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September 9, 2008 7:35 PM

Yale Law Women Names Top Ten Family-Friendly Firms

Posted by Rachel Breitman

Just as law students are finishing up interviews and considering their job prospects, Yale Law Women took its latest look at firms' policies. Releasing the results of its third annual survey on family-friendly firms yesterday, the student group cited the ten best at helping lawyers strike a work-life balance. 

After sending 100 top firms a 35-question survey, the group weighted and ranked their responses. Firms garnered kudos and special attention for extending parent-leave programs, offering on-site child care, allowing lawyers to work from home, or fostering leadership opportunities for women and minorities.

In order to encourage more firms to participate in future surveys, the group decided not to rank the top ten performers this year or to publish the list of the also-rans. Topping the list were Arnold & Porter and Covington & Burling in Washington D.C; Debevoise & Plimpton and Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel in New York; Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo and WilmerHale in Boston; Perkins Coie in Seattle; Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in L.A. and Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis

"We didn’t just ask about their policies," the group's chair Lauren Gerber tells The AmLaw Daily. "We also asked what percent of the lawyers took advantage of each policy, to make sure that firms weren't just paying lip service to work-life balance. We wanted to see change in action."

Each year the group has tinkered with its methodology. In 2006, the students only looked at firms attended by Yale Law summer associates. Last year, the students culled their data from the National Association of Women Lawyers, rather than conducting original research.

Some results were heartening. The group found, for example, that the firms are giving men an average of eight weeks of paternity leave. Other findings--including that, even in the most family-friendly firms, women make up only 19 percent of partners--were more daunting.

But some firms are hard at work to change that last statistic. At Dorsey, 10 out of 16 of the 2007 partnership class were female, and four of them were working part-time. The firm has a female managing partner in Marianne Short, and partner--and former presidential nominee--Walter Mondale is a frequent advocate for promoting women into leadership positions.

While only seven percent of associates at the winning firms work part-time, many of them are adding policies to boost this number. At Debevoise, more than 50 lawyers are working part-time; 12 of the partners have worked part-time at one point or another.

"Probably what makes us distinctive is that we have had women working part-time for over 40 years," says Margaret Davenport, co-chair of the firm's private equity group. In fact, Davenport became a partner 1995 while she was working part-time. "You don’t need to ask permission or strike a deal to work part-time."

Other firms have helped lawyers take extended leave without losing their job security. At Arnold & Porter employees can take a leave of absence of up to three years. During that time, the firm continues to pay bar membership fees, and helps with continuing legal credits. In-house daycare is available for parents who choose to return to work.

Among the innovations adopted by Covington, which is on the Yale list for a second year in a row: an increased capacity for telecommuting and a new heath-advocacy program that offers advice on family health care issues.

"It's not about the success of individual lawyers," says Andrea Reister, a co-chair of Covington's Diversity Committee and partner in the patent litigation group. "It's about the success of the firm balancing the lives of their lawyers."

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Lauren Gerber's point about actual policy usage versus "lip service" is important. Lawyers are beginning to demand work-life balance in their careers. Read about one Fellow's project addressing work-life balance: http://equaljusticeworks.wordpress.com/category/work-life-balance/

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