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MLA's Parental Leave Survey Finds Need for Broader, Gender-Neutral Leave Policies

Hanover, MD – May 11, 2021 – While law firms outperform federal standards for providing maternity leave for their attorneys, their paid leave policies tend to fall short for men and those with non-traditional family structures, according to the inaugural Parental Leave Survey recently released by Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA), the world’s largest legal search firm. The survey found that while 43% of respondents said their firms offers 14 to 20 weeks of paid maternity leave, just 23% offer that same amount of time for paid paternity leave. The MLA Parental Leave Survey was conducted between September 2020 and November 2020.

“Over the years, firms have made major strides in offering more comprehensive and supportive parental leave policies to their attorneys. However, with over a quarter of respondents reporting that their firms do not offer gender-neutral leave policies, our survey found a significant need for firms to update their policies to better support all attorneys who are working parents,” said Nathan Peart, a Managing Director in MLA’s Associate Practice Group who co-authored the survey. “Additionally, with respondents noting that the most impactful leave policies are those fully backed by firm leadership, these changes need to be completely embraced by senior law firm partners in order to be most effective for working parents,” added Jackie Bokser LeFebvre, a Managing Director in MLA’s Associate Practice Group and also a survey co-author.

Furthermore, the survey found room for improvement in terms of the return-to-work benefits and other support that firms offer attorneys after they have taken parental leave. Twenty-eight percent of attorneys said they felt their opportunities for advancement toward partnership were adversely impacted by taking parental leave, while 16% reported that their access to quality work was negatively affected by taking leave. Additionally, while the most common benefits that firms offered parents returning from leave included flexible or part-time working arrangements; remote working arrangements; and ramp-up/ramp-down periods, less than 50% of respondents reported that their firms had provided these benefits to them after they came back from leave.

Other highlights of the survey included:

  • Law firm leadership plays the most significant role in how leave policies are implemented. 38% of respondents reported that firm leaders have the largest impact on how policies are put into practice, while 31% reported that partners in their group most strongly influence the implementation of these benefits.
  • 19% said their firm’s parental leave policies had not been updated in a year. Especially with more working parents calling for more flexibility to manage their own time and work arrangements, there is a significant opportunity for firms to develop policies that will promote attorneys’ success before, during, and after they take parental leave.
  • Firms do not provide comprehensive support for all paths to parenthood. As corporations around the country ramp up support for non-traditional parenthood tracks, only 22% of respondents reported that their firms offer support for adoption, while just 9% said their firms provide benefits for surrogacy and egg freezing.

“With the vast majority of respondents saying that their firm’s parental leave policy makes them more or less likely to stay in their current positions, these findings highlight the specific areas – especially the need for more expansive gender-neutral policies – that are most important for firms to pay attention to in order to retain and support their top talent,” said Summer Eberhard, a Managing Director in MLA’s Associate Practice Group and a survey co-author. “Our survey highlights not only the importance of the issue of parental leave to working parents, but also the most significant strides that still need to be made,” concluded Kate Reder Sheikh, also a Managing Director in MLA’s Associate Practice Group and a survey co-author.

The full text of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Parental Leave Survey is available here.

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