No Limits

My Transition Back to Work After Maternity Leave in a Small Firm

Dana Hrelic
While preparation and planning for maternity leave are critical to a smooth transition back, so is the flexibility of you and your firm.

While preparation and planning for maternity leave are critical to a smooth transition back, so is the flexibility of you and your firm.

In my experience, a smooth transition back to work after maternity leave requires preparation, planning, flexibility, and a little bit of luck.  I am an equity partner at a small, eight-attorney appellate boutique firm in Hartford, Connecticut.  I took 14 weeks off—12 weeks of paid maternity leave and two weeks of paid vacation—after the birth of my son in February 2018.  My transition back to the office in June 2018 felt both extraordinarily challenging and surprisingly seamless at the exact same time, which makes perfect sense to me but probably requires a little bit of explanation.

My transition back to the office actually began before I even went on maternity leave.  I worked in the office until the day before I was told at 37.5 weeks that because of high blood pressure, I would be delivering my son that day.  I distinctly remember sitting at a partnership meeting on Tuesday that week, joking about how I still had three weeks left, and remembering that conversation with a laugh two days later as I held my newborn son in my arms. 

I am lucky that the nature of my appellate practice is less fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and more calculated and slower-paced than a lot of trial work.  This helped tremendously in preparing for my leave.  The month prior, I carefully took inventory of each of my appeals and drafted a transition memo for each of them, detailing the status of the case, the client’s contact information, what needed to be done, any important due dates, and any other relevant information I could think of.  I identified who in my office would be covering my cases for me and introduced them to my clients.  I had a meeting with my assistant where we identified all important dates—including when motions for extensions of time or for continuances would need to be filed—so that I could continue working on my cases after my return.  I spoke with all opposing counsel and received anticipatory consent for these motions. 

At our last partnership meeting before I gave birth to my son, I briefed my partners on what to expect while I was gone in each of my cases.  By the time my doctor told me that it was time to have a baby, the only thing left for me to do was to draft my out-of-office away message, which I did between contractions.  I felt confident that each of my cases and my clients would be appropriately cared for in my absence.

And they were.  But the challenges of maternity are still so fresh in my mind.  I realized very quickly that in the legal profession, absence does not, in fact, make the heart grow fonder.  Throughout my maternity leave, I stayed in consistent contact with my clients and my partners.  I read every e-mail, responded to more than a few of them, participated in dozens of conference calls, and even attended a court date.  Of course, these circumstances were not ideal, but I learned that when you take maternity leave in a small firm, clients do not stop walking in the door, cases do not stop moving forward, and courts do not stop issuing appealable decisions.  If I wanted to maintain my practice, I had to keep working, even sporadically.

While it was frustrating at the time, doing so made my transition back to the office feel seamless.  I slid back into my regular routine and honestly felt as if I had never left.  Of course, my schedule was modified, as I had to pump breastmilk at regular intervals and account for childcare drop-off and pick-up each day.  Fortunately, my partners were understanding and I was provided with any accommodations I needed: a private space to pump (my office), a laptop to work from home when necessary, and the ability to work flexible hours. 

Moreover, each court in which I had an appearance, and all opposing counsel with whom I worked, were understanding and accommodating with briefing, oral argument, and travel schedules, which my clients and I both greatly appreciated.

In sum, while preparation and planning for my maternity leave were critical to a smooth transition back, so was the flexibility of my maternity leave and my firm upon my return.  I am lucky to do the that work I do, where I do it, and even luckier to call myself a mama at the same time.

Dana Hrelic

Dana M. Hrelic is a partner at Horton, Dowd, Bartschi & Levesque, P.C. in Hartford, Connecticut, where she focuses her practice on state and federal appeals.  She is admitted to practice in Connecticut and New York state courts, as well as the United States Courts of Appeals for the Second, Third, Eleventh and Federal Circuits and the United States Supreme Court.  Dana earned a Juris Doctor from UConn School of Law in 2008.  She has worked to serve young lawyers and law students as they find their footing in today’s practice of law.  She is the Immediate Past Chair of the ABA YLD and previously served as Chair of the Connecticut Bar Association Young Lawyers Section.  She also previously served on the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, the ABA Futures Commission, and the Council for the ABA Center for Innovation.