A women-owned law firm in Fredericksburg, Virginia committed to accommodating family priorities into their work schedules. When a partner left the firm after her maternity leave and was asked back months later, a potential gap in her malpractice insurance coverage led the firm to ALPS Parental Leave Coverage. ALPS Underwriting Manager and new mom Leah Gooley sits down with Elizabeth LeDoux and Leah Dubuisson from the firm Strentz & Greene to discuss how this new coverage played a role in reducing stress and worry for one new mother as she returned to the practice of law as well as other ways firms can be supportive of working parents.
All right. Welcome to the latest edition of ALPS In Brief, coming to you from the historic Florence Building in beautiful downtown Missoula on this truly beautiful but very cold day. We are talking about the new parental leave coverage now available from ALPS.
As you may have noticed, I’m not your usual podcaster extraordinaire, Mark B. My name is Leah Gooley, and I’m the Underwriting Manager here at ALPS. In addition to that, I have recently become a parent to possibly the world’s cutest baby girl this last July. I might be biased. It’s been about a month since I returned to work from maternity leave, and I find myself constantly learning this new work/life balance routine.
I know our two guests today, as well as many of our listeners, can really relate to the challenges that come with balancing the family and career, and so that’s why we’re here to talk about the parental leave coverage. It’s a way that ALPS has really helped address one of those balancing points.
First I’d really like to introduce our guests. From the firm Strentz & Greene in Fredericksburg, Virginia, we have Elizabeth LeDoux and Leah Dubuisson. Welcome.
I really want to thank you guys ahead of time here just for spending some time to talk about this coverage and how it’s fit into your lives. Elizabeth, would you start us out talking about how you learned about this and what it’s meant to you guys?
Sure. I’m the office manager at Strentz & Greene, and we’re a two-partner women-owned law firm in Downtown Fredericksburg. When our associate, Leah, went out on maternity leave, she eventually said, “You know what, I’m going to stay home with my baby, I’m not going to come back,” and we hired a new associate to take her place. At that point I canceled her ALPS insurance because she didn’t work here anymore, and signed our new associate up.
Then within a few months, I think about the nine-month point, we invited Leah to come back to work, and she was happy to come and we were so happy to have her back. Because we have these two partners who are moms and concerned about all the parts of attorney life and being a mom and mom life too, one of them said, “Be sure when you talk to ALPS and sign Leah back up that you get coverage for this gap in her time here.”
I sent you guys a note and said, “I need to sign Leah back up, and I really want to make sure that she doesn’t have a gap in coverage. Can you fill this in?” Shonda is our rep, and she wrote back and said, “I guess I’m going to send that back to the underwriters, and I’ll get back to you.” That was how we started this path.
I actually remember learning about that from our underwriter at the time, who came to me and said, “This doesn’t exist,” this ability to add. Essentially what we’re talking about are prior acts coverage for individual attorneys, who really want to maintain that control of the past work that they’ve done and make sure that they have coverage for that.
The way the industry functions now, that’s typically not an option, if you’ve left a firm and you’ve broken that date and created a gap. What we looked at was actually going back and then being able to provide that retroactive coverage for those individual attorneys who qualify. You guys really laid the groundwork for us to be able to put this into action.
I’m curious, Leah, specifically from your point of view, when you decided to come back to work, was this a concern of yours, or just as being an attorney in general, was this something you had thought about also as a mom?
I think as an attorney we’re always, in the back of our minds, concerned about malpractice, but it’s definitely not something that was at the forefront of my mind. When I did decide to come back and the firm offered me a modified schedule to make that possible, it was something that Elizabeth brought to my attention and said, “We’re looking at getting you some coverage.”
When she said that, I said, “Well, of course,” because that would definitely be a concern for me coming back into the firm, and being sure that the transition is smooth. It’s one less thing to worry about, among the many things that we worry about as new moms coming back into the workforce and as somewhat new attorneys
It is. It is a big thing that fits into the bigger picture of as you start to put your pieces together for being a parent and fitting it into this career. I am curious also, tell me about, Leah, how you became an attorney. What went into that decision to start the career?
I took not what you would call the traditional path. I started out thinking that I wanted to go to law school. I did political science undergrad, took the LSAT, and then I decided to try a couple of other things. I did a year’s worth of master’s work in public administration. I worked pretty much every different type of job you can think of. It took about five years before I got back on the law school path, and really realized that if I didn’t do it, I would always look back and wonder.
This job really checks a lot of boxes for me, things that I like to do in my day-to-day life and the impacts that I see myself making as a professional. I went to law school and was lucky enough to get a clerkship. During that clerkship, I was fortunate enough to meet the partners that I work for now, and they hired me right out of my clerkship and have been my home for several years now.
Wonderful. I always find that so fascinating, how folks end up where they ultimately are, and that’s a wonderful thing that you took some extra time to get where you are now as an attorney, and that you have that additional experience. I think that also speaks to the work/life balance as a parent, because you bring all of those skills to the job in addition to just the work piece of it. Tell me again then about your decision. Not to make you talk the whole time, but when you decided to leave the firm and be a stay-at-home mom, what brought you back into the practice?
