Hope Street Friends, a decade-old child care facility in downtown Los Angeles sponsored by Munger, Tolles & Olson and private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management, reopened its doors Monday after a lengthy shutdown due to the pandemic.
The facility is onsite for Munger, and it is utilized by other law firms with offices in downtown L.A., including Latham & Watkins and Goodwin Procter, as well as some financial firms in the district. It’s an example of the efforts some firms have made to better retain lawyers with child care responsibilities, especially women.
The retention challenge is all the more top-of-mind after many have been forced to multitask lawyering and parenting for more than a year while offices and schools were shut. As has been noted in various publications, women were expunged from the workforce in much greater numbers than men (2.5 million women left the workforce during the pandemic compared to 1.8 million men). And women have seen a significantly slower rebound overall as the economy and the businesses that power it try to get back on their feet.
In order to stand on said feet, businesses need women back. The Biden administration has declared the lack of affordable child care options in the United States as a national emergency and has devoted $40 billion of its $1.9 trillion relief plan to combat the issue.
“It’s demoralizing to see what the last year has done to women in the workforce,” Rose Leda Ehler, litigation partner at Munger, patron of the Hope Street facility and a member of its board, said. “We need to address this issue when considering gender equity and who is able to participate in the workforce.”
Even those who can afford child care, coming back to work isn’t just about money. As a recent American Bar Association survey found, almost one in four women has considered leaving the legal profession for mental health reasons, specifically the stress about how work gets in the way of child care and familial commitments.
Those issues existed prior to the pandemic, for sure, but the pandemic shone a light on just how dire the situation is for many.
Providing child care is just one example of the changes law firms can make to ease some of that pressure.
Ehler, of Munger, said she has two sons, a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old, the latter of which she is able to go and see during the day and feed thanks to the convenience of Hope Street. That’s something she would not be able to do otherwise.
“I have 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. child care,” she said. “If I need to take an early call or go to court, I can. Finding a model like this that allows for flexibility should allow firms to retain people when they have smaller kids.”
Munger said the facility was the first child care center sponsored by a law firm on the West Coast when it opened a decade ago, and the investment has been worth it, both from a morale perspective and a financial one.
So why doesn’t every firm do it?
Some of that is due to the desire for equality: If a firm has 30 offices throughout the United States, is it fair to allow some of the larger offices to have this benefit while others do not? Is it economically feasible to do so?
These are questions each firm will need to address if they are committed to fostering the development of women professionals, or anyone with child care responsibilities.