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Why Paid Paternity Leave is Good for Business

in Employment

By Rachel Abanonu


Expanding employee benefits is one way firms can invest in retaining human capital and boost productivity.[1] Firms are rapidly losing market share[2] to legal market competitors[3]  due to a lack of investment in their human capital.[4] Attrition rates remain high,[5] costing employers hundreds of thousands of dollars per associate, which can negatively impact a firm’s reputation,[6] profitability[7] and productivity.[8]

As millennials continue to take over the workforce, law firms must stay keen on ways to attract top talent from new generational pools.[9] Millennials—expected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025[10]—especially value parental leave benefits as compared to earlier generations.[11] Most large law firms already offer paid parental leave as one business strategy to gain and keep talent.[12]

Yet, even when firms offer it, men do not take full advantage of their leave time.[13] This Article addresses ways law firms can adopt more robust paternity leave policies to recruit and retain top talent, encourage men to take leave time, and thereby experience a boost in profitability, productivity, and reputation.

Paid Leave Time at BigLaw Firms

Biglaw firms typically offer about 6 weeks of paid leave for fathers, and between 16 to 18 weeks for mothers.[14] However, research shows that men take off much less time than women. A 2016 Pew Research study revealed that over a two-year period, fathers used a median of one week’s leave time, whereas women used a median of 11 weeks.[15] Yet, seven of ten adults think it is important for both sexes to bond with their newborns.[16]

Today Biglaw firms risk losing market share to boutique firms and other legal service providers that offer more attractive benefits, and a desirable work-life balance.[17] However, like many tech companies have done already,[18] law firms are stepping up their game by offering generous parental leave and related perks.[19] Fortune recently released the 100 Best Companies to Work For® 2017,[20] and five law firms made the list.[21] These firms offer at least 16 weeks for “primary” caregivers and at least 4 weeks for “non-primary” caregivers.[22]

However, most law firms’ parental leave policies still use traditional terms (e.g., maternity, primary, non-primary) and do not offer similar benefits for both sexes. The Chambers Associate’s 2017-2018 Student Guide lists 107 large law firms, but only about 12 of them offer to men leave time that is equal to that for women.[23] To be more competitive, firms should adopt policies that offer equal leave time for both women and men. Several law firms have already started this trend.[24]

Why Paid Parental Leave is Good for Business

Paid parental leave can boost a firm’s ability to attract and retain top talent, reduce turnover costs, improve employee engagement and productivity, and enhance a firm’s reputation.[25] Parental leave policies can be good indicators of firms’ commitment to work-life balance—a major factor influencing new recruits’ decisions about which firm would be a good long-term fit.[26] Firms that offer generous parental leave policies can benefit from an improved reputation. A 2016 Deloitte survey showed that 77 percent of workers said paid parental leave benefits could be a factor that persuades them to choose one employer over another.[27] Millennials value parental leave significantly more than other generations. A recent study by Ernst & Young (“EY”) showed that 83 percent of U.S. millennials said they would be more likely to join a company with parental leave benefits, 86 percent are less likely to quit if paid leave is offered, and 38 percent would leave the U.S. to pursue a job in another country with better benefits.[28] Paid leave also conveys that a firm values its employees’ well-being.[29] Associates who sense that their firms care about their well-being are more likely to remain loyal, thus improving retention and reducing turnover costs.[30]

Employees who take paid parental leave are more likely to return to work engaged, productive, and less-stressed.[31] Research shows that employee engagement reduces turnover and fuels business profitability and productivity.[32] Further, a 2017 survey of over 1,500 employers revealed that those with paid parental leave policies reported positive effects on: employee morale (82% of employers), turnover (71%), profitability (61%), and productivity (71%).[33] The International Labour Association has stated that “businesses tend to overestimate the costs and underestimate potential gains [related to parental leave], including happier workers, lower employee turnover, and less absenteeism.”[34]

Men’s use of parental leave lessens their concerns with work-life conflict.[35] If men take full advantage of leave time, they are more likely to have things under control at home and can redirect their focus on work instead of worrying about life at home. When men take full leave, childcare duties are split more evenly between spouses.[36] Sharing these duties can foster gender-equity both at home and in the workplace because women can remain productive at work if both partners know how to care for home demands—yet men are presumably less likely to be involved at home if they do not take time to bond and adjust to parenthood. Also, two recent studies discovered that an increase in men’s leave time resulted in women’s increased pay and labor participation.[37] When men take their full leave time, women are more likely to remain devoted to their careers, which can positively influence company productivity and reduce employee replacement costs.