I really missed being an attorney. I really enjoyed the time that I had with my daughter and it was really important to me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but there is a commute involved with my position. I live about an hour away from the office. The idea of commuting five days a week with an infant was not in the plans for my family at that time. When I reached out to the firm and had a conversation about what it might look like if I did come back, they were willing to be flexible and offer me a modified schedule, to where I was only coming in three days a week and then working from home the other two days.
It removed some of that commuting strain, and also left open the possibility for me to be the parent that still gets to do the doctor’s appointments and gets to still be involved with drop-offs and pickup and all of those day-to-day things that keep us connected to our child’s lives.
How true, so important. Absolutely. Elizabeth, I’d love to hear from you as well. You had mentioned originally when we opened this podcast that it’s a female-owned firm. How does that work into your business model and how you view the firm, in the greater role that we see a lot of female attorneys coming to the practice, but then also leaving for reasons having to do with family or just a general disenchantment with the larger firm culture?
Right. I am a part-time office manager in this office. I come a long career as a law firm librarian, and I’ve worked in a lot of big law firms across the country in my professional life. Once my daughter was born and I knew I wanted to be home with her, I wanted something close to home and I wanted somebody with a lot of flexibility. I’m friends with Stacey Strentz and she knew I was looking for a job.
She said, “Listen, I know there are all of these educated, super high-functioning, really smart engaging women in our town who need to be home at 3:30 to meet the school bus. It’s my goal to try to co-op some of that talent. Why don’t you think about coming and working for us? I can offer you this job as an office manager.” I run the bills and the client bills. I pay the firm bills. I do the payroll, order supplies, that kind of stuff and it’s the greatest job. I’m here two days a week, and I couldn’t be happier to have something that I love and a place I love coming to. Then when I say, “I’ve got to go, I got to meet Josie,” nobody ever flinches. Nobody blinks an eye. I’m here to work and then I’m out the door in the afternoon, because I’ve got mom duties to do also.
I’m sure there are lots of places that are supportive of working moms, but there’s nobody more supportive than another working mom. To have two attorneys who are parents … Stacey also has school-aged children, and then Brenda is … she’s got a granddaughter and a grandson who are school age, and we’re all in this together, and we’re an office full of moms with young children. Then we do have a male associate also, who is young and doesn’t have a family yet, but we know that there’s real talent in women, educated women, who then also have the responsibility of keeping all the balls in the air at home too.
That is so true, and that is exactly right that it becomes a balls-in-the-air, who’s got the the project management of the home and also the project management of the work life. It’s so wonderful to hear that you guys are tuned into that aspect of the workforce, really, because there is a huge amount of just super smart awesome men and women who want to have a family balance, and you’re providing that. That’s fantastic. What other challenges do you see as parents in the law practice that you would like to see fixed in the next few years?
I think that professional development career growth can be difficult to achieve, just given the nature of going out on maternity leave and then coming back. You see colleagues who either have chosen not to have children or not had children yet, or have maybe not taken as much time off. It starts to feel like it can be passing you by a little bit.
It can be stressful to not only come back into a position that you’re comfortable with, but obviously the law is always changing. There are always new developments. You’re catching up on that, and you’re also trying to make make sure that you are moving forward in your career at the same time, doing those extra things that you have to do in order to continue advancing, outside of just your daily workload. It would be nice to see that be a little bit easier.
Right, yeah. You then have to start making those decisions about where you allocate your time, and that’s part of that decision, is do I spend more time with the family or do I spend more of that on the continuing advancement and professional development. That’s a hard choice.
Yep. I’ve gone to events, usually in the evenings. Bar events, bar meetings, all of that.
Yeah. One thing I’m finding now is that I really value those evenings. During maternity leave I had the whole day to spend with my daughter, and now it’s buckled down to that three hours between when I get home and when I put her down to sleep. There’s just such a high value placed on that time now, it’s hard to say yes to other networking events or other activities. It’s a new bar.
Well, I’d like to thank you ladies both for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about as far as this parental leave coverage goes for you?
I think it’s great that you guys are doing it. It definitely made my journey a little bit easier, and I hope that this conversation continues in this industry and other industries as well.
That’s really what it is, is continuing that conversation and finding out ways that we as ALPS or the industry in general, the practice of law, can really help support women, support men, and that absolute necessary balance between life and then the value of work that people provide.
A big thank you to our guests today. I’m really thankful for the time that you were able to spend with us. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I hope you have too. For our listeners, if anybody would like to know more, just please visit our website at alpsnet.com, or certainly feel free to reach out to me directly. My email address is lgooley, L-G-O-O-L-E-Y, at alpsnet, which is A-L-P-S-N-E-T, dot com. Thank you, and have a great day.
Thanks, Leah. Bye bye.