Thursday, August 19, 2010


Maternity Leave Lessons from Small Business

While large law firms have generally become more progressive with their policies for maternity leaves, adoption leaves, and paternity leaves, many small firms are just beginning to tackle these issues. We often hear from lawyers at small firms that they were the first in their firms to take maternity leave. A recent New York Times article (“Taking a Positive Approach to an Employee’s Maternity Leave”) highlights best practices for small business maternity leaves. This article provides a good reference for small firms to help smooth the transition into and out of maternity and other extended leaves. Highlights include:

1. Communicate openly: Make sure that your employees understand that there are many life events that take people out of the office for extended periods of time. It’s best to plan for them.
2. Involve your employee: Ask the employee with the upcoming leave to prepare a transition memo to help with re-assigning work. Also plan for how to handle the transition back to work—this is even more important.
3. Consider flexible schedules: If your firm is unable to offer paid leave, offer flexibility as an attractive alternative. Many large law firms are now offering “on-ramping” programs, which allow for reduced hours for a certain period of time upon returning from leave. This could be a nice addition for the small firm as well.
4. Don’t fret too much about inconsistency: Because everyone knows each other in a small firm, more room typically exists for giving people what they need, without getting overly focused on consistency. The key is to be sensitive enough to people’s on-going needs—whatever the reason—that everyone feels that they could get flexibility or leave when they really need it. Of course, you need to keep employment laws in mind.

Both new mothers and new fathers want to take leave. Others need to take leave due to illness and family care responsibilities. Small firms will need to put flexible, transparent policies into place to remain competitive in today’s evolving workplace.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


The Times Opts Out of the "Opt Out" Narrative

The New York Times, for forty years, ran one story after another quoting women saying they had opted out of the workforce after they had children, according to a 2006 report by the Center for WorkLife Law. The most famous was Lisa Belkin's 2003 New York Times Magazine story, "The Opt Out Revolution."

Now there's change a-brewing on the business page. Last week, David Leonhardt's "A Labor Market Punishing to Mothers" focused not on mothers' choices but on the ways the labor market pushes mothers out of good jobs. Leonhardt pointed out that none of the last three women nominated for the Supreme Court had children. Though this observation could easily have morphed into yet another lament about mothers opting out, Leonhardt struck a different note, arguing that the labor market is structured in ways that artificially penalize mothers. "Our economy extracts a terribly steep price for any time away from work--in both pay and promotions," he writes.

True that. I was once at an event where a woman graduate of Harvard Law School was told that her chances of getting a job were so slim that no recruiter would accept her as a client. What heinous act had made her so unemployable? Taking two years off to care for her son. A 2004 study by Stephen Rose and Heidi Hartman found that American women who took one year off lost 20% of their lifetime earnings, while women who took off two to three years lost 30%. These plummets in women's earnings seem out of proportion to any objective deterioration in human capital.

They are driven instead by what social scientists call the flexibility stigma. That's the stigma triggered when a worker signals a need for workplace flexibility, including not only career breaks but also part-time work. Penalties for part-time work in the U.S., again, are artificially high, seven times higher than in Sweden and twice as high as in the U.K., according to Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyers. These penalties play a major role in denying women equal pay, according to a report by the Joint Economic Committee issued last April. One quarter of employed women usually work part time, and part-time workers face steep earnings penalties. In retail jobs, part-timers receive only 58 cents for every dollar earned by full-timers.

The flexibility stigma affects anyone, male or female, who is unable or unwilling to work in the employment pattern traditional of male breadwinners. Kudos to Leonhardt helping the Times opt out of the opt out narrative.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


Do In-House Lawyers Have Better Work/Life Balance?

PAR released its groundbreaking study on work/life balance for in-house attorneys, Better on Balance? The Corporate Counsel Work/Life Report, back in 2003. That report focused on the defining the types of work schedules that in-house attorneys use successfully to find work/life balance, offering best practices, and testing the perception of many law firm partners that corporate counsel would not want to work with law firm attorneys who were working part-time.

In the report, we found that full time in-house often meant a 50-hour workweek and that many attorneys found balance on that schedule. In addition, the study showed a variety of alternative work arrangements being utilized, but part-time lawyers still felt stigmatized and some lawyer trying to telecommute found it challenging. Lastly, law firms’ assumption that clients will not work with part-time lawyers did not hold true.

Recently, we’ve been talking to the General Counsel who are part of the Diversity & Flexibility Connection, and we started to wonder what has changed with so much focus on retention of women through flexibility. With the Great Recession and cutbacks, more advancement for women in the profession, and a spotlight on diversity, we thought it was time to re-visit the issue of work/life balance for in-house lawyers.

PAR is launching a new research study focusing on work/life issues particular to in-house counsel. We are currently holding focus groups to collect the experiences and opinions of corporate counsel across the country. Results from the focus groups will be used in the development of a large-scale, national survey study.

PAR is seeking sponsors for the Corporate Counsel Project. For more information or to participate in a focus group in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Denver, or Washington DC, please contact us.

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