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The New Must-Have: 20 Weeks of Paid Paternity Leave

Vivia Chen

May 25, 2016

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This is pretty radical—actually, downright Scandinavian: Winston & Strawn just implemented a gender-neutral parental leave program. The firm now gives lawyers a whopping five month parental leave—all paid! Party on! For all you millennials out there: This could be the go-to firm to have your babies.

Here's what the firm says about the policy:

U.S.-based associates and of counsel attorneys—regardless of gender—will receive up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave for child care and parent-child bonding, to be taken in one or two increments within the first year after the child arrives. Parents are not required to designate themselves as primary or non-primary caregivers—a distinction that may not reflect the needs and experience of individuals in two-career households.

Did you catch that? You don't even have to wear puke-covered clothes and pretend to be the primary caregiver. "We felt the distinction [between a primary and secondary caregiver] didn't reflect the reality of what went on in a two career family," says Linda Coberly, the managing partner of the firm's Chicago office. She adds that she believes it is the first firm to offer such a generous, gender-neutral leave policy.

In addition, the firm offers lots of other support for new parents to encourage them to go back to work:

The firm has also created a Parental Leave Transition Support Program to assist attorneys who take a parental leave. The program includes: 1) a Parental Leave Liaison to assist attorneys in preparing for and returning from parental leave, 2) confidential career coaching services, and 3) “ramp-down” and “ramp-up” periods during which an attorney’s billable hours targets will be adjusted to aid in the transition.

I have to admit all these perks seem quite impressive. (The only thing missing seems to be a designated personal trainer and masseuse.) But, my gosh, all this must cost a pretty penny. The firm's managing partner Thomas Fitzgerald insists, however, that cost was not a factor. "We didn't consider it," he says. "We're in a heated race for talent—recruiting and retaining people. I could argue that keeping people will save us money in the long run."

As wonderful as it all sounds, I do wonder whether this program is more symbol than reality. From what I've seen, men don't always jump at taking paternity leave (at least not the full leave); there's still the stigma that taking lengthy leaves will make men look like girly-girls, incurring the scorn of their grumpy Baby Boomer bosses.

But Coberly is more optimistic. "We think men will take [the new leave] because they've already taken advantage of it in the past, and they succeeded and got promoted to partnership." She adds, "the response from associates has been terrific."

We'll see how many men take the full leave—particularly, if it's the third or fourth kid. At the very least, though, Winston & Strawn deserves credit for throwing down the gauntlet on parental leave.

What about you other Am Law firms out there? Are you ready to go Scandinavian?

vchen@alm.com

 

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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: VChen@alm.com

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