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Law Firm Adopts Gender-Neutral Family Leave Policy

Dec. 15, 2016, 9:38 PM

Lowenstein Sandler has a new gender-neutral family leave policy that will grant primary caregivers up to 16 weeks paid parental leave and 24 weeks total leave upon the birth or adoption of a child, the firm announced Thursday.

The firm will also provide non-primary caregivers with up to eight weeks paid leave and up to 12 weeks total leave, as well as reimbursement for up to $5,000 of the cost of adoption. The policy changes came out of a recent LGBTQ initiative at the firm, according to managing partner Gary Wingens.

“We realized that it had been a little while since we did a comprehensive check on our maternity leave and paternity leave and adoption policies,” Wingens told Big Law Business. “We’re seeing families who are much better at sharing the responsibilities of raising children, and we’re seeing changes in the makeup of the family, and we wanted to be responsive to that.”

In order to encourage people to actually take time off, the firm is also implementing an internal mentorship program to help parents with career advice and planning before, during and after their leave. The new policy also includes a ramp-up period for lawyers returning from leave during which time their workload expectations will be lowered for several months to help them adjust. The ramp-up is intended to make the first few months back a “de facto flexible work arrangement,” Wingens said.

Lowenstein Sandler isn’t the only firm upping its paid family leave game, but many law firms still frame the issue as a women’s one. When Orrick announced in 2015 it would offer primary caregivers 22 weeks of paid leave and nine months time off, its press release framed it as an investment in “women’s advancement.”

The announcement of gender-neutral policies goes a step further toward lowering the expectation that women are always primary caregivers. In May, Winston & Strawn LLP announced its own gender-neutral policy to grant associates and of counsel attorneys up to 20 weeks of paid leave.

But unlike Winston & Strawn, Lowenstein Sandler’s policy will apply to all employees at the firm, not just lawyers.

“There was a strong feeling among our management team that if we’re encouraging parenting and family time, it doesn’t have all that much to do with your title,” Wingens said. “Just because you didn’t go to law school doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have more time to bond with a new child”

Lowenstein Sandler’s new policy places the firm in relatively good standing among law firms. Of the firms reviewed by Yale Law Women’s 2016 Family Friendly Firms Report, 83 percent of offices offered at least 12 weeks of paid parental leave to women while only 11 percent offered at least 12 weeks to men. The most common number of weeks of paid parental leave offered to female attorneys was 18 weeks, while the most common number of weeks offered to male attorneys was 4. The report did not mention gender-neutral family leave policies.