Mommy Issues

If you ask a small-firm attorney what is the advantage of a small firm over Biglaw, most will tell you that smaller size makes firms more nimble and better able to adapt to client needs and market changes. It stands to reason, then, that small firms could revolutionize the law firm model. But what changes should small firms make? And how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

To answer these questions, I spoke to Mae O’Malley, founder of Paragon Legal, and a visionary when it comes to offering legal services. Paragon Legal is one of the fastest growing alternative legal models. Their model is to offer highly-qualified attorneys (with a minimum of 8 years of experience) to Fortune 500 companies, akin to a contract-attorney arrangement.

This model allows the client to obtain top-notch legal help for a fraction of the cost of Biglaw. The arrangement is also appealing to high-caliber lawyers, particularly women, who look to balance their professional growth with their family obligations. In light of the model’s success, it’s not surprising that Fortune recently featured O’Malley as an individual “fixing a broken legal industry.”

What advice does Mae O’Malley have for reforming legal workplaces?

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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…

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