BigLaw Looks To Clear Partnership Path For Pregnant Attys
BigLaw's historical hostility to work-life balance is mellowing, experts said, as more firm leaders promote partnerships for female lawyers out on maternity leave and for those who have just returned from significant breaks.
That was the message from a group of BigLaw partners who achieved that goal despite taking lengthy breaks at critical junctures in their path to partnership. And while industry experts say the legal profession lags behind many others in terms of gender diversity, BigLaw is making progress in transforming a work culture many still see as hostile to parental leave and family life.
Leigh Ann Buziak, a litigation partner in Blank Rome's Philadelphia office, said she had no thought about how motherhood might impact her career in her early years at the firm. But after she got married in 2010, the birth of her son and a six-month maternity leave landed in 2013 — the same year she was to get a final evaluation for partner promotion.
But any anxiety about the impact of her absence on the firm’s decision was tempered, she said, by a “well-paved” path of other women who had also taken significant maternity breaks without derailing their promotions.
“My thinking was: 'I have a record here. I’ve been here almost 10 years. I’ve billed X number of hours a year. I've done all these kinds of things,' ” she said. “I felt I could stand on my record and I thought the firm would see it that way, too.”
Buziak said she was pleased but not surprised when she was promoted to partner just days after returning from a six-month leave. While still on a part-time schedule, Buziak was also named chair of the firm’s general litigation practice group.
“This time around, because I am in a leadership position, I think I will want to stay more plugged in,” Buziak said last week as she prepared for the imminent birth of her second child and another maternity leave. “But I fully expect to be able to come back and resume where I left off.”
Buziak and others attributed their relatively smooth transitions through maternity leave and the partner gantlet to a number of factors: strong individual support from practice heads, greater emphasis overall in their firms on retaining talent, less focus on billables alone and more on performance, and more men and women using flexible schedule options to be with their kids.
“In my time here, I am seeing a lot more men with families leaving at five and more associates saying, ‘I want to see the baby before she goes to sleep,’” Buziak said. “It’s not just a women’s issue. It’s a family issue, and I think it helps everyone when it's treated like that.”
Forty-five of Blank Rome’s 205 current partners are women, and five were promoted since 2012 during, just prior to, or after their maternity leave, the firm said.
To read the full article by Andrew Strickler, please visit www.law360.com.