The adoption of on-site child care in law firms has the potential to have beneficial (1) social effects for women and mothers and (2) economic benefits for law firms as businesses. At many law firms, demanding billable hour requirements create a prejudiced work environment that disadvantages mothers during their "optimal years of childbearing and family responsibility" (Hagan & Kay 1995). Past research on the topic of mothers in the workplace has detailed many of the disadvantages that mothers must cope with in law firms. Facing heavy demands in their family and work roles, mother-lawyers become victims of unfair motherhood wage penalties and discriminatory practices in their law firms. In dealing with all these issues, mothers have to avoid appearing "uncommitted" to their job - a label that threatens to jeopardize their prospects for partnership within their law firms. On-site child care within law firms is a means by which law firms can correct the problems that affect their mother-lawyers while increasing the profitability of the firm. First, with the large number of mothers and potential mothers that exist in the legal profession, law firms would be addressing the family needs of a large constituency of their employees through active structural change. Second, non-mother-lawyers, because they would attribute the mother-lawyers' job dedication to the on-site child care at the law firm, would be less likely to label mother-lawyers as uncommitted or overly committed to their work which would lead less women to opt-out of the partnership track. Third, it would increase the productivity of mother-lawyers and father-lawyers because they would need much shorter breaks away from work to take care of their children which would reduce the constant worrying of these lawyers and allow them to complete more work. Fourth, providing on-site child care sends major signals about a firm's dedications to embracing work-life balance - signals that would boost morale within firms and help to attract the top female, as well as male, talent from law schools and other firms. On-site child care provides law firms with an effective way of (1) increasing the gender diversity among their partners by combating some of the discrimination that mother-lawyers face during their professional careers and of (2) increasing profits by raising the overall morale and productivity of their lawyers.
Despite the entrance of an increasing number of women into the legal profession, law firms are failing to serve the needs of female lawyers who continue to leave law firms at large rates. In Gender in Practice: A Study of Lawyer's Lives, John Hagan and Fiona Kay report that "In the last thirty years, the number of lawyers in the United States and Canada has more than tripled, and today as many women as men are entering legal practice" (Hagan & Kay 1995). But while law firms are hiring more female lawyers, the attrition rates for mother-lawyers show that these firms are not putting sufficient mechanisms in place to support the career growth of women. In a 2007 Working Mother magazine article about the best law firms for women, Jennifer Owens cited the Center for Work-Life Policy and reported that "42% of women lawyers leave the profession at some point in their careers" (Owens). As I discuss later in the paper, the rapid rate at which women leave law firms reflects the pressures that law firms create for women through their demanding billable hour systems and through the unfair stereotypes they express regarding women's childbearing functions. These external and internal demands heavily influence the roles women end up occupying within law firms. In a Working Mother article about on-site child care in law firms, Gini Wallace highlights a 2007 MIT Workplace Center study that "found that 15 percent of women move into staff attorney or "of counsel" nonpartnership-track positions, versus 9 percent of men-and that women using part-time and flex options are less likely to be promoted to equity partner than those who don't." (Wallace). Citing a 2006 survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), Wallace goes on to report, "Even though almost 50 percent of law school graduates over the past 15 years have been women, female attorneys still account for a mere 16 percent of equity partners," (Wallace). The fact that women, despite entering law firms at equal rates as men, are leaving firms at higher rates and reaching partnership at lower rates than men points to a systematic bias within law firms. Research shows that women are funneled out of law firms and into non-partnership positions within law firms at higher rates than men due to a number of restraints that law firms place on women and mothers.
Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School. BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.
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