Why Are Male Lawyers Rejecting Paternity Leave?
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Summary: Law firms offer paternity leave, so why aren’t male attorneys taking it?

To keep up with the times, law firms now offer generous paternity leave to their associates. For instance, Lowenstein Sandler allocates 24 weeks; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe gives 22 weeks; and Winston & Strawn provides 20 weeks. Law firms have stated that this is to attract high-level talent and to address the dearth of women in the workforce; and on the surface, these new policies sound great. What man doesn’t want to spend time with his children? Yet, even though the benefit is offered, many male attorneys are not taking it.


In non-legal industries, family leave has become a huge issue; and major corporations such as Ikea, Facebook, and American Express offer generous gender-neutral paid family leave. At Ikea, for example, new mothers and fathers are allowed up to four months of paid time off. Around the world, other countries are also helping new fathers. At Deutsche India, men are allowed six months of paternity leave, and at Lotte in South Korea, men are mandated to spend time with their newborns.

In contrast with these other white collar fields, experts say that the legal world is still trying to catch up.

“Law firms are a bit behind other industries, especially the financial and other professional service industries, when it comes to more innovative family measures,” Vivia Chen of The American Lawyer said.

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Numerous studies have shown that women drop out of law, and one of the main reasons cited is that they end up choosing their family life over their career. The law firm culture is notorious for making its associates work an extensive number of billable hours; and for mothers, that commitment is often second-place to their responsibilities at home if their spouse is not picking up the slack.

“Having children is a massive factor in women’s careers,” Roxana Willis of the Economist said. “And sometimes women don’t go back to work, or go back much later, because of child rearing responsibilities.” She added that sharing responsibility “makes a big difference for women.”

Mitch Zuklie, CEO of Orrick, said that offering equal parental leave to men was crucial to fixing the low number of women at law firms. It is well known that the ratio to men and women in law schools is relatively equal, but with time, female attorneys drop out of the working world. Among 30-year-old lawyers at Big Law firms, women comprise 45 percent. By age 50, women only make up 27 percent.

“Let’s be clear: unlike some other industries, law firms don’t have a pipeline problem,” Zuklie wrote in an opinion piece. “Women are thriving in U.S. law schools at the same rates as men. But they are not thriving — in the right numbers — in law firms… At Orrick, one way we’re seeking to attract women, and inspire them to stay and lead, is by expanding our parental leave policy.”

Despite the strides that law firms are attempting to create through policy, company culture is still conservative. Male lawyers are having trouble utilizing all of their parental leave due to cultural norms that frown upon men choosing family over work. This means that they either feel stigmatized so they don’t request their full amount of paid time off, or they take the parental leave, only to return to a hostile environment.

In 2013, Dechert settled a lawsuit from a former attorney who said he was retaliated against after he took leave to be with his son. While the attorney may have won that battle, it is unclear what that action did to his law firm career long-term, according to FindLaw.

So how can law firms change their culture to match their family policies? One solution is to copy the foreign model of mandating leave. This eliminates the stigma for men to request time off, and it levels the playing field between men and women, who statistically are out of the office longer after a baby.

Do you think more male attorneys will utilize paid parental leave? Let us know in the comments below.



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