Navigating Parental Leave


“As more companies offer their employees attractive leave benefits, law firms are following suit by offering their attorneys robust parental leave benefits,” Ogletree Deakins notes in a recent newsletter.1 Promoting a work-life balance, including flexible hours and leave, is key as a new generation ascends, requiring and expecting this culture of balance. Here is one person’s story:

Debbie Zimmerle Boudreaux, 33, has been a lawyer since 2011 and a mother since 2014. Her son Jack was born during her third year of practice, and daughter Mary came along 15 months later in November 2016. Daughter Lucy was born last October.

Boudreaux works in Lewisburg at the Law Office of David McKenzie, a small firm with offices located in Lewisburg and Fayetteville, providing services to clients including personal injury, criminal defense and general civil litigation. She focuses primarily on family law matters. Her husband Ross is also an attorney.

Tennessee Bar Journal: Did your maternity leaves go as expected?

DZB: When I had Jack, I had intended to take a couple months off. I returned to work to handle a brief matter when he was about a month old and my “gradual” return to work ended up with me jumping right back in full force. When I had Mary, I was back to work within a month as well. I took two months off with Lucy.

TBJ: Did you find your type of work to be conducive to being away?

DZB: I am fortunate to have fantastic support at my firm and from the local bench and bar. Lucy was born three weeks early. I had a trial set and some motions set for the week after she was born. At the time I took leave, I was attempting to wrap up several matters for the year but she had different plans. With the help of my staff and technology, I was able to continue most pending matters and to work on pleadings that needed immediate attention from the hospital.

TBJ: What is your firm’s leave policy?

DZB:  With our office being so small, we do not have an official maternity/paternity leave policy. My personal policy is finding balance between being available to my family personally but also available to provide for them financially.
That can sometimes be a difficult balance to strike.
My secretary has been trained to draft pleadings and responses and was able to make drafts of any work that needed to be handled while I was away from the office. … I spoke with the office if not every day, at least every other day. With smartphones, email, Dropbox and the Westlaw App, I was able to complete a lot of work from my phone while caring for the baby.

TBJ: Did you have any guilt, regarding home or work?

DZB:  I think that’s a normal reaction when you care so much about the career you’ve built and about your spouse and children. Time is precious and at the end of the day, there are only so many minutes to offer everyone.

TBJ: How was your experience when you returned to work?

DZB:  There were a few tears on the drive in, certainly. However, once I immersed myself in the work, the day flew by. I found that becoming a mother made me a better attorney, too. I became more efficient and didn’t procrastinate as I could afford to do before children.

TBJ: Do you have any advice for new parents who practice law?

DZB:  Friends and family want to help you. To many of us, it can be a humbling experience to have to rely on others. We are used to being the ones people come to for help so it can feel strange to ask others for the same. When people offer, accept it. Even if it’s just to hold the baby for an hour so you can nap or fold a load of laundry. 
When you go back to work, consider a housekeeper. Do a cost-benefit analysis. Is it worth the money to have that added stress handled by someone else? Is it worth it to hold that new baby without feeling guilty that you need to be handling laundry? Does it make sense to pay someone to handle a few hours of housework at a rate lower than your hourly billable rate so you can focus on what you do best?

Note

1. “Trends in Paid Parental Leave Come to the Legal Industry: A Call to Action for Law Firms?” by Michelle P. Wimes,
https://ogletree.com/shared-content/content/blog/ 2018/january/trends-in-paid-parental-leave-come-to-the-legal-industry.


Debbie Boudreaux has served as the District 11 Rep for the TBA YLD and is curriculum specialist for CATALYST, a YLD program in its inaugural year designed to encourage high school students to become engaged with their state government.

PHOTO: Ross and Debbie Boudreaux with Jack, Mary and Lucy. Photo by Sweet Moments by Missy, Missy Walsh.

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