Law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has significantly beefed up its parental leave benefit, it announced this week, offering 22 paid weeks off for both its male and female attorneys. Lawyers will also have the option of taking a total of nine months off of work without risking losing their jobs.
The new policy is a significant increase from what the company originally offered, adding four weeks of paid leave and two months of unpaid leave to the prior policy. The firm also says that it will be the most generous policy offered among large U.S. law firms. Staff who are not attorneys will also be able to take 14 weeks of paid leave and seven months of unpaid leave.
Mitch Zuklie, CEO of Orrick, explained that the policy change is in direct response to the dearth of women in the field. Women make up about half of law school graduates but just a third of those in the profession, while they make up 20 percent of all partners and just 4 percent of managing partners at the biggest firms. “Let’s be clear: unlike some other industries, law firms don’t have a pipeline problem,” Zuklie wrote in an op-ed about the company’s new policy. “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.”
Ironically, Orrick was the law firm that successfully defended venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins against Ellen Pao’s lawsuit claiming gender bias and harassment.
“At Orrick, one way we’re seeking to attract women, and inspire them to stay and lead, is by expanding our parental leave policy,” he said. He noted that a 2007 report found that the biggest reason women give for leaving the track to a law firm partnership is the conflict between combining the long hours required with caring for children.
Besides adding the paid leave, the firm is also adding a “Leave Liaison” to help parents transition back to work as well as training for those in leadership for how to support parents. It also already had an onramping program for parents and a flexible work program.
The firm’s paid leave stands out as particularly generous among American companies. Google ranks near the top, offering five paid months, and other technology companies also offer some of the longest benefits. But others have decided to enhance paid leave, like Johnson & Johnson, which recently added eight additional weeks of paid leave for all new parents, coming to 17 weeks off for birth mothers and nine weeks for fathers.
Many of these companies have also enhanced their paid leave offerings in the pursuit of attracting and retaining more female employes. After Google expanded its leave from three months, its attrition rate fell by 50 percent. Paid family leave has been found to keep women in the workforce generally and to add more women to it.
But while generous leave packages may be in vogue for white collar workers, most Americans don’t get such support. The U.S. is one of just three countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, while 70 others guarantee paid paternity leave. That means just 12 percent of the workforce has access to paid time off for the arrival of a new baby. And higher-income workers like those at law firms and big tech companies are much more likely to get leave than those at the bottom of the wage scale.