What you need to know when preparing to go on maternity leave
Going on maternity leave can be a time of trepidation for lawyers.
We work in a male-dominated industry that seldom caters to the female workforce. So if you are planning to go on maternity leave or are already in the midst of your time off, here are some tips:
Your firm's policy and procedures. What does your firm provide you during this time in terms of remuneration, and time-off? Can you extend it if needed? What does your boss like to do in terms of communication before and during your maternity leave? What's the culture of the firm like regarding maternity leave? What have other lawyers done in the past? Knowing this will help you navigate the uncertainty of going on leave in a high pressured environment. Find out as well who are willing to take your files for the period you are away for.
Have a plan for your maternity leave. Some of my colleagues and friends liked to stay silent during maternity leave. Others wanted to make a plan. They made one for before, during and transitioning back into work. Find out what suits you (and your boss!) best. Be aware of what your boss prefers. Will your relationship work best if you communicate your plan to him in advance? Will this also remind him that you are still around and thinking about your career? If it does, don't hesitate to communicate your plans to him. It will help your career even when you are away.
If needed, consider hiring a coach. If you didn't already know, some firms do provide a coach for maternity leave. The coach will guide you through the process of maternity leave management including coming up with a plan with you should you need or want it. A coach will also help and advise you through the emotional aspects of maternity leave and what you can expect from it. Choose one who has experience coaching maternity leavers or has gone through it herself.
Understanding the culture of your firm is also key to knowing what to expect when you go on maternity leave or take a sabbatical. Finding out what the firm expects from you in this time of transition is important so that you are able to meet expectations or decide whether the firm is a place suitable for your future needs.
Speak to lawyers who have gone on maternity leave in your firm and find out what their experiences are. Their narrative will be valuable in helping you determine your next course of action.
Communicate with your colleagues, clients, and bosses (if that is what you want to do). It never hurts to drop them an email and remind them that you are still around and interested in your career.
As always, realize that nothing is set in stone and you are able to pivot and refine your plan whenever you want.
Have a great day!