I wish I could say that Yale Law Women’s newly released report on family friendly law firms fills me with hope about gender equality in the near future. But I’d be lying. Although almost all major firms have some type of work/life balance policy in place (yesterday, I wrote about how Yale lauded Wachtell Lipton for its part-time program), I’m not convinced that most of those measures are creating any meaningful impact.
Consider these findings from the Yale report:
- Work/life balance is a hot subject at firms. The report finds that an astonishing 83 percent have committees devoted to the issue.
- Part-time and flex-time work are allowed in most firms. But part-time is definitely a women’s thing: They make up 80.5 percent of those who take advantage of the program.
- Firms offer generous paid leaves. Sixteen weeks to primary caregivers, and 5.6 weeks to secondary caregivers. But only about 50 percent of men take the maximum parental leave, while 90 percent of women do so.
To be honest, I was actually impressed that 50 percent of men had the guts to take the maximum parental leave. So maybe I haven’t been giving men enough credit. (And while I’m in the mood to give credit, the report notes five firms with the highest average parental leave utilization rate for associates and partners: Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; Dorsey & Whitney; Hunton & Williams; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and Seyfarth Shaw.) That said, it’s also clear that family and work/life balance are still primarily women’s concerns.
Which leads me to a topic I’m always harping about: Is anyone really taking any of this family-friendly stuff seriously? It seems there’s lots of commotion and emotion about the subject—but I’m not sure it’s more than window dressing.
In fact, the Yale report suggests there might be hidden penalties if you avail yourself of some family friendly measures: “Alumni expressed skepticism about the likelihood of remaining partner-eligible after taking advantage of alternative schedules.”
Certainly, there’s little in the report to suggest that the hard-driving culture of law firms is diminishing. For instance, it notes that associates billed on average 1,828 hours. (That’s 35 billable hours per week.) What’s more, if you want to get a bonus, firms expect at least1,900 billable hours (36.5 hours per week), with some requiring 2,100 hours (46 hours per week). I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as hard labor.
Still, Yale Law Women members say they’re sanguine. “We were heartened to learn, based on results from the alumni survey, that about 40 percent of attorneys perceived their firms to be more family friendly now compared to last year,” said Luci Yang, the chair of Yale Law Women.
Frankly, it beats me why those Yalies are so optimistic. But bless their hearts.