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Jenner & Block's Mother Circle

Vivia Chen

December 6, 2012

Breastfeeding_©muro-fotoliaAre mommy support groups the secret to retaining women at major law firms? I doubt anyone thinks that the solution is that simple, but some of the women at Jenner & Block think that it certainly helps.

Charlotte Wager, a Jenner partner who’s now the firm's chief talent officer, was one of the group's early supporters. "Having policies is great, but what the women also wanted is a sense of community," she says. So besides informing women about resources, the group provides moral support to women who go back to work after their leave. "You know it’s an emotional time to leavea child at home," says Wager, who is herself the mother of four.

What returning moms often need is just practical information, says Wager. In fact, it was an email about the logistics of nursing on business trips that got the group off the ground two years ago. "I knew a mom who was traveling who was having difficulty with nursing," says seventh-year Jenner associate Reena Bajowala. "I got an email [about it] that was forwarded to me and a bunch of other people, and I thought, it shouldn't take six emails to get this kind of information."

Subsequently, Bajowala, who is herself a new mother, approached HR and enlisted Wager to support the group. "From the beginning, there was broad support—about 30 attorneys," says Bajowala. "They were all women, though not all were moms. Some expect kids in the future; some were there to provide advice." (The group now meets quarterly, covering topics like nursing and child sleep issues, as well as parental leave and reduced schedules.)

It's laudable that the women at Jenner feel secure about discussing nitty-gritty parenting issues at a firm-sponsored forum. But weren't they worried that they would be stigmatized for being too mommy-centric?

Not at all, says Bajowala. Jenner is progressive, she says, noting that the firm provides five months of paid maternity leave and emergency in-home nanny services. Moreover, "the managing partner [Susan Levy] is a woman," she adds. "It's a comfortable environment to raise these types of issues."

As for the men's reaction to these mommy's groups, Wager says, "There is no pushback. . . . Some dads are creating their own groups." 

Of course, it's much too early to say how the group will affect the retention of women at Jenner. But Bajowala says, "I can only say for myself that the group has provided me support I needed to continue at firm."

What do you think about new mother groups in law firms? Will they make a real dent in elevating the number of female partners in Big Law? Or is there a danger that they will stereotype women as mommy-lawyers?

 

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The mothers' support group is a very good idea. The stereotype of "mommy lawyers" - if there is one at Jenner & Block - will exist regardless.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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