New Zealand Law Society - Research points to law firm ethos discouraging male parental leave

Research points to law firm ethos discouraging male parental leave

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Research carried out by Finnish and Canadian academics suggests that the professional ethos of law firms discourages men from taking parental leave.

The research was carried out by the University of Eastern Finland and TÉLUQ University in Quebec.

It found that the professional culture in law firms rests on traditional masculine ideology, with men regarded as the providers for their families. This view does not encourage men to combine their professional career and child care.

The study examined male lawyers’ motives behind taking or not taking paternity and parental leaves in law firms based in Helsinki, Finland, and in Montreal, Canada.

Canadian male lawyers were significantly less keen to take paternity leave than their Finnish colleagues. This is partly explained by Finland’s longer paternity leave tradition. Instead of taking paternity leave, Canadian male lawyers preferred taking annual holiday when their child was born.

“In law firms, family policies and flexible working arrangements are mainly targeted at women, and this has a negative impact on women’s career development," says University of Eastern Finland researcher Marta Choroszewicz.

"If fathers took a more active role in child care, it would facilitate the emergence of a professional culture that is more family-friendly. In the process, it is also likely that this would reduce gender bias in the division of legal tasks and career paths within law firms."

The greater popularity of paternity leave in Finland is also explained by organisational differences between Finnish and Canadian law firms. In Finland, young lawyers typically work as members of a team, and they for example face lower expectations to attract new clients than their Canadian colleagues. In Canada, the work revolves more around the individual, and even young lawyers are expected to contribute to marketing, networking and new client recruitment.

Preliminary findings from Finland show that there, too, the attitudes to paternity leave vary from one generation to the next. Law firm partners representing the post-Second World War generation and Generation X often did not take paternity leave when their children were small, and they do not necessarily understand the need of today’s young male lawyers to participate in early child care. In many law firms, paternity leaves are still regarded as optional, compared to, for example, maternity leaves.

“It is not enough that men’s right to parental leave is guaranteed by legislation. We also need organisational solutions, collegial encouragement and examples set by male law firm partners,” Ms Choroszewicz says.

The article, "Parental-leave policy for male lawyers in Helsinki and Montreal: cultural and professional barriers to male lawyers' use of paternity and parental leaves" by Marta Choroszewicz and Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay is published in the International Journal of the Legal Profession.

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