Why Men Don’t Take Full Leave Time and How Firms Can Encourage Them to Use it

Risk of Job Security, Work Pressures and Stigmatization

Lack of job security and work pressures prevent men from taking their full leave. The 2016 Pew Research study (mentioned above) showed that a majority (54%) of men surveyed did not take leave because of the risk of job loss—despite a need, or desire, for leave time.[38] Close to half (42%) of men believed taking time off could inhibit advancement opportunities.[39] And approximately six-out-of-ten fathers (59%) who used leave time reportedly took off less time than they had preferred or needed.[40]

Stigmatization still lingers around men’s use of parental leave.[41] Unwritten policies can discourage male attorneys from taking leave. One attorney’s firm offered 10 weeks’ paternity leave, but in practice the partners and other associates did not encourage it.[42] He eventually moved to another firm.[43] By contrast, an associate at a U.K.-based firm, said, “It was helpful to know [others] had all taken paternity leave and had really encouraged [him] to absolutely take advantage of it.”[44]

Recommendations for Encouraging Leave Time Use

An Organic Cultural Shift Must Start Within the Firm

Firms should promote a culture that encourages both women and men to take advantage of parental leave time. To address men’s fears about job security, firms should offer job protection for those taking parental leave.[45] To address work pressures, firms could give credit for leave time weeks as if the attorney had worked those billable hours.[46] Men should be allowed to take leave within a specified time (e.g., one year) after birth or adoption, so women and men can share or spread out bonding time. This can be particularly helpful for new parents who are just beginning to figure out how to adjust to work-home life, and the world of infant care.

To help lift the stigma surrounding paternity leave, firms should maintain a family-friendly culture and overtly encourage men to take advantage of leave time.[47] For instance, one firm fosters a family-friendly environment by hosting an office Halloween parade and a “Take Your Daughters & Sons to Work Day.”[48] Also, if top partners and attorneys take full advantage of men’s parental leave benefits, others will get the message that leave is encouraged and acceptable.[49] For example, Mark Zuckerberg set a standard when he took a full two months of paternity leave after his daughter was born.[50]

Firms should “broadcast their commitment to those who go on leave” or regularly inform employees “about the number of people taking leave.”[51] Firm-wide newsletters should include attorneys’ insight about how leave time benefited them. A firm’s partners should advocate for men’s leave time by having lunches with attorneys who are expecting a child.[52] Human Resources Departments could host presentations with panels of two or three men who share their paternity leave experiences. Women could provide additional insight about how their husbands’ leave time impacted their work-life experiences post-birth.

Replace “Primary” and “Secondary” Caregiver Policies with Equitable Parental Policies

Deeply engrained stereotypes about men’s and women’s childcare roles are reinforced when firms assume that women will be the sole primary caregivers, do not afford men with equal leave time, and view pregnancy as a medical condition.[53] Primary caregiver versus secondary caregiver leave plans are outdated.[54] These plans may have fit during the 1960s and 1970s when women were traditionally viewed as the primary caregivers and men as the breadwinners,[55] but today men “expect their wives to work outside the home and contribute to the family income,” assuming a “continuous work curve” even after childbirth.[56] EY’s study (above) showed “78% of millennials are part of a dual-career couple, compared with 47% of boomers.”[57]

Firms should offer gender-neutral parental leave policies—with equal time for both women and men—to attract and retain today’s top talent, help break down stereotypes, and minimize the stigmatization surrounding men’s leave time use. Women (71%) and men (61%) agree that both sexes should take parental leave to combat the associated stigma that surrounds taking leave time.[58] Equal benefits should apply regardless of whether that parent is deemed a “primary” or “non-primary” (secondary) caregiver. For instance, one large law firm now offers a 20-week paid gender-neutral parental policy because it believes the primary and secondary caregiver distinction probably does not “reflect the needs and experience of individuals in two-career households.”[59] Even the FMLA has encouraged “more gender-neutral leave-taking” and has discouraged using primary or secondary caregiver labels.[60] Further, policies that focus on gender (i.e., maternity, paternity) undermine the goal to create gender-equity in the workplace.[61] These terms “perpetuate[] the idea that parents are not equal partners: one parent will be primarily in charge of caring for the children” and “the term primary caregiver will almost always be assumed to refer to the mother.”[62] Both parents should be allowed to care for their children and resume productive careers after having a child, if they choose.


To stay competitive in the legal market, firms should stay updated on what attracts today’s top talent. Women and men, especially millennials, value paid parental leave benefits much more than previous generations. They are more likely to join, and remain loyal to, a firm with generous benefits.

