if you weren’t there for most of that year,” she said. “It would be a practical difficulty.” But she said she believed that at her firm, having children and taking time off would not factor into the partnership decision itself. LEAVING OFFICE BEHIND Across the board, lawyers who have taken maternity leaves said they had been able to truly disconnect themselves from the office if that was their objective. Ms. Bromley, who added accrued vacation to the firm’s 12-week maternity leave to take four and a half months off when her daughter was born last year, took the precaution before she left of writing a 50-page memo about her knowledge on one important case. “I’d managed to get so much down on paper that they really didn’t come to me for much,” she said. “That was a great decision. I would definitely do that again.” And on a personal level, lawyers indicated that the maternity leave is time exceedingly well spent. Lesley Szanto Friedman, a litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, heeded the counsel of an expert witness in one of her cases, a widow with six kids. “She gave me the best advice I’ve gotten in the mommy/profession area,” Ms. Friedman recalled, “which was that I should take as much time as I possibly could, because the world at work is not going to change much during your time away, but your child will.” Ms. Friedman, who took the firm’s three-month paid leave and added nine more months of unpaid leave, said the development of her son during that year was staggering. “It was true. Zero to one is the difference between a meatloaf and a mobile, verbal little person,” she said. “And when I came back after a year, everything was quite recognizable, right down to my pencils being in the same box in the drawer.” Ms. Friedman has since taken another year-long leave for the birth of her second son. She said she was grateful to Paul Weiss for giving her the opportunity to be with her kids during those critical first 12 months. She returned to the firm with a 60 percent flex-time schedule, an arrangement that works, she said, because she remains responsive to the needs of her clients. “Both the firm and I take the “flex” in flex-time seriously,” she said, “so that whenever I need to be there I’m there.” Of course, the combined weight of family and professional demands can be oppressive. “Part of the problem is that the practice of law at this level is inherently not family-friendly,” said Fried Frank partner Linda R. Blumkin, who took a total of five months off, in part for medical reasons, when she had twins at age 45. But Ms. Blumkin said that the balance, though elusive, is attainable. She emphasized the importance of disabusing female associates of the notion that choosing to have kids is somehow the wrong thing to do career-wise. Ms. Steingart, who had her first child while in law school and made partner at Fried Frank after working almost exclusively part-time, advised female associates who become pregnant to be aggressive in pursuing part-time schedules with their firms that will allow them to remain in contention for promotion. “On the associate’s end, people become very risk-averse in testing those waters, and I think they should test those waters,” she said. “When firms have associates they value, firms reach out and are more flexible than they would be otherwise, and then those arrangements become possible for everyone.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.