For decades, work-life balance at law firms has been a women’s issue—something for working moms to sort out. But there are a growing number of new firms built on flexible schedules that are now attracting men, and slowly shifting the definition of a successful legal career. Though the partner office is still the prototypical legal-career status symbol, the prerequisites of long hours and 24-7 availability are inconsistent with the emphasis many men put on time away from the office.
“Young men today have different values, different aspirations than their fathers,” says Stewart Friedman, a Wharton practice professor of management and director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project. “They want to be available both psychologically and physically for children.” At some of the most competitive white-collar workplaces, such as Netflix and Microsoft, these shifts have led to expanded parental-leave policies.
Some major law firms have formal paternity-leave policies on their books, but many of them still lack a culture in which men feel comfortable utilizing those policies. Male lawyers—as well as men in other industries—often receive mixed messages from superiors: They’re allotted significantly less parental leave than their female counterparts, they’re implicitly discouraged from taking leave at all, and those that do take leave say they feel stigmatized, according to a survey by industry blog Above the Law.