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?

Kendra Brodin
Kendra Brodin is the Director of Career and Professional Development at St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Kendra is also a career and professional development coach and consultant for lawyers and law firms nationwide.

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