Maternity Leave for Solo Lawyers: Is It Possible?

Through techniques like outsourcing, organizing, increased productivity and planning during your pregnancy, you can create a smooth and successful maternity leave that maintains your levels of client service and satisfaction.

Planning ahead

In anticipation of pregnancy and delivery, as a solo attorney, you’ll want to plan ahead and rethink the types of cases you accept before you take your maternity leave. You may decide to pass on new litigation cases such as criminal and personal injury matters due to their close deadlines that could result in scheduling conflicts. Women attorneys planning on taking maternity leave may have to think outside of the box, such as offering alternative services during this time crunch.

Outsourcing to a contract attorney while on leave

The wheels of justice will continue to turn whether you are available or not. Although they may share your happiness about the impending bundle of joy, opposing counsel and the courts may be unwilling to adjust to your schedule. You can foresee this inevitability and plan accordingly. Outsourcing work to another attorney to stand in during your leave is one solution. Maintain your client service and satisfaction by notifying your clients in writing of the expected absence and how long you are expected to be away. The letter should include a request for the client’s consent for substitute counsel on their case. A clear and detailed agreement with a trusted colleague is drafted; making sure everything is spelled out clearly for the sake of the law firm and the sanity of both lawyers.

Organizing prior to your maternity leave

The law office needs to be thoroughly organized prior to the leave. All open files should be updated and accurately calendared. A case management plan should be put in place; including a timeline for tasks. Back up computer files, inventory the office equipment and double-check insurance policies. The less surprises for you upon your return, the better.

Post delivery: working remotely

Post-delivery, attorneys often work remotely and use computers and cell phones to attend meetings, work on files, and perform other tasks from home. In some instances, solo legal practitioners have moved their offices closer to home (or sometimes into their homes, temporarily or permanently) to be near their newborns. Other brave women lawyers have an area in the office made especially for the baby.  You can also keep your temporary replacement lawyer on staff long enough to debrief you and bring you up to speed.

A well-planned maternity leave can be achieved with planning , outsourcing, organizing, productivity and effort (or a combination of those.) As soon as the pregnancy test reads positive, you should get moving in order to minimize stress during this time. Don’t try to go it alone; other attorneys who have made it through this experience are all too happy to share creative solutions and references. Trust your instincts to spot any weaknesses, including staffing issues, which may cause problems in your absence. Performing this critique in advance of your leave will leave time to fix or strengthen areas you find to be lacking. With a strong support system and a well-defined plan in place, it is more than possible for you to take your maternity leave with confidence that you will return as a new mother with a successful law practice.

What strategies have you used as a solo attorney who takes maternity leave, or what practices have you seen used both other solo women lawyers to accomplish a smooth maternity leave?

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcgraths/3659139185/)

  • http://www.lawbusinessmentors.com/manifesto/ Alexis Neely

    I love that you are talking about this Kendra. When I took maternity leave with my son, I was working at the big law firm and having them pay my leave was awesome. But of course solos don’t get that same privilege. What they do get is the opportunity to create systems and grow their firms while out on leave. Two clients I worked with last year did just that – they actually experienced substantial increase in their practices while they were out on leave due to what they did to prepare ahead for it.

  • http://www.windsorbarrister.ca Jason Currie

    This is one area in which Ontario seems to be ahead of the pack. The Law Society of Upper Canada (our licensing body) offers the Parental Leave Assistance Program. New parents (men and women) who are solos or working in practices of five or fewer lawyers are able to take twelve weeks of leave and receive $750.00 per week to replace their lost income. There are various restrictions regarding working while on leave, but it was implemented primarily to address the issues facing women who are working solo or in small firms.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/aaronstreet/ Aaron Street

      Jason, who pays for this? The general taxpayer? A fee on lawyers? An insurance scheme?

      • http://www.windsorbarrister.ca Jason Currie

        It’s paid for out of the Law Society’s general fund. It’s still a pilot project, and it may be changing because our regular unemployment insurance program, which already provided benefits for new parent leave to employees, has been expanded to offer coverage for the self-employed. The unemployment benefits last longer (35 weeks instead of 12) but the amount is lower.

  • JenniferGumbel

    I’ve been really lucky as an attorney in a two person office with support staff. There’s an attorney there who’s been able to speak to clients while I was home for the first two weeks and I can take my daughter in to work when I don’t have clients or court hearings. The flexibility has made the quick return that a solo/small needs to be able to do, easier. In some ways, the return to work for me has been easier than some of my friends who work at firms and have to quit maternity leave.. cold turkey for lack of a better word. Also, the school district where my office is offers infant care on a part time basis, which works great to bring her in on days that I’m drafting and have someone care for her when I’m in court.

  • http://www.svslawoffice.com Shawn Vogt Sween

    As a new solo, my maternity leave lasted all of four days before I was back at work. We had a big deadline on the 30th of the month, and my son was born on the 23rd. Nonetheless, the transition was smooth, because I was able to bring him to work with me whenever I chose. New babies like to sleep, and they’re just as happy to do so on their mama’s lap while she drafts legal documents. I had warned my clients ahead of time, although the impending delivery was obvious to everyone who saw me, and I delayed work that could reasonably be put aside for a few weeks. No, I did not have a maternity “leave,” but I did feel like we’ve had a fantastic work-life balance because I was able to blur the lines between work and baby much more easily as a solo attorney.

  • http://www.kendrabrodin.com Kendra Brodin

    Alexis — You are exactly right that the prep work that solos do before their leave can actually position them beautifully for a profitable leave and return, as well as help them create systems and processes that they enjoy long after their return because of increased efficiency and effectiveness. I love that you were able to help your clients create those kind of systems!

    Jason — I’d agree — Ontario is ahead of the game on this (or the US is behind the large number of countries that offer more significant parental leave and support after the birth/adoption of a child.) I hope that the pilot program is successful so that this benefit continues, allowing new parents to enjoy leave without significant work/financial strain. Thanks for sharing (and making us envious!)

    Jennifer — It sounds like you have been able to truly maximize the support available to you in your firm and in your community. Finding creative ways (both obvious and maybe outside-the-box) to juggle work/family is critical to both transitioning to/from leave, but also to enjoy some semblance of balance in work throughout our careers. Thanks for sharing your experience and insights!

    Shawn — I agree — while solos may face unique challenges in preparing for leave and managing while away, they also have the unique benefits of blurring that line (as you mentioned) between personal/professional as needed and appropriate. Thanks for pointing that out, and I’m glad to hear you have found a way to balance that works for you and your family!