To be or not to be a mother. Many female lawyers, especially those that partners in law firms, have suffered from this internal debate that pitches their desire to be mothers against their career ambitions. Certainly motherhood has been considered one of the greatest roadblocks to women´s professional success, not by the mere fact of having children, but because law firms often lack family-friendly policies designed to support future moms. This conflict is aggravated when it comes to female partners, who in many cases – because of their status and payment method – do not qualify as employees of the firm and therefore are not protected by the specific maternity policies established in each country´s laws.
While the female employees of the firms generally benefit from the different maternity leaves of mandatory compliance by the employers, female partners must comply the provisions (often nonexistent) stated in the constitutive pact, partner agreements, and in the worst-case scenario, submit to the good will of the rest of the partners. For example, in Costa Rica, by disposition of the Labor Code, pregnant employees benefit form a compulsory maternity leave of one month before giving birth and three months after delivery. The payment during this maternity leave must be equivalent to the employee´s salary and is covered equally by the employer and the Costa Rican Social Security system (called the Costa Rican Social Security Fund – CCSS). But what about the partners?
Because of the private nature of the issue, it is difficult to gather all the facts on what is happening in Costa Rica and the rest of the region; however, we will review what happens in the United States, where several maternity policies of different law firms have been revealed by the American journal, “Working Mother Magazine”. This magazine aims to advice women committed to their professional careers and has a Research Institute that leads a series of studies to determine the best workplaces for women. Among the Magazine´s publications is the2014 Working Mother & Flex-time Lawyers 50 Best Law Firms for Women, which took into consideration indicators such as proportion of male/female partners, percentage of female lawyers working reduced hours and maternity policies in law firms. Results showed that some of the maternity policies implemented by different law firms include: between 12 to 18 fully paid weeks of maternity leave, scheduling flex, 20 to 40% cut of hours of work, the possibility to work remotely, subsidized child care and adoption assistance, among others.
Nevertheless, it is not completely clear whether these policies apply to all lawyers equally or whether there are distinctions as to their position inside the firm; that is, if female partners and associates enjoy the same incentives to become mothers. This is why it’s so important to promote the incorporation of maternity policies in the firms´ constitutive pacts or partner agreements, thus eliminating completely the possibility of its application depending on the good will of the rest of the partners, which in the majority of cases, continue to be men.
If we want to move towards equal working conditions between men and women, the internal debate of being a mother or not should not be a determining factor for the professional success of women, whatever their profession. And since nowadays the male/female proportion in relation to the status of partners is measured and equated in law firms, proper internal maternity policies must also be implemented in order to protect female partners within each firm.
 Working Mother Magazine. The 2014 Working Mother & Flex-time Lawyers 50 Best Law Firms for Women. Available in: http://www.workingmother.com/content/2014-working-mother-amp-flex-time-lawyers-50-best-law-firms-women