Supporting Preparations for and Return from Parental Leave

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. September 8, 2022
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A mother with her baby

​Few life events are as transformative as parenthood, and the changes new parents experience can be overwhelming. To help in the transition to parenthood, the Duane Morris law firm has adopted a unique policy—the Ramp Down/Ramp Up Parental Leave Policy—so its attorneys can better prepare for and return from parental leave.

"It is incredibly important for organizations to recognize that employees require support when children join their lives, not only during leave itself but also when preparing for leave and returning to work following leave," said Elinor Murarova, an attorney with the firm in Chicago. She has two young boys—3.5 years and 15 months—and used the firm's policy with both.

"The demands of parenthood are fluid and do not start and end with leave," Murarova added. "Policies similar to Ramp Down/Ramp Up benefit companies by giving employees the space and support that they need to prepare for parenthood—and to parent—while maintaining high levels of productivity and commitment to the company."

Firm's Policy

The ramp-down component of the policy applies to the four-week period immediately prior to leave, said Linda Hollinshead, an attorney with Duane Morris in Philadelphia.

Attorneys may request to have their billable-hours expectation reduced by 30 percent for up to four weeks before their anticipated leave starts. There is no reduction in the attorneys' base compensation during the ramp-down month.

The ramp-up component applies to the three-month period immediately upon return from parental leave.

Attorneys may take up to three months to ramp back up to their regular billable-hours expectation following their return, to ease and balance work and home life:

  • Month one: 30 percent reduction in billable-hours expectation.
  • Month two: 20 percent reduction in billable-hours expectation.
  • Month three: 10 percent reduction in billable-hours expectation.

There is also no reduction in the attorneys' base compensation during the ramp-up months.

"The calculation of the reduction in attorneys' billable hours for the ramp-down or ramp-up period is based upon the attorneys' then-current full-time-employee schedule and corresponding billable-hours requirement," Hollinshead said. "This means that attorneys who already work part time—at least 60 percent full-time employee—may request to have their billable-hours requirements further reduced during the ramp-down/ramp-up periods."

Coordination with Other Policies

When applicable, the ramp-down/ramp-up periods will run concurrently with the Family and Medical Leave Act and other state and local leave laws, Hollinshead said.

"The firm recognizes that in some situations, an attorney may experience an unanticipated change in the need for leave associated with the birth or adoption of a child," she noted. "In these situations, the firm seeks to be flexible and comply with all applicable laws."

So, for example, if an attorney needs to extend paid or unpaid leave during what would have been an anticipated ramp-up period after the birth of a child—such as for medical complications associated with the birth or a serious health condition of the child—the attorney will be permitted to delay the ramp-up period until the leave period ends.

In contrast to intermittent leave, a concept that involves an employee being away from work and potentially on an unpaid status, "our firm's policy provides attorneys support while they are working by allowing them to scale back their billable hours for a period of time to assist in the transition of their workload as well as getting integrated back into their practice, without any reduction in base compensation," Hollinshead said.

The Ramp Down/Ramp Up policy is one of many family-friendly benefits provided to attorneys at Duane Morris. Other benefits include paid parental leave, extended unpaid leave, part-time work and flextime, disability benefits and other paid time off, and other programs providing support while a new or expectant parent is working, such as a parental affinity group.

The Ramp Down/Ramp Up policy "is an important component and complement to the firm's overall family leave policy," she said.

Genesis of Policy

The ramp-down/ramp-up concept was generated by the steering committee of the firm's women's initiative, the Duane Morris Women's Impact Network for Success (WINS).

"WINS is devoted to the success of our women attorneys and identified this policy as a way to meet the needs of our women attorneys," said Hollinshead, who is a member of WINS and was instrumental in the development of the Ramp Down/Ramp Up policy.

"WINS presented its proposal to firm leadership, which embraced and adopted the idea as part of other flexible strategies to support all of our attorneys—regardless of gender—with family obligations," she said. "Firm leadership, along with WINS, was very engaged in the development of this policy."

Internal Communication

Hollinshead said the firm and WINS have hosted internal briefings to ensure attorneys are aware of the program.

Attorneys can most fully benefit from the Ramp Down/Ramp Up policy by communicating clearly with the firm's HR department and their practices' group heads regarding their workload and by developing a plan to best use the requested period of time to transition work, she said.

Positive Feedback

Murarova said she would describe her experience using the policy "as seamless in that I was aware of the policy in advance of my leave, and before taking leave, I followed a process through which I transitioned responsibility for my matters to other attorneys."

She communicated early with clients about the transition and created documents, such as memoranda, to make it easier for the team to handle each matter during her leave. "I also worked with my team to manage deadlines that we expected to arise following my leave," she noted.

Her boss, colleagues and clients were "supportive and respectful of the process," Murarova said. They understood the "importance to me, my family and ultimately to the success of my work that we timely transition matters to prepare for my leave and appropriately transition them back following my leave."

Other industries that are client-focused would likely benefit from adopting similar approaches to the firm's policy because "increased communication during the transition periods will maintain high client service levels," Hollinshead said.

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