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'Mommy Track' Lawsuit Aside, Many Firms Look to Make Life Easier on Parents

Scott Flaherty Law.com

Even as Morrison & Foerster’s alleged treatment of pregnant women and recent mothers faced scrutiny in a lawsuit filed this week, many large law firms have continued a march toward ever-expanding leave policies and support programs for new parents.

On Tuesday, for example, Schiff Hardin announced a new “Ramp Up/Down” policy, which allows a lawyer to qualify for a 20 percent reduction in their hours requirement—without any pay reduction—in the month before and after their parental leave period. The reduced hours program comes on top of other benefits, such as 18 weeks of paid parental leave that Schiff Hardin offers to primary caregivers.

Kate Reder Sheikh, a managing director at Major, Lindsey & Africa who focuses on associate recruitment, had a similar take.

“The way that people treat their employees is incredibly salient in how people make decisions about their careers,” she said.

Major Lindsey’s Sheikh, for one, said firms would do well to have those policies in place, but also to set a tone from the top that the programs are meant to be used without penalty. Doing so can pay dividends for the firm in the long-run, she said, because the way a firm approaches new parents can weigh heavily on how a junior lawyer views her or his own firm, or how that person views the possibility of making a lateral move to a new firm. All of that can help a firm draw in and keep top talent.

“We all understand that running a law firm is a business … but I actually think it will enhance their bottom line to the extent that they keep moving in this positive direction of treating employees the way they want to be treated,” said Sheikh. “These are real, live issues for associates.”

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