From time to time, we’ve tried to track whether or not the Biglaw layoffs have had a disparate impact on women or minorities. There hasn’t been a lot of hard evidence. We did a story last year on layoffs at Squire Sanders that seemed to disproportionately affect women. And this year we ran a report that contained statistics showing that minorities have been disproportionately hosed by the layoffs as well.
Of course, there are some good arguments that the difficulties experienced by women in larger law firms are gender-neutral. This article on TechnoLawyer explores some of those concerns.
But there is one Biglaw issue that is undeniably gender-based. Only women can give birth.
Lately we’ve been getting information suggesting we should add another group to the Biglaw endangered species watch list: mothers. Specifically, we’re hearing that the New York office of K&L Gates apparently sports zero associate mothers. There are some female partners at K&L Gates with children, but no female associate in the New York office has figured out how to breed and hang on to her job at the same time.
K&L Gates did not respond to our multiple requests for comment, but the statistics are quite shocking…
It’s pretty hard to say that you are committed to gender diversity when every woman who gets knocked up disappears from your office. Here are the facts as we understand them (if you see errors, please email us):
1. The New York office of K&L Gates has fired or laid off all of the female associates in the office who had children (except for one who left because she had no work).
2. Between 2007 and late 2008, six female associates had babies. In December 2008, two of the associates who were still on maternity leave were fired during performance evaluations. In early 2009, when the NY office had layoffs, two more of the new moms were “laid off.”
3. Shortly after these layoffs, another mother left K&L-NY because she had less than 20 hours of work a month (despite being part of a practice group that should have been booming in the economic downturn). Finally, in December 2009, the last remaining mother was fired during performance evaluations.
4. There are no remaining “mom” associates in the New York office.
Ouch — that’s a lot of mothers to let go during the recession. It doesn’t really mean much to have maternity leave, lactation rooms, and other “Mommy perks” if anybody who ever takes advantage of them gets laid off.
Apparently, this is a problem that K&L Gates has been made aware of, according to one source:
[T]he associates during a monthly associates’ meeting raised concerns amongst themselves about the fact that almost all the moms had been terminated. The firm has been especially vocal about its Diversity Initiatives and its alleged “work life balance” philosophy. A group from the associates liaison committee raised the issue with management, but was given the usual runaround that it had nothing to do with their family status….
Again, when we asked K&L Gates specifically about the status of female associates who have or are expecting children, the firm did not respond.
It doesn’t appear that any of the laid-off mothers decided to go all Shinyung Oh on the firm. But wasn’t there a time when women were allowed to give birth without fear of getting canned?
In any event, the events at K&L Gates suggest that this is not in fact the right time for Biglaw women to make babies. It looks like the desire to survive at K&L Gates is at odds with the desire of any female associates to reproduce.
Arguably, men are still allowed to procreate at will.
BigLaw: Readers Weigh in on Large Firm Gender Issues [TechnoLawyer]