By Peg Johnston • September 30, 2008•Firms and the Private Sector
On the way to a recruiting dinner recently, I had the pleasure of driving with a sixth-year and an eighth-year (up for partner) associate. Both are at the top of their game at my BigLaw firm. Both are highly professional, competent, and competitive. They are your typical careerists - the type that nobody ever questions their work ethic or dedication to the firm and its clients. The conversation turned to children as one of their wives is due with their second child in December. To my surprise, the conversation drifted to paternity leave and how both men had (or intended to) take advantage of the firm's four-week paid paternity leave policy. There was no mention of what people would think or how the partners would judge them. Instead, the conversation was all about how great the policy was and how crazy that would be not to take advantage of it. The tone and direction of this conversation is something that I take for granted. However, it is important to recognize that this is an indication of a major shift in law firm culture that has occurred likely in just the past handful of years. And, I for one, am hopeful that it is an indication that balanced-life policies, the kind that lawyers actually take advantage of, are going to cross the gender lines in the near future.
There is an article on law.com called "Rare Birds" from September 1, 2008 and it discusses the fact that while more men are taking paternity leave, they are not yet pushing for the same reduced hours and extended leave options. Men are, according to the article, "still pursuing the traditional breadwinner role, as opposed to breadwinner-plus". However, there are plenty of indications that the current generation of law students may be more enlightened in this area. Male law students, just like female law students, are concerned about the unlive-able demands of the billable hours at BigLaw and are just as concerned about work-life balance.
I can imagine, that in a handfull of years, a female junior associate at my firm will be riding to a recruiting dinner with senior male associates and discussing their flex-time schedules or reduced hours arrangements and thinking that their is nothing special about their choices, not realizing that just a few years before such programs and policies were only directed at, and taken advantage of, by women.