Equality Committee Multnomah Lawyer Articles

June 2008 Multnomah Lawyer article

A Knowing Show of Support

By Pam Stendahl, Bodyfelt Mount Stroup & Chamberlain, and a working parent of two children

The MBA Equality Committee provides articles that highlight activities and programs which promote and provide better understanding of the diversity in our legal profession and in our community. If you would like to recognize an individual, group or firm for their commitment to equality, please contact Kathy Maloney, staff to the MBA Equality Committee. The following is the fifth article in this series, and recognizes the activities and programs of the Bodyfelt Mount Stroup & Chamberlain firm in its ongoing efforts to support a diverse law profession and community.

It's 6:30 a.m. Your 8-year-old child who went to bed last night seemingly healthy has just run to the bathroom vomiting. You have a lawyer coming from Salem for a deposition in your office at 9 a.m. If you have a live-in nanny or a spouse who is not employed outside the home, the answer is easy. For a two-working parent household or for a single parent, your morning has just become very stressful and complicated. If your own retired mother doesn't live nearby, you need to start making calls to cancel the deposition. Because your assistant doesn't arrive at the office until 8:30, your task quickly becomes non-delegable. This includes trying to find the home telephone number of your opposing counsel before he starts driving north on I-5 and your client, who was ready and anxious to tell his side of the story. And don't forget the court reporter, or you'll be paying the no-show fee. You have another concern as well. You have to call the office and tell them you won't be in today. How will the managing partner react?

The law firm that employs you may not be able to make this particular morning any easier for you in terms of your sick child, but there are law firms that welcome and support working parents, even single parents. I know. I work at one.

Bodyfelt Mount Stroup & Chamberlain LLP (BMSC) is a 12-lawyer firm in downtown Portland. Of the 12 lawyers, nine have children and six are women. Of the five partners, two are women. The lawyers range from married with children to single with no children, to divorced with children, to single (no second parent) with children. The firm's Web site boasts that "we are as much committed to emphasizing good health, physical fitness, recreation and family relationships as we are to quality legal practice." Having worked here now for over two years, I can tell you this is true - particularly with regard to family relationships. It was not surprising to me that the Oregon Women Lawyers recently chose the firm to be a joint recipient of the Workplace Leader Award. That award recognizes law firms that are taking innovative measures to maximize opportunities for women and minorities to succeed in the workplace and advance to positions of influence and leadership.

BMSC's firm culture supports quality legal work by acknowledging that a balanced life often leads to well-rounded and well-adjusted lawyers. Well-adjusted lawyers are not only productive, but fun to work with. As such, BMSC had a reasonable billable hour expectation of its lawyers. Perhaps this is so because four of the five partners have children under the age of 10. They each appreciate that working parents need to attend parent-teacher conferences, dental appointments and the occasional visit to the emergency room. They also appreciate that there are times when attending a child's musical performance or sporting event is more important than billing the last two hours of the day. Reasonable billable hour requirements go a long way in balancing family and work obligations and, in my view, garner the loyalty and dedication of individual attorneys to the firm. The results of this are seen in the very low attrition rate at BMSC. This saves the firm the investment of time and money to recruit, hire and train new attorneys.

BMSC also does not require mandatory "face time" in the office. That's not to say that the office is not fully staffed with attorneys from morning until evening on weekdays and occasional weekends. What it does mean is that no one feels any obligation to show up on a Saturday morning to be seen by others, or to be perceived as "partnership material." BMSC is a business, though, and the lawyers put in their time. However, there is a welcome informality about whether you prepare for oral argument in your office or in your dining room. I often opt for the latter.

Reasonable billable hour requirements and mandatory office time are perhaps obvious benefits to working parents. BMSC exceeds those benefits in many other respects. It is not uncommon to hear a child's voice in the hallway, even on weekdays. We have a stock of art supplies, toys and videos for the times when our children accompany us to the office. Perhaps because so many of the attorneys and staff at BMSC have young children, the firm regularly plans functions to include the children. Last summer our firm party was on Sauvie Island and included the rental of a giant water slide, to the delight of the 12-and-under crowd! In December, we hosted a family event in which all employees and their families were invited to gather at Pioneer Courthouse Square to listen to holiday music and return to the office for pizza, hot chocolate and a hand-selected gift for each child. These activities bring the office together in important ways. We all know each other's children by name. We exchange brochures for summer camps. We share recommendations for books, plays and other adventures. So, when one of us calls in to report that we will not be in that day because our child woke up vomiting, instead of disdain, we receive a knowing show of support. What better place to work? What better way to retain a cohesive group of lawyers committed to a great firm?