Firms should also recognize the benefits of parental leave time use, including increased employee engagement and company productivity. Direct and indirect benefits result from men’s use of leave time: men are less concerned with work-life conflict, so they can become more engaged and productive at work; women’s work participation increases, so firms experience reduced turnover costs.

Other benefits of paid parental leave use include happier workers and a boost in employee morale—not to mention an enhanced reputation. When firms make headlines for stepping out to support parents, firms’ reputations are boosted both internally and externally. Every firm should recognize the value of building and maintaining a reputation as one that values its employees’ well-being and encourages gender-equity in the workplace.

The key is to not only offer paid parental leave policies, but also to overtly encourage men to take advantage of them so firms can also reap the benefits. Firms should acknowledge the barriers to men’s use of leave time and seek ways to minimize them. Implementing gender-neutral parental leave policies can help break down stereotypes and stigma by moving away from the old idea that men are less committed to their careers if they take time off to bond with their newborns. If men are encouraged to use their offered leave time, they will be more apt to take advantage of it and return to work less-stressed and more engaged. In turn, engagement can increase a firm’s retention, profitability and productivity.




[1] See Paul Wolfe, Why Paid Parental Leave Strengthens Your Business, Indeed Blog (Oct. 26, 2016),

[2] The Lawyer Whisperer, Associates are fleeing law firms in droves. These are the Top 3 reasons why., The Lawyer Whisperer (Oct. 24, 2016),; BCG Attorney Search, What Causes Associates to Leave Law Firms?, BCG Search, (last visited Mar. 29, 2018).

[3] See Legal Executive Institute, 2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market: Transformation of Legal Services Market is Accelerating – Are Law Firms Ready?, Legal Executive Institute (Jan. 10, 2018), (“Flat demand for law firm services, declining profit margins, . . . falling productivity, and loss of market share to alternative legal service providers and others, are gradually undermining the foundations of firm profitability.”).

[4] See Erika Winston, Human Capital Adds Value to your Practice, TimeSolv (Aug. 23, 2016), (“A law practice is only as good as its people”). See also William D. Henderson, From Big Law to Lean Law, 38 Int’l Rev. L. & Econ. 5, 2 (2014) (describing a similar term, “reputational capital,” as “training and mentoring junior lawyers”).

[5] Tina Cohen & Jennifer Henderson, Why Associates Leave and How You Can Get Them to Stay, Am. Lawyer (Online) (July 3, 2017), (according to the National Association of Legal Placement (“NALP”) the 2017 Update on Associate Attrition reports that attrition was at 16% in 2016 “on average across firms of all sizes” and “for every 25 new associates hired, 17 other associates left”).

[6] Id.

[7] Pamela DeNeuve, 5 Questions Law Firms Ask to Stop Losing Millions of Dollars Each Year, Linkedin (Feb. 4, 2016), (Associate attrition can easily cost a “400-attorney firm an average of $12,000,000 per year.”).

[8]See Debra Casens Weiss, Work quality is the No. 1 reason associates leave, law firm survey says, A.B.A. L. J. (July 7, 2017, 7:00 AM), See also Cohen & Henderson, supra note 5 (“The cost of losing an associate can average $200,000 to $500,000 considering recruiting and training costs, . . . and other factors.”); DeNeuve, supra, note 7 (one study considered the “hard and soft costs, the cost of human capital, namely Associate turnover costs the firm $300,000 per lost Associate”).

[9] The Boomer generation continues to shrink. See Richard Fry, Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force, Pew Research Center (May 11, 2015), (“More than one-in-three American workers today are Millennials (adults ages 18 to 34 in 2015)”); Wes Gay, How One Law Firm CEO Empowers Millennial Lawyers To Use Their Strengths, Forbes (Dec. 5, 2016, 9:04 AM), (“As this generation becomes a larger portion of the workforce . . . companies find themselves thinking differently.”).

[10] Gay, supra, note 9.

[11] (discussing results of Ernst & Young’s global generational survey of 9,700 people) (“Men are doubling down on their daddy duties.”).

[12] See Michelle P. Wimes, Trends in Paid Parental Leave Come to the Legal Industry: A Call to Action for Law Firms?, Ogletree (Jan. 23, 2018), (“As companies look for new ways to recruit, develop, and promote top talent, paid parental leave is a valuable differentiator.”). See also Counsel of Economic Advisors, THE ECONOMICS OF PAID AND UNPAID LEAVE, Obama White House 17 (June 2014), (a survey of 200 human resource managers showed that two-thirds listed “family-supportive policies” as the “single most important factor in attracting and retaining employees”).

