Community + Relationships

Fatherhood at Work

  • Even as law firms expand their policies, the number of lawyers taking paternity leave is decreasing
  • Prioritizing your role as a father while at work helps model such behavior for others
  • If you’re unable to strike a proper work/life balance at your current firm, it’s okay to look elsewhere

In past generations, children whose fathers practiced law were lucky if they saw their dads on the weekends.

Paternity leave and flexible schedules were all but unheard of, but the demanding work schedules we know all too well definitely were.

Fortunately, today’s lawyer dads don’t have to be just like the lawyer parents of the past. They can be more invested in their children’s lives and more hands-on while continuing to succeed at work. They just need to know how to navigate the complexities of fatherhood coupled with being a dedicated lawyer.

Here’s a hint: It all starts with paternity leave.

However, even as law firms gradually improve their parental leave policies, studies show that the number of male lawyers taking parental leave is actually decreasing. Whether this is because lawyer dads are fearful that time away from work will negatively impact their careers or because they’d simply rather not be home changing diapers all day every day, it’s impossible to say. But for lawyers who want to balance fatherhood with work, paternity leave is where it starts.

We don’t know how to state this any clearer: Take paternity leave. Not only will it benefit you and your relationship with your children, but it will help show others at your firm that it’s totally normal for working dads to be involved in their children’s lives and it isn’t just mothers who should devote time to child-rearing. Taking paternity leave also sends a message to your colleagues and bosses that your family is important to you and will continue to be as your child gets older and your career progresses. You’ll want to set that standard as early as possible.

But what about after you return from paternity leave? Certainly, it’s critical to continue to be invested in your child’s life beyond their infant stage. Here are three guidelines to keep in mind as you strive to balance your work and home lives:

  1. Set Boundaries: Your daughter plays in her first tee-ball game Wednesday at 6 p.m.? Make sure you’re sitting in the bleachers in time by making it clear to everyone you need to that you’ll be unavailable for a few hours that day. One good way to help reserve occasions like this is to take full advantage of your Outlook or Google calendar. Block off the time and make sure it’s visible to your colleagues.
  1. Take Advantage of Flexibility: Flexible schedules are increasing in popularity and they aren’t just for mothers. Many lawyer parents will leave work as early as 4:30 p.m. each day, for example, to ensure they get to spend time with their kids, then log back on from home by 9 p.m. to finish up whatever work remains outstanding.  
  1. If Necessary, Go Elsewhere: Some law firms just aren’t willing to get in line with the times. If your firm isn’t interested in granting you flexibility or seems to be punishing you or withholding promotions or raises, look elsewhere. There’s no shortage of New Model firms that understand many parents still crave demanding careers as long as they can find balance.
What are the messages you’ve received about parenthood and lawyering at your firm? What is the overall attitude towards being an involved father and the affect on a lawyer’s career?

As you prepare for paternity leave—and even after you return—it’s important to speak openly and honestly with those around you at work about your decisions. The value of normalizing fatherhood at law firms cannot be understated. When other parents-to-be see colleagues prioritizing their families, it’s easier for them to feel comfortable doing the same.

And, as an added bonus, talking to others who are in your situation can help you when you’ve got questions, need a social outlet, or simply need to vent. You’ll soon realize that while being a lawyer and a father isn’t easy, these days, it’s more manageable than ever before to thrive in both roles.