By Joe Killian
Employees of North Carolina’s court system are among the many state employees who are, as of this month, entitled to eight weeks of paid parental leave when they become new parents.
Th leave — available to employees irrespective of gender and whether they give birth or are adoptive parents — will benefit about 100 employees per year in the Administrative Office of the Courts.
On Tuesday N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced the courts are taking their efforts to support new parents among the 20,000 lawyers practicing in North Carolina.
“Last week I asked the Supreme Court to approve changes to our rules of practice to allow attorneys who practice in courts all across North Carolina to designate up to 12 weeks of secured leave without court appearances for new parents welcoming children to their families,” Beasley said.
“In their very same way we care about the people who are served by our courts, it is important that we value and support the people who work in our courts,” Beasley said.
The rule change will take into account both the reality of parenthood and the demands of a court schedule on trial lawyers, said Kim Crouch, executive director of NC Advocates for Justice.
“This new rule will contribute substantially to the ongoing conversations about lawyers and wellness and what we can do to ensure that the legal profession remains a sustainable, long term career choice for all,” Crouch said at Tuesday’s press conference. “This policy also puts the opportunity to become a trial lawyers or continue a career as a trial lawyer within the reach of a greater number of attorneys.”
Too many trial attorneys — even those who can take advantage of paid leave time and short term disability policies — are forced to choose between parenthood and a demanding court schedule, Crouch said. Until now, that schedule was rarely changed to address their needs as parents.
Attorney Lauren Newton shared her personal experience with the problem at Tuesday’s press conference.
“Before this rule we were able to designate no more than three calendar weeks in a consecutive year,” Newton said. “That’s not enough time if you’ve had a baby. I had a c-section. That’s typically eight weeks. You get more than the six weeks that most short term disability allows — if your firm has a short term disability policy. I had eight weeks. Generally that was not compliant with the rule.”
That means she faced attorneys on the other side of cases who declined to reschedule or push back deadlines or court dates, despite her health.
“I was asked to attend a hearing and write a brief one week after having a new born,” Newton said. “I was in no shape to do that. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t drive a vehicle.”
Crouch credited the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office and the NC Association of Defense Attorneys with supporting the change.
“A new parent’s life is plagued with uncertainty,” Crouch said. “Without the assurance of 12 weeks of secured leave following birth or adoption, many trial attorneys might have to wait to become a parent until their professional life slows down. And we all know that’s not likely to happen.”
“Becoming a parent is life changing,” Crouch said. “The months after birth or adoption are a critical time in a family’s life. Mothers need time to recover from child birth and we all need time to bond with our children. Even with an uncomplicated delivery, it takes months to adjust to the life of parenting. Allowing parents the time they need to recuperate and heal will be good for our profession. It will be good for our clients. And it will be good for our families.”