[13] Soc’y for Human Res. Mgmt, 2017 EMPLOYEE BENEFITS: Remaining Competitive in a Challenging Talent Marketplace, SHRM 10 (June 2017), (While two-thirds of female employees (66%) used their paid maternity leave in 2016, only 36% of males had used their paternity leave time).

[14] See Gayle Cinquegrani, Generous Parental Leave Policies Spreading in Law Firms, BNA (Aug. 10, 2017),

[15] Id. Juliana Menasce Horowitz et al., 5. An inside look at family and medical leave in America: The experiences of those who took leave and those who needed or wanted to but couldn’t, Pew Social Trends (Mar. 23, 2017),

[16] Kim Parker & Gretchen Livingston, 6 facts about American fathers, Pew Research (June 15, 2017),

[17] See Harrison Barnes, 25 Reasons Why Boutique Firms Are the Best Choice for Many Attorneys and Can Be Much Safer Than Larger Law Firms, BCG Search, (last visited Mar. 30, 2018); Henderson, supra, note 4, at 2-3.

[18] See Alicia Adamczyk, These Are the Companies With the Best Parental Leave Policies, Time (Nov. 4, 2015), (discussing generous parental leave policies offered by Google, Amazon, and Facebook, to name a few). See also Laura Kerekes & Christina McShane, Businesses Shouldn’t Underestimate the Real Benefits of Parental Leave, Entrepreneur (June 15, 2016), (“[M]ore and more heavy-hitting companies like EY, Coca-Cola, Netflix and Facebook are also getting on board, including parental leave policies for both parents.”).

[19] Andrew Strickler, BigLaw Shores Up Leave Policies To Retain Talent, Law360 (Oct. 30, 2013, 7:57 PM), (U.S. law firms have expanded maternity and other leave plans to drive talent recruitment and retention).

[20] Great Place to Work, Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® 2017, Great Place to Work, (last visited Mar. 30, 2018).

[21] Fortune, 100 BEST COMPANIES TO WORK FOR, Fortune, (rankings included: Cooley (#18), Orrick (#31), Perkins Coie (#58), Alston & Bird (#79), and Baker Donelson (#96)) (last visited Mar. 30, 2018).

[22] See Cooley, Benefit and b.well, Cooley, (last visited Mar. 30, 2018); Orrick, Orrick Again Takes the Lead in Supporting Parents, Orrick, (last visited Mar. 30, 2018); Alston & Bird, Compensation & Benefits, Alston & Bird, (last visited Mar. 30, 2018); Baker Donelson, Baker Donelson Announces Industry-Leading Parental Leave Policy, Baker Donelson (Feb. 23, 2015),; Above the Law, Family Leave and Related Policies by Firm, Above the Law (July 2016),

[23] Chambers Associate, Work/life and Benefits, Chambers Associate, (last visited Mar. 30, 2018).

[24] Wimes, supra, note 12. See e.g., Winston & Strawn, Winston & Strawn Announces Gender- Neutral Parental Leave Policies, Winston & Strawn (May 18, 2016), (“[T]o retain our outstanding performers and recruit the next generation of leaders for the firm, we need to offer the most competitive benefits and invest in our people”); Kathryn Rubino, Biglaw Firm Gets With The Times And Makes Big Changes To Parental Leave Policy, Above the Law (Dec. 17, 2017), (announcing Skadden’s upgraded gender-neutral parental leave policy).

[25] The Boston Consulting Group, Why Paid Family Leave Is Good Business, BCG 4, (one study showed that over 80 percent of companies that offered paid leave noticed a positive effect on employee morale, and over 70 percent saw increased productivity).

[26] Yale Law School, Assessing Law Firms: Culture, Clients, Compensation and Beyond, Yale Law School, (last visited Mar. 30, 2018).

[27] Deloitte, Parental Leave Survey: Less than half of people surveyed feel their organization helps men feel comfortable taking parental leave, Deloitte (June 15, 2016), (discussing results of responses by 1,000 U.S. employees).

[28] EY, Global generations: A global study on work-life challenges across generations, EY 20-21 (2015), (showing results of a cross-cultural, generational survey conducted by Harris Poll, on behalf of EY, of 9,699 employees aged 18-67) [hereinafter EY: Global generations]; Ronald Alsop, Millennials See Paternity Leave as a Priority, NY Times (Nov. 28, 2017),

[29] The Boston Consulting Group, supra, note 25, at 6 (asserting that leave benefits “confirm[] those values internally and can also burnish the company’s brand externally.”).

