Reed Smith is the latest firm in Big Law to make some relatively inexpensive accommodations for new mothers in an attempt to relieve—and retain—lawyer moms.
The firm announced this week that it now provides breast milk shipping for lawyers on business trips, and that it has installed hospital-grade, multiuse breast pumps in its offices’ lactation centers. The firm is also paying for lawyers to take part in an online class called Mindful Return, which coaches professionals about moving from maternity leave back to working life.
The cost of these programs is nominal. A 34-ounce overnight milk shipment costs $139, the office breast pumps cost roughly $1,000 per office and the four-week online course costs $99 per person. But the firm is hoping for a greater return on the investment, in the form of a culture shift and the ability to ease women lawyers’ rise in the ranks. Losing good lawyers, after all, can be much more costly.
“It’s pretty commonly known and well supported specifically that the more support there is for women the less attrition there is,” said Karen Lee Lust, who heads the firm’s ReturnRS program, aimed at retaining women attorneys. “You don’t want to feel like you have to choose between doing your job and being a good parent.”
Making a Statement
Reed Smith, which is using a company called Milk Stork for breast milk shipping, isn’t the first firm to provide that service—Latham & Watkins unveiled a similar program last year. But it’s still not common practice at law firms.
The firm already had designated lactation areas—the Affordable Care Act actually requires most businesses to provide a non-bathroom pumping space—but adding pumps was proposed while the firm was implementing Milk Stork. It makes for one less logistical concern for moms, Lust said. Lawyers can also request privacy screens to cover their office windows if they prefer to pump without leaving their work space.
Mindful Return, the online course, was created by a lawyer at Dentons in Washington, D.C., who struggled with her own return to work. Dentons has also adopted the program. Reed Smith heard about the class through lawyers in its Washington office, and put a few women through the course as a pilot program.
“They all said that it’s helped them mentally come back, in terms of thinking about how to strategically use motherhood and taking maternity leave as an opportunity,” Lust said.
The parental perks at Reed Smith are add-ons to paid leave for both mothers and fathers and pro-rated hours requirements to account for leave.
Philadelphia lawyer Roberta Liebenberg, a former head of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, said these added benefits are important in convincing lawyers that they can stay with the firm after starting a family.
“I don’t think that this is a big expenditure, but in terms of just creating this culture of we want you to succeed … it is a good statement about an investment in [women's] careers,” Liebenberg said.
Asked about their accommodations for working new mothers, several other Pennsylvania-based Am Law 200 firms touted some similar features.
Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney has “wellness rooms” in each office for nursing moms, an alternative work schedule policy for new parents and parental leave for both women and men. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius connects new parents with a partner mentor for the re-entry process, and it reduces hours expectations, without an impact on pay or bonuses, for associates during their first six months back at work. Pepper Hamilton also has wellness rooms, including refrigerators where employees and partners can store their milk, and the option for new mothers to work a temporarily reduced schedule.
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