Monday, December 13, 2010

 

On-Ramping Options

For several years now, large law firms have been offering attorneys returning from maternity, adoption, or caregiver leave to ramp back up into their practice. These “on-ramping” policies, which allow for a gradual return to a full-time schedule or an easy introduction to a reduced hours schedule, have become popular and well-utilized.

PAR has been collecting best practices in the on-ramping area. Common features of these best practice programs include:
• Automatic (upon request) return from leave on individualized schedules. Attorneys can return on a part-time schedule for three months to one year without committing to being on a formal part-time schedule.
• Flexibility as to days/hours working and telecommuting options.
• Mentor pairings to guide the woman taking leave through winding down before leave and ramping back up upon return from leave.
• Parents’ affinity groups to deal with the day-to-day problems and issues of being working parents.

Two PAR member firms have found ways to embrace the issue of work/life balance for new parents and put together low-cost, highly effective programs. McCarthy Tétrault LLP, which has had an on-ramping program in place for almost five years, observed that it was often challenging for women to know how to ramp down their practice, remain in touch during their leave, and get back into the game. The firm provides a “maternity leave buddy” from the same practice area to give women someone to talk with about issues and concerns. The maternity leave buddy can also serve as a liaison while the mother is on leave. The firm created a maternity leave “toolkit” with tips tailored to the individual to help them both as new mothers and to give them guidance on how to return to work. Plus, as a small gesture intended to say “we’re thinking about you,” they send every new mother a spa certificate—according to the firm, this small gesture has been very popular and very successful. Next, McCarthy Tétrault connects each woman with a network of other women who stay in touch while the new mother is on leave and help prepare her and the workplace for her return.

A unique aspect of the McCarthy Tétrault’s program is their “parental support program” to deal with the problems and issues of new parents re-entering the workplace while simultaneously caring for a new baby. The program provides six sessions of coaching and therapy to deal with home issues, and all sessions are confidential. Returning mothers and fathers can go by themselves or with their partner, and although McCarthy Tétrault suggests they have two sessions pre-baby, two while on leave, and two upon return, the exact format is left up to the woman.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP also provides a model best practice program. Orrick has a comprehensive program designed to retain women. Their program includes (1) a progressive return to work policy (highlighted below), (2) a program to remain connected to attorneys who choose to exit the workforce for a period of time following the birth or adoption of a child including access to firm training programs, pro bono work, and other temporary assignments, and (3) a Parents’ Forum for parents of young children adjusting to the demands of balancing work and family obligations. In addition, Orrick has an internal career coaching program. A career coach reaches out to those going out on and returning from leave to provide information on leave, the on-ramping program, and the options upon return from leave.

Orrick’s “Progressive Return” program provides attorneys with up to one year from the start of maternity leave to have reduced hours upon request. At the end of the return period, the lawyer may either ask to be on a permanent part-time schedule or return to full-time. The firm has found the following results from the program, which has been in place for just over three years:

1. The majority of women taking maternity or adoption leave have taken advantage of the program,
2. The number of attorneys on the firm’s Alternative Work Arrangements program (partner-track reduced hours program) has increased thus helping de-stigmatize part-time status,
3. Positive feedback from 
program participants about both the psychological and concrete
 benefits of having time to assess the appropriateness of a part-time
 schedule once back to work rather than trying to imagine 
what might work best while still immersed in being at home (the benefit of “trying out” part-time), and
4. The percentage of women resigning from the firm at the end of their maternity leave (not returning from leave) has markedly decreased.

On-ramping programs, which help attorneys smoothly transition into and out of maternity or adoption leave, are “low hanging fruit” for improving attorney retention. If your firm or law department has a best practice to share, we would love to hear from you. Please email us.

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