While women make up 49.3% of first year law students and 48.7% of summer associates nationwide, they only comprise 36% of the legal profession overall. Why the discrepancy?
Female lawyers often leave the legal profession during their childbearing years. In other words, women have babies and because they typically shoulder more of the responsibility at home, they give up their careers. However, the good news is the departure of many talented women hasn’t gone unnoticed, and from politics to the corporate world, we’re beginning to see a shifting perspective. For instance, corporations trying to attract the best talent know that offering employees a work-life balance, or at least work-life flexibility, is increasingly essential. Even in the 2016 Presidential Election, the candidates agreed on something: The need for better parental leave policies.
The legal profession itself hasn’t always been so kind to working moms. For instance, Georgia lawyer Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle was forced to bring her baby to court because the judge on the case didn’t believe in maternity leave. But now, states are starting to vote on whether continuances should be mandatory in cases where both women and men need parental leave.
On May 26th of this year, the Board of Florida Governors will consider a proposed amendment to the Rules of Judicial Administration that would require judges to grant continuances to lawyers who need parental leave. The Florida Bar’s Rules of Judicial Administration Committee has turned down this rule twice, but Florida lawyers aren’t giving up.
The rule would state in part, “A motion for continuance based on parental leave of the lead attorney in the case shall be granted if made within a reasonable time after learning the basis for the continuance unless substantial prejudice to the opposing party is shown. Three months shall be the presumptive length of a continuance granted for parental leave absent good cause for a longer time. If the court denies the requested continuance, the court shall state on the record the specific grounds for denial.”
Those against the rule believe the ultimate discretion in granting or denying a continuance should rest with the court, while supporters believe the rule sends a message that society should accommodate pregnant women or new parents. Other states around the country are looking to see what happens in Florida before taking action.