Lawyer moms need better childcare benefits—it’s time for existing programs to evolve

Motherly Collective

It’s not exactly a secret that a lawyer’s job is a demanding one. It requires long hours and dedication, so when it comes to childcare, there’s little room for compromise. Simply put, lawyers need better childcare benefits. This goes for other employees at law firms too. Existing programs are not cutting it.

I know a thing or two about childcare. My co-founders and I started Upwards to help entrepreneurs run their own daycares, to work with governments to help subsidize childcare and to assist employers in offering childcare benefits to their workforces. My husband also happens to be a lawyer. We know all too well how stressful it can be to balance working in the legal profession with around-the-clock childcare responsibilities.

We have two young kids, so life is ridiculously busy, all the time. The daily struggle of working parents is one that we’ve faced over the last five years and share with many other families. A career in law is incredibly demanding for anyone, let alone a parent trying to strike that elusive work-life balance.

Whether it’s stifling the progression of women’s law careers or making it impossible for executive assistants to work the overtime needed to successfully support the firm, the lack of flexible childcare is having a negative impact on the legal profession. 

Employee retention is a common challenge for organizations across the board, with childcare benefits providing a practical antidote. Law firms, specifically, suffer this fallout by failing to retain experienced women lawyers.

According to the report, “Walking Out the Door: The Fact, Figures, and Future of Experienced Women Lawyers in Private Practice,” caretaking commitments were one of the main reasons female lawyers offered for leaving their careers in law. Not only do women’s disproportionately higher caregiving responsibilities cause them to leave the workforce in droves, experienced female lawyers in the prime of their careers step away at a time when their male counterparts get promoted to partner.

This distressing reality can be remedied by more firms providing comprehensive, flexible childcare benefit programs to support women practicing law and rising in the ranks. The reality is that traditional childcare benefits are not working anymore.

Unfortunately, this motherhood inequality not only exists for female lawyers, but a legal career can even compound the problem. For lawyer moms, the inequality that only materializes for mothers is a leading cause of burnout. This status quo is unsustainable and frankly cannot continue as firms consistently lose top talent who either switch to a more supportive firm or transition out of the profession altogether. 

I’m not the first one to highlight this, of course. The issue was actually taken up by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates. On February 22, 2021, the ABA’s policymaking body approved a resolution putting the onus on law firms, bar associations, law schools and the legal community to establish policies that promote the availability of high-quality childcare for everyone working in the legal profession.

That’s a huge deal. Furthermore, the resolution also urges federal, state and local governments to pass legislation that would advance access to “fair, affordable, and high-quality child care and family care” for all workers. This is welcome progress, though much work remains to actually improve childcare access and outcomes for these working families.

We cannot thoroughly discuss the state of childcare for the legal profession without talking about the shift to remote and hybrid work. It’s not going away any time soon. Zoom court—if you know, you know.

During the course of the pandemic, there was a profound shift from lawyers practicing in person at all times to working remotely. Remote work can be a boon for efficiency, yet it presents its own distinctive pressures on that coveted work-life balance we’re all looking for.

I’ve seen this within my own family. Even with remote flexibility, most lawyers are still putting in long hours. In order to spend enough quality time with our kids while they’re awake,  there have been times my husband logged a ton of extra hours in the evening—sometimes working until 2 am. This creates a tangible strain that was definitely felt during peak pandemic times, when childcare facilities and schools were closed with no relief in sight.

Do remote workers still need childcare benefits? The answer is a resounding yes. Remote flexibility may indeed help if you need to pick up your child from daycare or school on short notice, but it’s not going to do much to make you productive while they’re sharing your work space. Forget WeWork. Your kids can quickly turn your home office into WeBreak and WeSnack.

Most firms have decided to be agile and hybrid, with the consensus that some mix of in-person and remote work is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Lawyers have adjusted to their new hybrid work routines, but have the childcare benefit programs their firms have chosen adapted along with them?

What type of employer-sponsored childcare benefits am I talking about here? Traditional childcare centers are one example, with some firms providing on-site childcare via the traditional center model. In most cases, centers are open roughly 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.

Many working parents in the legal field work long hours, including evenings and sometimes weekends. In this case, these typical childcare center hours associated with on-site care do not address their childcare needs. They are also seeking care that is close to home rather than having to commute to an on-site location. This is crucial because the childcare benefit offerings should cater to the working parents managing their daily childcare struggles along with their considerable workload.

So what type of employee childcare benefits will be the most useful for lawyers, legal secretaries, executive assistants and paralegals working at the firm? Some of the most common and practical childcare benefits for employees available include:

By providing flexible childcare benefits that employees actually use, firms can better retain more female lawyers and support their career growth, offer invaluable childcare to all employees regardless of their role and foster a more productive, satisfying work environment overall. It’s time for the childcare benefits offered by firms to evolve and meet their employees’ reasonable work-life expectations.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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