Maternity Leave

Sexism is pervasive in the legal profession, and it’s highly unusual if a week passes and there isn’t something to decry about the way women are treated by their male colleagues. From pay inequities and being passed up for partnership to constant lectures about the way they ought to dress, act, and speak, women lawyers have been given the short end of the stick in what was once considered a noble calling.

Worse yet, when it comes to achieving any sense of work/life balance, each action a woman lawyer takes is scrutinized with intensity — there are always questions raised as to her true dedication to her work. Should a woman lawyer be so bold as to become pregnant and then take maternity leave, then all bets are off. Colleagues will sigh with exasperation and fault their pregnant coworker for putting more work on their shoulders while the lawyer with child goes off to enjoy her “vacation” from the job.

It seems that even judges are fed up with women attorneys and their pesky maternity leave….

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This week, the legal world has been buzzing over the New Republic’s exposé on the troubles of Biglaw, told through the tale of the long-suffering Mayer Brown. Our managing editor David Lat wondered if being a partner was the worst job in Biglaw, prompting some raised eyebrows. “Yeah, being a partner is so much worse than being an associate,” said a sarcastic commenter.

Sure, being a Biglaw partner right now isn’t “all peaches and cream,” but for most Biglaw associates — female associates especially — it never was. In fact, in our last discussion of the New Republic piece, very little attention was paid to the plight of one Mayer Brown associate in particular: the woman who was laid off during her maternity leave after surviving two prior rounds of layoffs.

The fragile state of the Biglaw world is such that women who dare to do crazy things like get pregnant must worry about whether they’ve put their jobs on the line. But just how bad is it to be pregnant at an Am Law 200 firm? It couldn’t be worse than being a partner, could it?

It could, and it is…

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‘Can’t a kid have a five-minute feeding break without a partner email?’

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….

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Imagine that you’re a lawyer on maternity leave, and you find out on a Friday — somewhat short notice, but you have the weekend to sort things out — that your request for a trial delay has been denied. You have to go to court on Monday. What would you do in that kind of a situation?

While some would simply ask a family member to watch the baby, others would hit the babysitter’s number on speed dial in a heart beat. Others would farm the case out to a competent colleague. And others still would dump the baby off at the local daycare center that specialized in newborns. Each of these options seems reasonably workable.

But Amber Vazquez Bode, the lawyer this actually happened to, wasn’t having it. Interrupt my maternity leave? Screw you, judge, I’m bringing my baby to court….

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Juliette Youngblood and Morgan Chu

Last month, Juliette Youngblood, an ex-partner at the elite California law firm of Irell & Manella, filed suit against her former firm. In her lawsuit for sex discrimination and wrongful termination, Youngblood advanced a whole host of salacious allegations — including a report of sexual harassment by Morgan Chu, arguably the nation’s #1 intellectual-property litigator.

Irell did not respond to the lawsuit at the time. Now it has, in a blistering 22-page filing that calls Youngblood’s claims “meritless” and “utterly false, complete fabrications manufactured out of whole cloth.”

What does the firm have to say about the specific claims made by Youngblood — such as the allegation that a drunken Morgan Chu made inappropriate and offensive comments to her at a firm happy hour, including remarks about her physical appearance and about “objects entering [Youngblood's] body”?

And what do ATL sources, including readers familiar with both Youngblood and Irell, think of the situation?

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Firm denies claims and moves for arbitration.

Morgan Chu

Legendary litigator Morgan Chu, former managing partner and current litigation chair at Irell & Manella, is one of the nation’s top intellectual-property attorneys and trial lawyers. He has tried multiple IP cases to nine-figure jury verdicts, and he has earned every professional accolade under the sun (see his Irell website bio). He is arguably the nation’s #1 IP litigator. (If you disagree, make your case for someone else in the comments.)

And now Morgan Chu is the subject of sexual-harassment allegations. In a lawsuit filed in California Superior Court on Friday, former Irell partner Juliette Youngblood alleges that Chu sexually harassed her, then retaliated against her after she rejected his advances.

Morgan Chu is widely admired — at Irell, where his rainmaking monsoon-making helps generate robust partner profits (over $2.9 million in PPP in 2010), as well as above-market associate bonuses; in IP litigation circles, where he is a fearsome adversary; and among Asian-American lawyers, where he stands as proof that we can excel at litigation as well as transactional work.

It’s hard to believe that such a beloved figure has been hit with such salacious allegations (which we must emphasize are mere allegations at this point, nothing more). But let’s forge ahead and check them out — along with the pertly pretty plaintiff who is making them….

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Former partner alleges sexual harassment by Morgan Chu.