Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Welcome WCL Family Law Students!

Say what you will about lawyers, but you have to give 'em credit for intending meaning with everything they write. It may be borderline indecipherable, but there are no throw-away lines in the law. That's why I was particular interested when I was over the family leave policy of one of the big law firms in town:
To care for a newborn or newly adopted child, lawyers may take parental leave for up to twelve consecutive months (three months paid) for the lawyer with primary childcare responsibility or up to three weeks (paid) for the lawyer with secondary childcare responsibility. Both parents may be regarded as 'primary' as long as their leaves do not overlap.
Leaving aside the very wonderful and generous policy (I had three months of paid leave when my first daughter was born, and that changed my life) and the assiduously gender-neutral tone, this policy introduced something that was, for me, completely novel: the concept of "the lawyer with secondary childcare responsibility."

"Secondary childcare responsibility" is one of those terms that could only have come into being the last decade, and it signifies that there is a sea change in how we look at work. Once upon a time, there was "maternity leave" which was designed for, by definition, moms. Dads, of course, weren't offered leave. They were the breadwinners, or so society had decreed. By the time I took my leave, early in the new millennium and after the gender-neutral Family and Medical Leave Act, we were talking about "primary caretakers" who, presumably, still had a breadwinning spouse at home.

But now we can talk about "secondary childcare responsibility" -- the idea that not every family is divided into a Flanagan-esque caregiver/breadwinner setup. There are lots of guys -- and plenty of women -- who work their tails off all day long and come home 100 percent focused on the kids. And for a long time, these "working parents" were denied much credit for their role in the family -- there's no term for a 40-hour-a-week worker who is still spending 40 hours a week with his or her kids.

But calling someone a "lawyer with secondary childcare responsibility" make explicit that a worker is more than just a paycheck to the family -- they are an active part of family life. This is, of course, the reality for plenty of folks, and it's nice to see a business (and a big law firm at that) acknowledge it. If I'm disappointed about anything, it's that I’m only hearing the term now, in 2006.

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