Women in the Law

These Lawyer Families Are New Twist on Opt-Out Professionals

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A New York Times story suggested in 2003 that there is an opt-out revolution in the making. The newspaper profiled a group of high-achieving Princeton women who decided to leave their jobs, shining a spotlight on professional women who stay at home to raise their children.

But the notion of an opt-out revolution isn’t supported by recent Census figures and women lawyers interviewed by the American Lawyer who go to work while their husbands stay home with the kids. The arrangement shows that a supportive spouse can be as important as supportive law firms for women lawyers, according to the magazine.

“For all the talk about flextime, part-time, and other family-friendly policies, the reality is that big-law practice is an unforgiving profession, and a stay-at-home spouse provides some much-needed cushioning,” the American Lawyer says.

The story gets some support from newly released Census figures examining 2007 data. The Census report shows that stay-at-home mothers tend to be younger, less educated, and from lower-earning families, the Washington Post reports. Sociologists told the publication that women who stay at home are more likely to have few job opportunities and less access to the salaries that justify the child care cost.

The American Lawyer story profiles several women lawyers who work at large law firms while relying on stay-at-home spouses for child care.

They include Barbara Becker, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in New York; Sandra Rodriguez, a partner at Vinson & Elkins in Austin, Texas; Marissa Wesely, a partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Laura Palma, an executive committee member at Simpson Thacher in New York.

The arrangement is unusual, according to the Census Bureau. It found 165,000 fathers stayed home in 2007, compared to 5.6 million mothers.

Becker told the publication her husband has been “Mr. Mom” for seven years. “He’s great at it, and it allows me to do my job.” Still, she says she’s reluctant to hold herself out as a model. “Most people don’t have the luxury of a spouse who can stay home,” she says.

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