Challenge Model Practice
Parent Chat Group

Baker& McKenzie LLP

Principle II: Work-life balance and career development

Principle VI: Civic and community

2013 Challenge Submission

“I started the Parent Chat Group because I was concerned that talented professionals, in particular but not exclusively women, were dropping out of the legal profession out of guilt that they could not ‘do it all’ or were foregoing the wonders of becoming a parent altogether out of fear that they could not possibly do both.

To assuage that guilt, I wanted to give professional parents the equivalent of a play date or park chat so that they too could have a network similar to stay-at-home parents to share information such as the best dentists, babysitters to avoid, summer camps sign up deadlines, or child-rearing concerns, and free up precious time for soccer games and family instead of racing about picking up dry cleaning, etc.

Since I started the Baker & McKenzie Employment group out of our Silicon Valley office, I’m very proud to say that over a half dozen babies have been born to our 12 employment lawyers, 8 of whom are women, and one more baby is on the way in a few weeks.”
Cynthia Jackson
Partner, Baker & McKenzie

With over 4,000 professionals world-wide, Baker & McKenzie is a global law firm with 74 offices in 46 countries. The firm advises clients in areas such as international trade, corporate compliance and investigations, international tax, global equity services, M&A, corporate reorganizations and integrations, employment, immigration and dispute resolution.

Baker & McKenzie has been working with San Francisco Bay Area companies since 1970. The offices in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley have expanded alongside technology industry clients as they have moved into global markets.

Like all of the leading law firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, Baker & McKenzie must attract and retain top talent to remain competitive. To retain attorneys who are parents, particularly women, Baker & McKenzie, LLP created the Parent Chat Group, a support network for professionals to support each other in the challenge of managing work and family life. The Parent Chat Group meets monthly over lunch to provide an opportunity for working parents (men and women) to share ideas, concerns, and resources for improving their work-life balance. Cynthia Jackson, chair of the Firm’s North America Compensation and Employment Law Practice Group and member of both the Global Employment and North America Corporate Compliance steering committees, started the Group in 2007, because as a mother of four, she, like many other professionals, was striving to be a good partner and attorney for the firm, as well as a mother to her children. 

Ms. Jackson's vision for the Parent Chat Group was to promote the understanding that no one is perfect at managing and balancing their work and family life, and that employees are not expected to manage it all alone. Baker & McKenzie specifically chose not to label the group a "Mother's Chat," so the group could help all professional parents, men and women. Consequently, the group has had a significant number of male members over the years.

How does this model practice work?

The Parent Chat Group, which meets monthly over lunch, has the following goals:

  1. Create a more efficient professional life
  2. Increase and improve quality time with the family and decrease the time spent on mundane tasks
  3. Alleviate guilt caused by balancing parenting duties with a professional career
  4. Increase community service and awareness of the struggles of working professional parents.

These goals are accomplished through peer mentoring and advice from guest speakers. The group facilities candid discussions about stumbling blocks and implementing change. The group’s structure is informal and mainly self-directed. Members frequently invite guest speakers to present on topics such as parenting skills that may be of interest to the group. In essence, the meetings provide professionals with information and other resources that stay-at-home parents might get from their networks. The group is currently planning involvement in additional charitable activities throughout the community in which both the parents and children can participate. The group also plans to offer expanded seminars and resources geared to parents of tweens and adolescents on the topics of drug abuse and sex education.

The Parent Chat Group has proven successful in several ways. First, recommendations from the group have resulted in expanded services for employees, such as a dry cleaning service, meal delivery access, and home IT capabilities. These new measures have helped not only the group’s members, but the firm's employees overall. Second, the group is rapidly expanding. Of the roughly 100 attorneys in the San Francisco and Palo Alto locations, nearly 1/3 are on the distribution list and they are parents of children spanning newborn to college-aged. About 10 to 15 people attend the monthly meetings

Finally, Baker & McKenzie also measures the success of the Parent Chat Group by the increased interest in the concept by clients and peers. Baker & McKenzie sees the Parent Chat Group as a win-win for all organizations, and has shared the concept with numerous clients

How can I adopt this model practice in my workplace?

“Over the years the Parent Chat Group has become the go-to forum within our San Francisco and Palo Alto offices for high-level professionals to get together and step outside their careers to discuss their children and families. Parent Chat has created newly developed friendships in and out of the office.”
Eileen Winter
Executive Director, Baker & McKenzie

The Parent Chat Group can be easily duplicated by other businesses and customized to the needs and wants of employees. It need not be restricted to professional parents; all working parents can benefit from improved business practices and shared support. One basic requirement is a geographically centralized group of employees who can meet in person and share local resources. While, theoretically, participants can join the meetings remotely, the group benefits most from in-person engagement. Early meetings can focus on the immediate need for resources for working parents, such as home-office equipment and a web-based portal for sharing information and resources. Once those basic needs are addressed, the group can shift to a format that allows for more emotional support for parents who speak candidly about the challenges associated with raising children. The Group should seek input from its members on speakers, events, topics, and needs the parents would like addressed.

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