Staff members at Dechert haven’t been left out in the cold as the firm becomes the latest firm to boost its parental leave allowance.
Beginning Monday, the firm said it will provide at least 12 weeks of paid leave for all employees—lawyers and business service professionals—regardless of gender. The policy only applies to U.S. employees of the international firm.
The traditional distinctions between primary and secondary caregivers and between attorneys and staff are out of date, according to Dechert chief talent officer Alison Bernard.
“We really believe that roles and responsibilities are equal for parents of both genders,” she said. “Also antiquated is that upstairs-downstairs culture that has been pervasive in many law firms in the past.”
Previously Dechert offered 18 weeks—10 weeks of leave and eight weeks of short-term disability—to primary caregivers who were attorneys. Secondary caregivers who were attorneys were entitled to four weeks of paid leave, and staffers could only receive the eight weeks of short-term disability.
Under the new policy, mothers who give birth will still be entitled to those eight weeks of short-term disability, giving them a total of 20 weeks paid leave.
Several other Am Law 100 firms have increased parental leave for staffers in recent years, but Dechert’s new policy reflects a jump for nonprimary caretakers.
Alongside its announcement of 20 weeks of paid leave for attorneys who are primary caregivers, Shearman & Sterling said in September 2017 it would offer 14 weeks of paid leave for staff who are primary caretakers. Secondary caregivers, both attorneys and staff, are eligible for eight weeks of paid leave, regardless of gender.
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in 2015 granted 14 weeks of paid leave to staff who are primary caretakers. In 2017, it increased paid leave for staff who are secondary caretakers from two weeks to three.
Dechert’s Bernard said she looked not only at peer firms but also companies and best practices across industries in fashioning the new policy. After that, it was not a hard sell to firm management.
“Our CEO is extremely open and progressive and it was a 10-minute meeting,” she said. “He said, ‘Absolutely, this is really important.’”
The policy change comes days after Reed Smith announced that it was breaking down the wall between attorneys and staff with regard to diversity efforts. Chief diversity officer John IIno said that affinity groups—created previously to promote the interests of lawyer talent within the firm—would now be open to all employees.