How Small and Midsize Firms Can Attract And Retain Talented Lawyers

This fall, the WLD is exploring different policies that assist attorneys obtaining and taking paid family medical leave and supporting those returning back to work following a leave of absence. On Oct. 26, 2016 the WLD partnered with K&L Gates and Reed Smith to explore the issues faced by women and men as they return to work following a leave of absence.  On Nov. 8, 2017, the WLD co-sponsored a happy hour with the Women and Girls Foundation for an introduction to its’ Campaign for Paid Leave in PA.

We know that many big law firms offer generous paid family and medical leave that allow for time to care for one’s own or a family member’s serious health condition or the introduction of a new child. But, only 30% of attorneys work for these big law firms.  Most attorneys practice at solo, small or mid-size firms.  For these firms, paid family and medical leave is cost prohibitive. There is simply no way of making a profit and providing paid family and medical leave. This puts these firms at a competitive disadvantage and at risk for losing talented lawyers—either because the attorney is forced to resign or is enticed by a larger firm with better benefits.   When recruiting, interviewing and training costs are incurred (estimated to be between $250,000-$300,000 for an associate with five years’ experience), this is burdensome for the firm and costly to clients. A client must now come to know a new attorney and wait for he or she to get caught up on the matter.

Even when a firm does not offer paid leave, employees will risk job and financial security and take unpaid leave to provide care for a loved one.  39% of employees with caregiving needs leave their job to have more time to care for a loved one and 34% leave because their work does not provide flexible hours.  This is turnover that can be avoided.

The question is not really if paid family and medical leave is needed, the question is how to pay for it.  Recent headlines have suggested a federal corporate mandate requiring employers to offer paid maternity leave.  But, beyond being wildly unpopular, an unfunded mandate does not solve the cost problem for small and mid-size law firms.

In 2016, the Commonwealth received a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to explore the feasibility and costs of establishing a Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance Fund here in the Commonwealth.  While the full report has not been released, the reviews from the business community of other states that have implemented such programs are positive.  In California, for example, despite concerns about burdensome new costs prior to the passage of the law, the majority of employers responded to a 2016 survey that the program had minimal effects on their business operations and 87 percent said it had not resulted in any cost increases.

Based on models in other states, a Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance Fund in the Commonwealth, would be available to all Pennsylvania workers, regardless of employer, to full-time and part-time workers, to union and non-union workers and to opt-in self-employed.  It would be funded by annual payroll deduction between $123 to $281 (depending on income), spread out over pay periods and the income replacement available will be progressive, with the lowest wage earners receiving the highest percentage benefit.  There is no employer contribution.

By collecting small payroll deductions, the costs of paid leave are spread across the entire covered PA workforce, removing the cost barriers to offering paid family and medical leave and leveling the playing field for small and mid-size firms to recruit and retain talent. 

While the specifics of the proposed legislation are not finalized, it is anticipated that this bill will provide for income replacement for up to twelve weeks at a progressive level and subject to a ceiling, to any worker who has contributed to the fund and needs time off to care for their own or a family member’s serious health condition or the introduction of a new child through birth, foster or adoption.  A qualified employee would apply to and receive the funds from the Commonwealth. 

This model is good for employees and great for small business.  Please join the Women and Girls Foundation in the Campaign for Paid Family Leave in PA.  You can like us on Facebook and follow us @paidleaveforpa. If you have questions or would like to be involved in this critically important effort, please contact Carey Cummings at carey@wgfpa.org or 412-248-2527.

Carey Cummings is a WLD Council Member and the State Campaign Director for Paid Leave for PA.