As the legal profession grapples with issues of attorney wellness and work-life balance, one firm has raised the bar to new heights.
Susman Godfrey LLP – with 139 lawyers in offices in Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York – has begun offering unlimited parental leave to all of its 48 associates, regardless of gender or caregiver status.
This is the first firm in the country to do so, according to Bloomberg Law.
The move bolsters Susman Godfrey’s image as an exceptionally employee-friendly workplace. In 2015, the firm began giving associates unlimited paid vacation. Now, they will get unlimited paid parental leave as well. Some of this time – up to 12 weeks for any associate and 18 weeks for delivering mothers – is even credited towards annual bonuses.
“The firm’s expanded and gender-neutral parental leave policy is part of our ongoing effort to foster an equitable and inclusive workplace, one that recognizes the importance of parental bonding time to all attorneys, regardless of gender or caregiver status,” says Los Angeles partner Amanda Bonn in this ABA Journal story.
The policy also applies to parents who adopt and parents who use a surrogate.
“It’s healthy for the parents, it’s healthy for the firm,” says Houston partner Erica Harris, one of the policy’s authors.
Take as Much Time Off as You’d Like
Unlimited paid leave may sound too good to be true, at least for employees. But a growing number of companies – including law firms – are finding it’s a win-win for both sides.
Take the 180-lawyer firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo in Cerritos, California. Five years ago, it began offering unlimited time off for all attorneys. The only conditions: stay on top of your workload and meet your billable-hour requirements.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive, the firm reports. Lawyers are happy. Clients are continuing to get top service. And the new policy has been a recruiting and retention bonanza.
“Are you doing the job?” says firm lawyer Paul Fleck in this Society for Human Resource Management article. “Because that’s what this is designed for. Whether you’re there for two hours or 102 hours, we don’t care. Just get your job done.”
Working Out Really Well
Susman Godfrey started offering associates unlimited paid vacation in 2015, and it “worked out really well,” says Harris. She believes the parental leave policy will be just as well-received, and she doesn’t expect people to abuse the policy. Previously, the firm offered four weeks of parental leave and 16 weeks for delivering mothers.
Proponents of unlimited leave say it’s perfect for professions like the law that are project-based and outcome-oriented. A liberal leave policy treats work as a performance issue, not a time issue. If Associate A can do the same work as Associate B in half the time – and with similar results – why not give the former more work, a promotion, or time off at their discretion?
Staff Not Included
Even though firms are becoming more generous in giving attorneys time off, support staff and hourly workers aren’t as lucky.
At Susman Godfrey, hourly workers get up to 10 weeks of paid maternity leave through a combination of short-term disability and maternity leave. HR professionals say the next frontier is expanding liberal leave policies to cover staff as well as attorneys.
What about your firm? What is your policy on parental leave?
- Susman Godfrey News Release https://www.susmangodfrey.com/news-awards/sg-news/susman-godfrey-announces-unlimited-paid-gender-neutral-parental-leave-for-associates/
- Bloomberg Law https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/susman-godfrey-offers-unlimited-gender-neutral-parental-leave-1
- ABA Journal http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/susman_godfrey_offers_asociates_unlimited_gender_neutral_paid_parental_leav
- Society for Human Resource Management https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/unlimited-vacation.aspx
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. During the course of his 35- year career, he has been a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms succeed through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations (www.yourlawlife.com). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-619-2441 to learn how Jay can help your practice.