We have a new baby in our family! Our daughter gave birth to our first grandchild earlier this week. A beautiful baby girl, and we are over-the-moon in love with this precious little bundle.
So I have mommy/lawyers on my mind today. My daughter — the mother of the precious bundle — is one of them, and so am I. My mommy/lawyer days date back thirty-plus years, and I understand the challenges.
I had to give up partnership at my first law firm because I needed to work part-time after my baby was born — and because law firms made no provisions for new mothers in those days and generally were averse to part-time work of any kind. Fortunately challenging sacrifices like that are essentially a thing of the past.
But plenty of other challenges still remain. I have written about them many times before. Schedule flexibility, remote working arrangements, appropriate on-site accommodations for nursing mothers, on-site day care, avoidance of inappropriate stereotypes about what new mothers are capable of on the job … and the list goes on.
And today, in this current depressed economy, there are new challenges. Research demonstrates that women lawyers will be vulnerable to reduction in force efforts, especially part-time women lawyers.
We have seen this before. Most recently, it happened in the recession of 2008, and it will happen again. It is a function of the costs of doing business. Bricks and mortar are expensive places of business, and traditional businesses like law firms still operate this way. Part-time workers only occupy office spaces part of the time, but full-time overhead expenses apply. It is not the most efficient use of revenues. Although we are seeing a movement away from all bricks and mortar by law firms, as addressed in my recent article in the ABA Journal, it may not happen soon enough for some of you.
Maternity leaves also are expensive for law firms. Federal law mandates maternity leave for most women employees, and law firms typically go further these days and offer paid maternity leave. But recessions include circumstances that can be used by employers, who are not favorably inclined toward paid maternity leave, to furlough or terminate young women lawyers and accomplish their desired outcomes without violating the law.
So, you mommy/lawyers may find yourselves in circumstances where you have to fight for your jobs. Do it well. Advocate effectively for yourselves. Recognize your value and communicate it with confidence. Be flexible about the work you are willing to do. Challenging times require creative solutions.
Most of all, please know that you will win some of the battles, and you will lose others. Your losses will not be life defining. I speak from experience. Sacrificing partnership was disappointing but it was only a detour. Part-time practice allowed me to care for my baby the way I wanted to —- and that same baby just blessed me with my first precious grandchild. My early investment in the future of my baby has paid off again, again and again. Partnership came to me a little later as well — and I got it because I deserved it, and I argued effectively for it.
Good luck to all of you mommy/lawyers. Keep a clear focus on reasonable expectations and priorities.
Be who you are.