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What this dad learned from utilising his firm’s parental leave entitlements

By Lauren Croft | |6 minute read

One BigLaw firm’s inclusive parental leave program has meant a stronger family unit for one senior associate — who said all firms should be implementing similar practices and that lawyers should be taking up such leave.

In July 2021, Ashurst unveiled its 26-week paid parental leave policy, giving staff access to 26 weeks of fully paid parental leave, regardless of gender. In addition, legal staff also have a three-month reduction in “chargeable” hours targets once they return to work.

One senior associate at the firm who has taken up the parental leave policy is Rowan Kendall, who said the extra paid leave gave him a chance to be a full-time dad — and to properly bond with his daughter, Thea.

“Being a full-time dad was at the same time the most difficult thing that I have ever done, and also the most amazing. I distinctly remember calling my wife at 11am on my first day of solo parental leave and asking ‘what now?’, and rightly being told that it was my job to figure it out. I had a lot of experience taking care of Thea by then, but being the only one around was a completely different ball game,” he told Lawyers Weekly.

“I spent just over four months full time with Thea. One thing that really stood out was how I became the parent that knew what to do: I knew what snacks to pack for outings, I knew what toys needed to be hanging off the pram, I knew what times naps were. Before my parental leave, although I didn’t fully appreciate it, my wife made all of those calls. Since my parental leave, we have a truly equal knowledge of being the primary carer, and I feel that every day since in how we work with each other when parenting. FamilyCare actually helped significantly with this — my wife went back a couple of weeks after I started my leave (only possible because I didn’t have to be the primary caregiver), which made for a completely smooth handover, and some L-plate caregiver training!”

Ashurst is, of course, not the only firm to have bolstered its paid parental leave entitlements in recent times, with a number of other mid-tier and BigLaw practices having made similar moves, as reported by Lawyers Weekly, and listed below:

Mr Kendall took the entirety of the parental leave he was entitled to — a move he said was fully supported by Ashurst and his team.

“I remember speaking to the partner that I report to in Brisbane, Alyssa Phillips, before I went on leave and asking how I could take the leave in a manner that worked best for the team — how could I do it in a way that was least disruptive? I remember Alyssa’s answer clearly — she said that the leave policy was there to be used in the way that best suited my family and me,” he said.  

“This is actually how I came up with the idea of taking four months permanently, and then six months part time — it was because Alyssa encouraged me to think about how to best use the policy to spend real time with Thea, to support my wife’s return to work, and to balance my own career.”

In addition to FamilyCare, Ashurst has a flexible working policy and a Mindful Business Charter — all of which have afforded staff like Mr Kendall “truly massive changes” to their personal and family lives.

“I work from home at least two days a week. This means that I can do daycare drop off and pick up on both those days without any dramatic scheduling. Also, because my wife can also work flexibly, we often go together (with the dog) and drop off becomes a family walk in the sun with a coffee and a chance to talk about our days, or anything we want really,” Mr Kendall added.

“The Mindful Business Charter [also] drove a conversation in our team about having smart meetings and when people like to work. This gave me the chance to be open about the fact that I like working early in the day, and that I particularly like to avoid having meetings or calls from 5-7pm if I can — that means that nine times out of 10 I can be there for the dinner-bath-book-bed process. I am not sure that every lawyer parent has had that opportunity, but it’s truly important to me.”

More firms need inclusive parental leave programs; as Ashurst’s has given Mr Kendall and his family a slew of benefits, lasting much longer than 26 weeks.

“The big benefit from the FamilyCare policy for my family came with the changes to the primary carer requirement, and the extension to the timeframe to take parental leave at any time in the first two years after birth. My wife was always planning to take nine to 12 months leave, so under the previous policy I would have been restricted in how much leave I could actually access,” he said.

“Instead, with the added flexibility of the FamilyCare policy there was no timing constraint on taking my leave. When I started back at work, I used my remaining parental leave so that I had one day off a week for about six months (but at full pay). This was amazing — it meant that Thea and I got to keep hanging out, just us, for six more months, but it also had substantial financial benefits because it meant one less day of daycare costs but without sacrificing our family income. 

“For the last couple of months, I actually switched my day off to the same day as my wife, and we actually had two months of family long weekends before I went back to full time work. If I look back, the flexibility of the FamilyCare policy has given us almost a year of really special family moments — I know that’s not the only way to use the policy, but my whole family is incredibly important to me and spending time with them has been my great benefit from the FamilyCare policy.”

As a result, Mr Kendall said his family has emerged stronger after taking advantage of the firm’s inclusive parental leave program.

“We have ended our stretch of parental leave as a really strong family unit, and I put this down to the inclusiveness of the parental leave program — we both have experience being the primary carer, and we have a lot of great memories of spending time together with Thea as a small child. These are really nice things to have taken into our first winter of daycare illnesses, balancing work and a sick child, and horse-trading who is best placed to take carer’s leave,” he said.

“I feel for anyone who has not had the same experience, both mothers and fathers, because taking parental leave and getting to spend that stretch of time just being a dad is one of the most valuable experiences of my life.”

This article was originally featured in Lawyers Weekly on 1 August 2022.

What this dad learned from utilising his firm’s parental leave entitlements
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