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August 03, 2023

Annual 2023: Is there bias in workplace against parenting lawyers?

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is welcome news for everyone, but one work arrangement implemented during COVID – working remotely from home – will be especially missed by many lawyers who strive to balance their careers with parental obligations, according to the results of a new study from the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession.

A large percentage of lawyers surveyed said working remotely or on a remote-hybrid basis made it much easier to balance work and family obligations, as well as eased stress levels overall. Findings from the study will be explored in an interactive program titled “Is There a Penalty? Parenthood and Child Caregiving and Its Impact on Gender Equity in the Legal Profession,” at 2-3:30 p.m. (MDT) on Saturday, Aug. 5 at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in Denver.

The event features a panel discussion on the highlights from a Commission on Women in the Profession research project. Panelists include the researchers ─ former ABA President Paulette Brown of the MindSetPower LLC, former Commission chairs Roberta “Bobbi” Liebenberg and Stephanie A. Scharf of the RedBee Group LLC ─ and current Commissioner Michelle Browning Coughlin, Of Counsel at ND Galli Law LLC. The program  will be moderated by Commissioner Juanita Harris, in-house legal counsel at DIRECTV. 

The report is based on survey responses from more than 8,000 lawyers nationwide and focus group interviews conducted in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York in February and March 2023. The full report, entitled “Legal Careers of Parents and Child Caregivers: Where We Are Now and How to Move Forward,” sheds light on some of the differences experienced by male and female lawyers who are parents, in terms of the impact on their careers and will be available on the Commission webpage in early September.

“We know from research conducted by the ABA at large and the Commission that … women continue to be primarily responsible for child and family care,” said Commission Chair Maureen Mulligan. “We have anecdotal information about how this is impacting the careers of women lawyers. But, through this study, the Commission seeks to evaluate the impact of the motherhood penalty and caregiver bias on the advancement and retention of women lawyers.”

In addition to sharing highlights from the research, the program will include evidence-based policy and practice recommendations for law firms and other legal employers on how to create and foster more equitable workplaces for caregivers of children. Following the official release of the report, educational materials and toolkits for use by state and local bar associations and legal employers will be developed and made available on the Commission on Women in the Profession webpage.