I can’t actually make this stuff up. Yesterday, a Labor associate became an impromptu midwife. (Is there a term for a male in this role? Midhusband? I don’t know whether it was a man or a woman that should be credited with the assist on this one, and I’m assuming “midwife” is gender neutral for these purposes). The action took place inside a law firm’s office after a fellow attorney in the employee benefits practice started giving birth, presumably while redlining some rider for the umpteen-millionth time.
The mother, we hear, was due in the next week or so. According to our tipster, mom was hoping to maximize her hours before having to go on leave. Well, she succeeded.
Apparently, she needs to turn her talents toward renegotiating the firm’s employee benefits. A couple days off before having a baby might be a good place to start….
Davis Wright Tremaine welcomed this new addition to its Seattle office yesterday. A new addition screaming at the world and making constant demands upon a lawyer from the comfort of a firm office — sounds like this kid’s ready for partner.
While the focus is, rightly, on the mother and baby, we should take a second to consider the Labor associate who helped with the delivery. Is there a billing code for that time? Is this what counts as the elusive, “Office-General?” What does that weekly diary look like?
1.5 hours Review the Anderson agreement
5.4 hours Research regarding Idaho labor union protections
1.2 hours Bringing forth the f**king miracle of life
2.7 hours T/c w/team
That’s facetious, of course. Idaho doesn’t protect labor unions.
But this whole episode highlights again the inherent problems with the billable hours business model. When lawyers are evaluated by an arbitrary numerical target, both for compensation (at many firms) in the short-term, and career advancement in the long-term, they are incentivized to engage in unhealthy behavior. Be it working through the flu to heading into the office with a baby due days later.
While this system influences the decisions of men and women alike, the pressure on women having children is probably the most extreme. It’s not unheard of for a female attorney to bill 2,200 hours in the same year as her maternity leave. And while giving birth in the office is extreme, this certainly isn’t the first time a lawyer’s water broke on the job. The pressure to mask the impact of a pregnancy — an act critical to the very survival of the species — for the good of accruing billable hours to improve the firm’s annual bottom-line and your long-term career prospects needs to end. Would it kill a firm to approach attorney evaluations from a qualitative rather than quantitative perspective?
Not that the law firm is the only part of the legal-industrial complex that jerks around pregnant women. Let us not forget the woman who took the bar exam while in labor.
From our last report, mom and baby (rumor has it that she’s named Madeleine) are at the hospital. If the family is reading, congratulations from the ATL crew.
And check your BlackBerry, time is money!
Women Attorneys Struggle to Balance Career and Family [California Bar Journal]