Advancing a law firm culture that benefits working parents

Nov 17, 2021 | Business

The national “She-cession,” the term economists use to describe the COVID-19 economy’s disproportionate impact on women, has impacted Idaho, including law firms like ours. As attorneys at Smith + Malek, a fast-growing business law firm with offices in Idaho and Washington, we’ve struggled the past 18 months to be able to hire enough talented attorneys to do the volume of work that keeps coming through our doors and fueling our regional expansion.

Smith + Malek has responded to market demands (and what we believe is simply the right thing to do), by offering some of the most forward-thinking benefits for our employees, in hopes of attracting more of them, particularly litigators.

It’s well-reported that more women than men have left their jobs due to COVID-19 and its impact on school and childcare issues, and the CDC reports that two out of every three caregivers are women. In September 2021, a Law360 survey found big law firms are still struggling to create structures where women can achieve parity, and where there isn’t a pay gap. For example, less than 24% of equity partners at major law firms are women. The Glass Ceiling Report found that women working at law firms were “disproportionately affected” by the “intensified … struggle of balancing law careers with caregiving responsibilities.” The survey found that 42% of attorneys who left their firms in 2020 were women, and women of color made up 13% of those departures.

In Idaho, lack of access to high quality, affordable child care remains a major reason women leave the workforce, according to a 2020 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that included a survey of 332 Idaho parents. The report found that Idaho loses out on $65.4 million in direct tax revenue because of turnover and absences in businesses related to a lack of child care. More than a quarter of parents surveyed said child care issues impacted their employment.

As a growing business law firm, we aim to transform these dismal statistics by continually improving our culture and policies, and we challenge our colleagues to do the same. We’ve grown through COVID-19, including opening a new office in Spokane, in part because we prioritize meaningful benefits that allow for a strong work-life balance. In fact, we have more work than attorneys, and we are actively hiring for all positions at all three of our offices.

All full-time employees at Smith + Malek receive access to benefits unheard of in most firms of our size, including:

  • 12 weeks of paid parental leave;
  • Flexible and remote work options for attorneys; and
  • The ability to bring a child to work occasionally as needed.

Another way we are trying to change the stats for women in law is by eliminating the partner track. Instead, we build collaborative, client-centered teams and use a quarterly profit-sharing model. This benefits attorneys more equally because, instead of pitting us against each other in a traditional “eat what you kill” model, any win is a team win.

We are proud to work for a firm that is committed to doing business differently, and to making sure that we attract and retain the best attorneys and staff to solve our clients’ pressing business problems and create a better future for ourselves and our communities.

By Tara Malek
Oct. 25, 2021 | Idaho Trial Lawyers Association Journal

Tara Malek is a co-owner of Smith + Malek and the chief litigator. A former Assistant U.S. Attorney and Kootenai County prosecutor, she splits her time between the Boise and Coeur d’Alene offices.