Opening Statements

Law firms provide innovative family benefits that cater to moms

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The lack of female representation in the upper echelons of law firms has sparked a new wave of hand-wringing and analysis. One explanation is that women, often the primary caregivers, are overwhelmed by the conflicting responsibilities of work and childrearing.

“When you look at overall attrition, women tend to opt out earlier because they think they won’t be able to balance their work and parenting,” says Joanne S. Ollman, chief professional resources officer at Proskauer Rose in New York City.

Statistics show that U.S. law firms have difficulty retaining and promoting female attorneys. In 2015, the National Association of Women Lawyers reported that only 18 percent of law firm equity partners were women. According to the New York City Bar Association, women made up only 19.7 percent of law firm partners there. At the same time, women represent 47.3 percent of the JDs awarded in the country, according to the American Bar Association.

In an effort to retain and attract female lawyers, some law firms have begun rolling out programs to help working mothers. An increasing number of firms are providing targeted counseling for women to help them manage the stress of being working mothers.

Others provide programs to subsidize day care and help in emergency child care situations. Latham & Watkins, which has more than 2,200 lawyers and more than 30 offices worldwide, is helping ameliorate the concerns of new moms through the launch of a groundbreaking breast milk shipping program.

Under the program, Latham pays for new moms on work travel to ship home their breast milk to their babies. Latham thinks it’s the first law firm to provide breast milk shipping as an employee benefit. The program recently expanded to include spouses and domestic partners of employees.

“Latham has done a very good job of encouraging new parents to come back when they are ready, and they are making it as easy as possible,” says Hayley Gladstone, an associate in the firm’s Chicago office and global co-chair of the firm’s parent lawyers group. “This program allows women added flexibility and choice in how they return home.”

Latham also has private lactation rooms in all U.S. offices, and nursing lawyers can request refrigerators in their offices and locks on their doors.

Proskauer, an international law firm with more than 750 lawyers in 13 offices, recently introduced a program to help primary caregivers make a smooth transition back to work after they have a child. The program allows primary caregivers, usually mothers, to work part time for the first six months and yet get paid for full-time work.

“Many women face the anxiety of hitting the ground running after having a baby,” Ollman says. “This program signals to them that we expect the transition will take some time.”

Law firms aren’t the first businesses to provide unique benefit programs to help female employees, says Erika Collins, a New York-based partner and co-chair of Proskauer’s international labor and employment law group.

The trend began years ago, with Silicon Valley companies battling over qualified applicants, especially women. Companies began to provide programs to give financial assistance with egg freezing, surrogacy and adoption.

Collins predicts some law firms will follow suit and begin to provide more benefit programs to assist women during their transition back to work. She says multinational employers can face challenges with cutting-edge programs globally because “laws differ significantly country to country when it comes to certain areas, like egg retrieval and surrogacy.”

Although innovative programs might well attract and retain women, Collins warns there could be repercussions for benefits that appear to exclude men.

“Companies should be aware that, by giving a benefit to female employees and not their male employees, there could be potential for discrimination claims from male employees,” Collins says.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Plentiful Family Benefits: Law firms provide innovative programs that cater to moms."

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