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NYC Bar Association Issues "Parental Leave Policies and Practices Report"

When a child is born to or adopted by a parent who is a lawyer, that lawyer's life undergoes profound changes. To be effective, parental leave policies must balance an attorney's family needs upon the birth or adoption of a child with the employer's business needs.

The New York City Bar's Committee on Women in the Profession studied this issue and recently released a report about parental leave policies and practices for attorneys.  The report was published in the Record of the New York City Bar Association, 2008 Vol. 63, No. 1.

First, the Committee prepared and disseminated a survey to legal employers in the New York City area about their parental leave policies and practices for attorneys and then analyzed the results of the survey.  Beginning in the summer of 2005 and continuing through January 2006, the Committee sent out the surveys to the following organizations:

  • 118 law firms and corporate law departments that then were signatories to the New York City Bar's Statement of Diversity Principles;
  • approximately 49 other New York City-based law firms;
  • 44 New York City corporate law departments;
  • 10 area law schools;
  • 20 government legal employers in New York City; and
  • 10 legal not-for-profit corporations in New York City.

The survey asked respondents for two types of information:

  • basic demographic information (e.g., the type of organization, the number of attorneys employed, and whether written policies existed); and
  • information related to job-guaranteed leave policies and payment policies for birth mothers, adoptive parents, and non-birth parents.

Second, the Committee reviewed parental leave policies of other area employers, both within and outside the legal profession, and numerous articles and studies on the issue.

Third, it drew on the Committee members' experiences and thoughts with the view of being practical and responsive to the needs of both attorneys and their employers.

The survey yielded many interesting findings.

  • Parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child increasingly is available in some form to attorneys working in New York City.
  • Many factors contribute to the variance among specific leave policies, including the number of employees, whether the employer is subject to relevant laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), the type of organization, and management commitment to strong parental leave policies.
  • Attorneys are often reluctant to take the entire amount of the leave due to a fear, real or perceived, that extended leaves are detrimental to career advancement.
  • Large law firms tended to provide stronger parental leave policies than other legal employers.
  • There appears to be a trend among employers toward implementing parental leave policies that offer the same parental leave to mothers who give birth and to parents who adopt children.
  • For employers, parental leave policies can favorably affect the bottom line by facilitating:

(1) greater employee loyalty and productivity,

(2) more successful recruitment efforts,

(3) increased employee retention, and

(4) enhanced client satisfaction and retention and business development.

  • Attorneys are more likely to try to bring business to their law firms if their firms' policies encourage long-term commitment between employer and employee.
  • The length of available leave, and the policies regarding paid versus unpaid leave, vary significantly from one employer to another.
  • There is a growing trend toward providing job-guaranteed parental leave without pay and some paid leave to non-birth parents.

As a result of its findings from the survey, the Committee has some recommendations for legal employers as well as for job candidates and lawyer-employees.  First, the Committee recommends that all legal employers provide a minimum of three months' job-guaranteed leave with full pay to all parents, including birth mothers, adoptive parents, and non-birth parents.

Job candidates and current employees should do the following:

  • Once they have an offer for a position, request a copy of the organization's written policies with respect to parental leave.
  • Discuss the organization's parental leave policies with the human resources staff.
  • Ask colleagues for their advice about how to negotiate for a favorable period of parental leave.
  • When proposing a new parental leave policy to an employer, it may be important to explain the "business case" for quality parental leave policies.  It may help to point out how paid parental leave programs and other similar policies can benefit the employer, and not just the employee and the child.

The Committee has provided important information in its report.  It is now up to law firms, other legal employers, and the lawyers who work for them to implement mutually beneficial parental leave policies.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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