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The Nanny Firm

Claire Zillman

August 25, 2011

Stroller O'Melveny & Myers is putting money behind its work/life balance rhetoric.

This spring, in partnership with behavioral health company AbilTo, the firm introduced a program called Momentum One to help new parents transition back to work.

The program pairs new moms or dads with one of AbilTo’s transition specialists, who are also licensed clinical social workers. Meetings via videoconference are set up once a week for eight weeks--four before the new parent returns to work, and four after.

When O'Melveny announced Momentum One in April, it presented it as a way "to help new parents recognize and successfully manage the challenges of transitioning from parental leave back to work." The firm said the program was "aimed at retaining, developing, and supporting new parents at the firm."

Sounds good, right? Well, skeptics that we are, we decided to check in with some of the program's participants. Four months later, has this "innovative initiative" lived up to its expectations?

So far, five new moms have completed the program. The four we talked to raved about its benefits.

Counsel Alicia Hancock, who works in O’Melveny’s Century City, California, office, was one of the first lawyers at the firm to enroll. “It was a big help because my consultant asked practical questions that I hadn’t thought of, like what would I do if my nanny called in sick?” says Hancock. After that conversation, Hancock signed up for backup care provided by O'Melveny. When her nanny became ill a few weeks later, she was all set. It was also nice, adds Hancock, “to talk to someone about the transition who wasn’t a family member.”

Abby Johnston, counsel in O’Melveny’s New York office, talked with her AbilTo specialist about drawing boundaries between her role as a lawyer and her role as a mom. She devised a plan that allowed her to leave work every day around 5:30 or 6. From then until 8 was family time. After that, she would plug back into work for a few hours. She made sure her colleagues were aware of this schedule.

“My consultant suggested I make it as nonnegotiable as possible,” she says.

Counsel Catalina Vergara says her consultant helped her work through the difficulty her older daughter had with her return to work. “I didn’t think me going back to work would be so hard on my 3-year-old. She’d basically forgotten that I’d ever had a job after my maternity leave,” says Vergara. Her consultant suggested that she create new rituals with her toddler to try to offset her return to work, she says.

Rochelle Karr, director of O’Melveny’s attorney professional development and alumni relations, introduced Momentum One to the firm and completed the program herself. “Lawyers, by nature, have more unpredictable schedules, and children, by nature, love predictability,” Karr says. The program, which costs the firm $1,925-$2,700 per participant, helps parents balance their obligations, she says.

When O’Melveny first announced Momentum One, it was AbilTo’s only law firm client. Since then, the idea hasn't exactly caught fire: Just two more law firms have signed up for the program, says Margaret Klein, program director at AbilTo.

If you're asking, "Where do I sign up?" we're right there with you. But can it really be that easy to predict and conquer all the challenges of mixing a little baby with Big Law?

Probably not. But what new parent can turn down extra help if it's offered?



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It is a great idea and a good way to retain excellent staff.

I'm sorry - this is the silliest thing I've ever heard. These women are earning $250k or more and can't figure out how to leave work by 6 or what to do if the nanny is sick. Of course, this AbiTo program doesn't seem any better. If the nanny is sick, seems to me that the "back up" plan would be for the woman's husband to stay home. Last I looked, most kids are raised by two parents.

It was the partners that I work for that needed counseling and training regarding my transitioning back to work after the birth of my child. I understood that certain things, such as a schedule that allowed a few hours in the evening, should be nonnegotiable. The partners that I worked for did not agree. As long as law firms are run by men who, for the most part, have stay at homes wives, there is not going to be an easy transition for mothers going back to work.

I am a partner at a Suburban Chicago Law Firm, Waltz, Palmer & Dawson, LLC. WPD was formed on the premise that good attorneys are smart people who will be professionals when managing their work load. The result, happy attorneys with full lives.

All of us, at WPD, staff included, have lives outside the office that they we want to balance with good legal work and fair pay. For many of us, that includes children and pets. At WPD, the client comes first. Staff and attorneys are a high priority second.

When a client hires Waltz, Palmer & Dawson, LLC they know we will make deadlines, provide a high quality responsive legal advice that is well-priced. They also know that their calls will be returned quickly and that the attorneys and staff members that they deal with are available and good communicators. What they may not know is that WPD also makes sure that each of the members of our firm is connected to their family regardless of its composition and a participant in their own lives. At WPD it is not all about the paycheck.

WPD is growing. If you are interested in making the law part of your life, let us know.

And Big Firms, when you finally figure out that smart hardworking people should be encouraged to be parents and have full lives, give us a call. We have some advice on the subject.

I want to thank Ms. Zillman for this excellent post. She is right to be skeptical when it comes to the idea of helping new parents achieve practical work-life balance in demanding fields such as law, accounting, finance, consulting, etc. It's an are in which promises tend to outstrip results.

At AbilTo, we put extraordinary effort into discovering what has been proven effective and then ensuring that we deliver consistently high quality of service. When this happens, employers and professionals both win.

Michael Laskoff
CEO - AbilTo

this sounds like a brilliant idea, and i think every law firm that prides itself on respecting work life balance or promoting gender diversity should sign up! I am not connected at all with AbilTo and i don't have kids, nor do i think i will any time soon, it just seems like a no brainer. my firm has a similar service for our expat lawyers who are posted to places in the Middle East where it may be difficult to adapt to local conditions.

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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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