Susman Godfrey rolled out a new parental leave policy Oct. 2, offering associates unlimited, gender-neutral paid parental leave.
It’ll be interesting to see if other law firms, particularly big ones, follow suit, Stephanie Biderman, a managing director with Major, Lindsay & Africa in New York, said. Biderman said she doesn’t know of other U.S. firms offering unlimited parental leave.
But it might be more challenging for large law firms to implement a gender-neutral unlimited leave policy because of the greater number of associates at those firms, Biderman said.
Susman Godfrey has 139 attorneys, 48 of which are associates.
The policy also applies to parents who adopt and parents who use a surrogate.
Healthy, Progressive Policy
“It’s healthy for the parents, it’s healthy for the firm” when attorneys take parental leave, Erica Harris, an attorney with the firm’s Houston office, told Bloomberg Law.
A World Economic Forum study on the global gender gap index said that when men and women both take time off after a child is born to care for it, this “can increase women’s participation in the workforce.”
The firm’s policy is “exciting and progressive,” Brianna Cayo Cotter, chief of staff for Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US), an advocacy organization founded by former Change.org staffers, told Bloomberg Law.
Gender-neutral leave polices are a best practice and important for closing the gender pay gap. But to do so, men need to take the leave, too, Cotter said.
Firms can encourage it by having senior leaders take the full leave; having managers encourage men attorneys to take the leave; and assuring attorneys a transition plan will be in place for them to resume work on their return, she said.
Harris was one of four attorneys who drafted the proposal for the firm’s partners to change the parental leave policy after an associate told them that “at least one other firm” had a more gender-neutral policy than Susman Godfrey, Harris said.
The firm’s earlier policy offered four weeks parental leave and 16 weeks for delivering mothers.
Susman Godfrey has offered associates unlimited paid vacation since 2015 and it “worked out really well so we fully expect” the parental leave policy will also be well received and that no one will abuse the policy,” she said.
It’s expected the associates will act in good faith when deciding how much leave to take, Harris said.
Staff Not Included
The policy doesn’t apply to staff, Harris said.
Staff have up to 10 weeks of paid maternity leave through a combination of short-term disability leave and maternity leave.
The inequality between staff and higher-level employees in terms of parental leave benefits is a problem that exists across all companies, Cotter said.
But this is “a blind spot” for law firms, she said.
A Big Law Business analysis of 44 AmLaw 100 firms showed that primary caregivers who are lawyers receive an average of 5.7 to 8.3 more weeks of paid leave than their staff counterparts, depending on the staff member’s employment status.
And at some AmLaw 100 firms, hourly staff members receive no paid parental leave.
Susman Godfrey “clearly wants to be a leader” in this area, Cotter said.
If they were to expand the parental leave policy to all employees equally, “it would show that leadership,” she said.