Travers Smith mulls career breaks for parents in push to retain female talent

Travers Smith is considering allowing its lawyers to take a career break during their children’s early years, as part of its ongoing efforts to boost diversity at the firm.

If implemented, the proposals – which are in the early stages of discussion – could see Travers let lawyers take a significant period of time off after childbirth, before returning to work when the most demanding period of childcare is over.

During this time, the firm would stay in regular contact and provide them with training and support to ensure that they stay up to speed with developments in their area.

Travers senior partner Chris Hale said: “Some organisations offer employees the opportunity to take career breaks, and while those employees are away keep in touch with them and provide training. This would make it much easier for those who wanted to take a substantial period away while their children were young to then return. It is an interesting idea and one we will certainly look at.”

The proposal is one of a number under consideration as the firm aims to improve its proportion of women partners and retain more female lawyers, although no conclusions have yet been reached on what level of seniority the career breaks would be available to.

The firm also recently introduced a new agile working policy that allows all staff and lawyers to work flexibly, providing it will have no impact on client service.

The firm’s latest partner promotions round was all-female for the first time, with four women made up. The promotions mean Travers’ partnership is now 20% female, which Hale said was “nothing to boast about” but “better than it was four or five years ago”.

“The trend has been one of gradual improvement, and we think that trend will continue,” Hale said.

“Like most law firms, 50% or more of our young lawyers are women and like most law firms we have not been as good as we would like to be at retaining as many of those lawyers through to the senior ranks. From our perspective, it is a waste of investment and ability. We want to ensure that a higher proportion of our good women lawyers who join as trainees or associates stay with us for longer.

“Transactional work in particular makes it difficult to combine working as a mother or a father who bears principal child-rearing responsibility with providing instant service, often at uncongenial hours and short notice, to a client. It is this issue in a transaction-heavy firm that makes this nut particularly difficult to crack.”

Other law firms have experimented with offering career breaks to lawyers to help retain talent, including Allen & Overy, which in 2006 introduced career breaks of up to three years for its lawyers, to be taken in one or two periods.