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New Survey Says Mothers Still Facing Burdens In Legal Practice

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

Work-life balance in the legal profession has come a long way. If nothing else, law firms generally must at least acknowledge some sort of effort at providing work-life balance for associates as a recruitment tool. But is it anything more than lip service? According to a new American Bar Association Survey, law firms still have a ways to go. Specifically, mothers are still feeling like having children is a roadblock to success.

New ABA Survey Still Finds "Motherhood Penalty"

According to a recent national survey by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, female lawyers with children still face increased difficulty in obtaining leadership positions at law firms. In addition, nearly twice as many mothers compared to fathers reported feeling like having children would negatively impact their careers. For comparison, 33% of fathers reported that children had a positive impact on their careers, while only 19% of mothers felt the same.

The ABA survey also noted that mothers were more likely than fathers to experience disparaging comments at work about parenthood, as well as lowered compensation.

The ABA received survey responses from more than 8,000 lawyers across the U.S. Respondents came from a variety of firms and in-house counsel.

Two Full-Time Jobs

The work-life balancing act is also different for mothers and fathers, according to the survey. Mothers still report a higher likelihood of leaving work to care for children's needs. This includes caretaking during evening hours, cooking meals, helping with homework, and scheduling doctor's appointments.

Of course, practicing law often requires working longer than 5 p.m. For mothers who have difficulty working more than eight or nine hours per day, it can be particularly tricky to manage the dual duty of work and home life. Leaving at 5 p.m. can also make it difficult to obtain leadership opportunities and the most promising cases.

Based on this finding, it is unsurprising that mothers also reported higher levels of stress with managing work-life balance. Mothers were also more likely than fathers to report considering leaving the profession.

Hybrid/Remote Work: A Way to Keep Talent?

The most important question the survey raises is: What can law firms do about the demands the profession makes on mothers? The ABA report noted some ways to retain talent and accommodate parent schedules. The majority of mothers with dependent children said they would stay at a law firm that allowed them to maintain their caretaking commitments. The majority of both mothers and fathers reported that remote or hybrid work allowed them more flexibility in balancing work and caretaking commitments. Of course, there is no perfect solution, as most fathers reported that remote work led to feelings of isolation, while almost half of mothers reported the same. Still, the ABA Committee offered the following options:

  • More mentorship/leadership opportunities for mothers
  • Implicit bias training
  • Crediting part-time work as a legitimate promotion path
  • Not requiring frequent evening meetings

Participants also recommended less reliance on using the billable hour as a metric to promote career advancement. Of course, attorneys have long bemoaned the billable hour, and it hasn't changed yet.

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