How Marketing Can Ease Parental-Leave Transitions

January 10, 2022

Because many Big Law firms offer generous paid parental leave benefits and flexible schedules, it can seem from the outside that these workplaces are friendly to lawyers who plan to have children while pursuing the traditional path to partner, as recently reported in Law360. But while new parents may have control over where they do their work, they still face intense pressure to meet billable-hour targets if they want to stay on track with their careers. That can make preparing for leave (One lawyer quoted said hitting her firm’s hours and collections goals was the “hardest part” of her pregnancy) and returning to work a treacherous time for many new parents, especially women.

When leave ends, it is not always possible and definitely not easy for a lawyer to immediately return to the high level of productivity he or she may have delivered in the past. Recognizing this challenge, some firms that want to stay true to their commitment to equity and inclusion have designed “ramp-up” programs providing parents a few months to build back up to billable-hour targets. When implemented thoughtfully, these programs can ease some of the pressure on lawyers and ensure they will not pay a penalty for taking leave or wind up on the dreaded “mommy track.”

But ramp-up programs tend to focus solely on billable hours, and that is not the only problem returning lawyers face. Many parents who take leave, especially women, also lose visibility, both inside and outside the firm, during the time they are away. That can mean missing out on business development opportunities with current and prospective clients, and receiving fewer substantive work assignments when they return. Over time, this loss of visibility can change the trajectory of a lawyer’s career.

A more holistic ramp-up initiative would focus on both billable-hour targets and providing lawyers with some simple marketing supports to keep them top of mind for partners who staff matters and to promote their expertise to the clients they may serve in the future.

Here are three low-investment, high-return steps law firm marketers can take to support lawyers through parental leave transitions:

            Update contact lists. Help a lawyer preparing for leave update her email contact list before she goes dark, and make any necessary updates while she is gone. Ensuring that all information is up to date and all her current clients have been added to the list will make it easier to resume targeted emails when she returns.

            Stay on top of award opportunities. Awards can bolster an attorney’s bio and help her develop business. Identify award opportunities from well-respected, relevant outlets, and make a plan to prepare the nomination in time for deadlines, even if the lawyer is still on leave.

            Generate a list of ideas for articles, speeches and pitches. The return to work — and the pressure to develop business — will be less daunting if the lawyer can begin with some easy steps. Before leave starts, talk through some trends she might write or speak on at a conference. Take note of reporters who are covering key topics in the industries the lawyer serves, and consider pitches you could make when she returns to work. When the time is right, the lawyer will be ready to execute on these ideas, gaining visibility in external channels, and also inside the firm. 

Putting supportive practices in place for lawyers returning from parental leave helps them keep their careers on track. It also helps the firm attract and retain valuable talent, provide continuity of service for clients and stay true to its commitment to foster an equitable and inclusive workplace.