[30] See Katharine J. West, Is the U.S. Missing Out? The Effects of Parental Leave Benefits on Business, Undergraduate Review, 11, 120-122, 121 (2015),; Nat’l Partnership for Women & Families, Paid Family and Medical Leave: Good for Business, National Partnership 1 (March 2015),

[31] Joanne Sammer, How to Weigh the Value of Paid Parental Leave, SHRM (Apr. 19, 2016),

[32] James K. Harter et al., Business-Unit-Level Relationship Between Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and Business Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis, J. of Applied Psych. Vol. 87, No. 2, 268-79, 276 (2002); Susan Sorenson, How Employee Engagement Drives Growth, GALLUP (June 20, 2013), (employee engagement also improves customer ratings, absenteeism, and customer ratings, among others).

[33] EY, Viewpoints on paid family and medical leave, EY 28 (Mar. 2017),$FILE/EY-viewpoints-on-paid-family-and-medical-leave.pdf. See also Rebecca A. Brusca, A COMPREHENSIVE ANALYSIS OF THE EFFECTS OF PAID PARENTAL LEAVE IN THE U.S., 19 Duq. Bus. L.J. 75, 88-89 (2017) (Another survey found California employers reported positive or neutral effects on: profitability and performance (91%), productivity (89%), employee turnover (93%), and employee morale (99%)).

[34] See Brusca, supra, note 33, at 88-89.

[35] U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Policy Brief: Paternity Leave, DOL 3 (June 2015), See Counsel of Economic Advisors, THE ECONOMICS OF PAID AND UNPAID LEAVE, Obama White House 7 (June 2014), (study showing that, in 2010, 48 percent of men said that work “sometimes” or “often” conflicts with family life).

[36] U.S. Dep’t of Labor, supra, note 35, at 1.

[37] Id. at 3.

[38] Juliana Menasce Horowitz et al., supra, note 15.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] See Staci Zaretsky, The Pink Ghetto: Paternity Leave Horror Stories From Dads Working In Law Firms, Above the Law (Apr. 22, 2016, 11:32 AM),

[42] Angela Morris, Paternity-Leave Stigma at Law Firms Lifting, Ever So Slowly, (May 30, 2017),

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] See, e.g., Orrick, supra, note 22 (Orrick offers job protection).

[46] See, e.g., Staci Zaretsky, Paternity-Leave Bias In Biglaw: When Will It End?, Above the Law (May 31, 2017, 12:28 PM), (Taft Stettinius & Hollister credits parental leave time toward attorneys’ billable hour goals).

[47] Yale Law School, supra, note 26.

[48] See, e.g., Arnold & Porter, Work/Life Programs, Arnold & Porter, (discussing Arnold & Porter’s family-friendly culture) (last visited Mar. 30, 2018); Fatherly, The 50 Best Places to Work for New Dads in 2017, Ranked, Fatherly (May 2, 2017, 9:00 AM), (Arnold & Porter made the list).

[49] Brusca, supra, note 30, at 87.

[50] Lisa Marie Segarra, Mark Zuckerberg Just Announced His Paternity Leave Plans, Fortune (Aug. 18, 2017),

[51] The Boston Consulting Group, supra, note 25, at 21-22.

[52] See, e.g., Morris, supra, note 42 (explaining that a Winston partner has held group luncheons to discuss men’s leave time).

[53] Hannah Arenstam, A Mother of a Problem: How the Language of Inequality Affects Maternity Leave Policies and Women in Law Firms, 12 Nw. J. L. & Soc. Pol’y 1, 20 (2017).

[54] See id. (discussing that women who stay home for longer periods than men become more competent at performing childcare tasks, which ultimately leads to reliance on her for those functions); Josh Levs, ‘Primary’ Caregiver Benefits Sound Gender-Neutral but Aren’t, The Atlantic (Oct. 1, 2015),

[55] See Parker & Livingston, supra, note 16 (a 2015 Pew Research study revealed the father was the sole breadwinner in 27% of families with children under age 18, compared with 47% of families in 1970).


[57] EY, Millennials: “Generation Go”, EY (2015),

[58] EY: Global generations, supra, note 28, at 20.

[59] Jill Shea, Winston & Strawn Announces Gender-Neutral Parental Leave Policies, Winston & Strawn (May 18, 2016), See also Zaretsky, supra, note 46 (“Winston’s chief HR officer said the new policy was ‘ultimately about human capital.’”).

[60] Arenstam, supra, note 53, at 13.

[61] See Orion Jones, For Gender Equality, Dad and Mom Need Parental Leave, bigthink, (last visited Mar. 31, 2018).

[62] Arenstam, supra, note 53, at 13. See also Levs, supra, note 54.