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Fenwick Expands Parental Leave, But Staff Get Less in Big Law

Nov. 6, 2018, 5:36 PM

Fenwick & West’s expanded parental leave policy positions it ahead of many other firms offering an enhanced benefit for mothers and caregivers, although staff there and at other Big Law firms largely get less time.

The shift toward more leave is an acknowledgment of the potential downside to a workplace that comes up short for higher level employees. This can include lower productivity, lost talent, damage to business reputation, and even claims of discrimination.

Fenwick now offers 16 weeks of leave that applies to all attorney parents, regardless of gender or caregiver status, the firm said.

“Parental bonding time” is an inclusive way to describe a benefit that applies broadly to all of the ways people become parents, Margo Lamont, Fenwick’s director of compensation, said in an email.

Birthing mothers can take an additional six weeks of fully paid pregnancy disability leave.

‘Blind Spot’ for Firms

But firms aren’t necessarily giving non-attorney staff the same benefits.

Discrepencies between staff and higher-level employees in terms of parental leave benefits are a problem that exists across all companies, said Brianna Cayo Cotter, chief of staff for Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US).

But this is “a blind spot” for law firms, Cotter, whose advocacy organization was founded by former Change.org staffers, said in October.

Fenwick staff, for instance, receive up to 18 weeks of paid leave for birthing parents, and up to 12 weeks of paid leave for non-birthing parents, which can can be combined with accrued paid time off.

Susman Godfrey offers associates unlimited, gender-neutral paid parental leave, but the policy doesn’t apply to staff, who have up to 10 weeks of paid maternity leave through a combination of short-term disability leave and maternity leave.

Lowenstein Sandler is one firm that offers all employees the same duration of paid leave. Its gender-neutral paid leave policy includes up to 16 weeks paid leave and up to 24 weeks total leave upon the birth or adoption of a child for primary parental caregivers. The firm offers up to eight weeks paid leave and up to 12 weeks total leave upon the birth or adoption of a child for non-primary parental caregivers.

“If this is really about the family and bonding with a new child and creating and environment at home, what does a law degree have to do with how much time somebody may need to have the right environment?” Gary Wingens, chair of Lowenstein Sandler, told Bloomberg Law last year.

With assistance from Genevieve Douglas.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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