Being a Mother in BigLaw Is Rough. So Is Being a Father.

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Yesterday, we wrote about a former Squire Patton Boggs associate who took to the Internet to decry the gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and "a very clear glass ceiling" found at major law firms. At many firms, the mother of two claimed, "having a baby apparently makes you worth less as a lawyer."

Her complaints line up with what many others have said: the male-dominated legal industry can be a horrible place for mothers. And it's a pretty terrible place to be a father as well, according to the experience of male lawyers who've sought to take paternity leave.

The Firm Comes First

If you work in a large firm, whether you're a man or a woman, it's fine to spend time with your family. Just don't let it distract from your work. And your work should consume most of your life.

That's the unwritten rule many attorneys run up against when considering taking time off to start a family. And while women definitely face stigma surrounding maternity leave, men who want to take paternity leave also experience significant bias.

Paternity Horror Stories

Last September, Above the Law surveyed BigLaw attorneys and found that "men are being seriously stigmatized" when they take paternity leave. A few months later and there are even more horror stories to report. They come to via a very special, Daddy-focused edition of Above the Law's "The Pink Ghetto," a look at "some of the most appalling stories from one of the most sexist industries in the world."

One attorney's experience is representative:

My firm offers an extensive paternity leave policy on par with what women receive, something like 8-12 weeks of paid time off. When I broached the subject with a partner who I trust, she told me that she didn't think my taking even the lowest portion of the available leave would fly with some of the older partners supervising matters I was working on, but encouraged me to do what I thought was right for my family...

[W]hen people found out I was planning to take 4 weeks, I'd heard that through the grapevine that I was taking advantage of the system and that I'd never make partner considering my low commitment to the firm.

Yep, take advantage of just a small amount of the benefits offered and you're suddenly a slacker who is abusing the system. Kiss your career prospects goodbye.

It's not just attorneys at massive firms that face judgement for wanting to spend time with their newborns. "I'm at a very, very small firm," one lawyer wrote. "When I asked about paternity leave, the partner in charge looked like he was trying not to laugh in my face, but said he'd consider it."

What's a family-focused attorney to do? Find a friendlier firm, perhaps -- or maybe get in touch with a lawyer.

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