Leading law firms are not exactly known for being parent-friendly. Long hours and can’t-miss deadlines can conflict with daycare pick-ups and pediatrician appointments. Firms often struggle to retain mothers, in particular, as many leave to pursue less time-intensive positions elsewhere.
“We think we’ve done a better job than most firms to keep talented women in the practice after they have children. I think that’s absolutely an advantage,” she says. “I think we’re a better law firm because of it.”
Spottswood is a partner in Mergers & Acquisitions and Capital Markets, a practice group that recently experienced a baby boom of sorts: Within a year and a half, Spottswood and seven other female attorneys in the practice have had children and later returned to work.
“If it was one person it’d be an anomaly, but you’re talking about eight females in a period of less than eighteen months who have had babies and come back to work. It’s a credit to the firm, to the women that we recruit, and the environment that they foster,” says Capital Markets partner Sarah Morgan, who had a child late last year. “We feel like this is a place where we can have families and thrive and continue to have successful practices.”
New mothers in other practice areas are similarly enthusiastic.
“It was never a question as to whether I would come back,” says Finance partner Bailey Pham. “The firm has supported me since the first day I arrived. Having a child and returning to work was no different.”
How does V&E, which was again named one of Working Mother magazine’s “Best Law Firms For Women,” support new moms? Consider it a combination of comprehensive benefits and a firm-wide culture that embraces parents. With respect to the former, V&E’s leadership and talent management and benefits teams work tirelessly to ensure that the firm provides leading edge-benefits and initiatives for working parents, from paying for nursing mothers to ship their breast milk during business trips, to flexible work arrangements, to parent resource groups, to generous, gender-neutral parental leave.
Expectant and new parents are paired with mentors who offer valuable advice on balancing law firm life with parenthood. Katherine Frank, a Capital Markets senior associate, didn’t shy away from asking her mentor “a ton” of questions on subjects ranging from childcare options to client service: “She took the time to talk through tips and tricks for navigating the law firm environment, including pregnancy and preparing for going on leave, all the way through phasing back into work after leave.”
Complementing the formal mentoring program are the informal mentoring and support offered by colleagues and senior leaders throughout the firm. “People here are invested in your career,” says Brittany Sakowitz, an M&A senior associate. Sakowitz found one of her biggest supporters to be partner Matthew Strock, the co-head of the Mergers & Acquisitions and Capital Markets group. “When I told him that I was having a baby, he was excited on a personal level and then very committed to giving me all the resources and information I needed,” she says. “He wanted to make sure that I came back and was happy.”
Sakowitz and others say that a big part of returning happily from parental leave is knowing your clients were in good hands while you were gone.
“My partners were awesome in taking over matters and seeing those transactions through to the finish so that I could really have some time off with my baby,” says Morgan. “It was hard for me to let go at first, but I knew that my partners were taking care of my clients like they would their own.”
While most new mothers returning from parental leave head back to the same practice areas, the firm also works to accommodate those interested in shifting tracks away from working directly on billable matters and taking on roles that offer more consistent hours. With the firm’s blessing, former corporate associates Randi Revisore and Annie Kerr pioneered the roles of practice support attorneys for the M&A and Capital Markets practice group, positions that now exist firm-wide.
“When I started, the job was really an experiment,” Kerr says. “I was really excited about trying something new and making it my own.”
V&E practice support attorneys handle business development, practice management responsibilities and firm-wide projects — duties once requiring time from partners that could otherwise have been spent on client work.
“The firm has recognized the value in having experienced associates in these roles who understand the firm, understand the partners, understand the work and understand our clients,” says Revisore, who adds that her work — which includes launching V&E+ — is fresh and exciting. “It keeps us intellectually engaged,” she says. “These jobs have helped us develop skill sets that we never would have had otherwise.”
No matter what roles they hold at the firm, V&E working moms say that they are passionate about their work — a feeling that hasn’t ebbed as they’ve dived headlong into parenthood.
“I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of my work,” says Danielle Patterson, a senior associate in Energy Transactions & Projects. “When I am more fulfilled personally, I think that makes me a better mother and a better person all around. I hope one day my son will be proud to have a mom who is committed to her family while maintaining a career she enjoys.”