At Realm, we work with lots of lawyers who are working parents to help them have fulfilling and successful legal careers. Sadly, our recent parenting research has revealed that 65% of lawyers with children feel less optimistic about their career prospects since becoming a parent.
While challenges certainly remain for those lawyers juggling their jobs with family commitments (or equally, those who would like to become parents), there are a number of ways law firms can make improvements to better support them.
1. Review your parental leave policies
Reviewing your parental leave policies to make sure that they are fair and competitive is an important first step.
Having a fair parental leave policy means that when lawyers come to start or grow their families, they know that they will be supported by their employer. Maternity and paternity leave not only gives new parents the chance to get to spend time with their newborn and adjust to their new lifestyle without having to worry about their jobs, but it enables them to more easily transition back to work when they are ready to return.
Some firms go further than this and support their employees on their journey to becoming parents, with paid leave for fertility treatment and additional leave for parents with children in neonatal care becoming more common.
Others also offer additional paid leave for parents to use on their child’s first day of school, school play or sports day. Gestures like this are appreciated by working parents who worry about taking extra time off work for these occasions.
It’s also really important to normalise taking parental leave, particularly paternity leave which is not taken at all by nearly one-third of new fathers. Balanced parental leave benefits both mothers, fathers and ultimately, employers, as working parents are more engaged and more productive when they return to the workplace.
2. Embrace flexible working
68% of working parents reduce their working hours after becoming a parent (either through choice or necessity). One of the key ways law firms can support these lawyers and perhaps allow them to continue working without having to cut down the hours they work is by recognising the importance of flexibility and home working.
While home working was commonplace throughout and following the COVID-19 pandemic, in the last 12 months, we’ve seen the number of days of home working drop from 3.9 to 2.7 as more and more firms have expected lawyers to work more frequently from the office. However, our 2023/24 state-of-the-market research has revealed that home working is a priority for nine-out-ten-lawyers.
Law firms that offer more home working along with other flexible working options will be able to attract, recruit and retain the best talent, including working parents who are looking for a role that will allow them to balance their professional and parental responsibilities effectively.
3. Consider childcare support
In our research, the cost of childcare emerged as a top concern for both working parents and lawyers who would like to start a family in the future. To go some way towards alleviating the burden of childcare costs for working parents, law firms might consider offering childcare support or subsidies. This could include partnerships with nurseries or other childcare providers or providing information about available support and resources.
4. Promote and support employee wellbeing
Burnout and the mental load associated with being a parent were also concerns for the majority of the lawyers we spoke to. Remaining on top of everything from packed lunches, running a home, and being there for school pick-up, while simultaneously managing a busy caseload, clearly can have an impact on mental health. Firms can promote and support their employees’ wellbeing by investing in things like counselling or therapy services, wellbeing days and initiatives to reduce work-related stress.
5. Foster a family-friendly culture
While a firm might have the right policies or initiatives in place, it’s the culture of the company that can make or break how frequently these are taken advantage of and how well-supported parents feel in the workplace.
Having a family-friendly culture that promotes understanding, normalises flexible working and parental leave and genuinely supports working parents is crucial. It’s essential that you take a top-down approach and ensure that partners and members of your leadership team understand the importance of addressing the concerns of working parents and lead by example. For instance, a male partner or Head of Department who takes parental leave and chooses to finish early to be with his family will demonstrate that these actions are acceptable.
6. Ask for feedback and establish channels of communication
In some cases, you might not fully understand how well-supported working parents at your firm feel. It’s also important to create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their challenges and seeking necessary accommodations.
Gathering feedback from those lawyers might be a useful exercise so it’s clear what your firm is doing well and potential improvements that could be made.
7. Recognise the importance of parent role models
Just 5% of lawyers feel more optimistic about their career prospects since becoming a parent. At firms where there is a lack of parents in senior positions, or where there are limited promotion opportunities for women, lawyers are more likely to feel negatively about their prospects.
Ensuring that you promote and support the professional development of working parents will show your employees who might be thinking of starting a family or working parents considering joining your firm that they can reach their full potential there no matter what their family set-up is.
There’s still work to be done to make the legal profession a more supportive and inclusive environment for working parents. Taking the steps above will help to improve the law for those lawyers and ultimately mean that they are happier and more productive at work and as a result make a greater contribution to your firm’s success.