In my career, I have taken maternity leave at a law firm and in-house — and while the processes aren’t vastly different, it may be helpful for me to share some tips, in case it’s helpful for others. As referenced in a previous post, in my experience, it is less stressful in-house but that will depend on your company culture and the size of your legal department.
Exactly when you disclose that you’re expecting is obviously a personal decision. For me, I waited until at least past the first trimester (after 12 weeks), following conventional wisdom that miscarriages are less likely after.
When I disclosed my pregnancy to my associate general counsel, I also shared my estimated due date and how much leave I planned to take so she could properly plan. This may be obvious, but I encourage you to familiarize yourself with company policy so you know how much time you are allowed to take before this conversation. If you aren’t sure, Human Resources may be a great first step, if you don’t have a colleague to ask.
During the disclosure meeting, I also committed to creating a document with the list of my clients and active projects to help facilitate a future discussion on coverage.
You may be more of a spreadsheet person, but I typically use tables in Microsoft Word to create a document that reflects my current clients and projects for easy reference, at a glance. This is primarily for my associate general counsel, but it’s also a great reference for my colleagues who will graciously cover for me, while I am out.
What information you provide will likely vary on how your work is divided, but some “fields” or data points you may want to include:
- Name of client or project
- Current status at handoff
- Deadlines, if any
- Who will cover while you are out (this can be decided later if you don’t know)
- Stakeholders and their contact information
- Confirmation that client has been contacted (basically yes or no for your tracking)
- Where relevant documents are stored and the links (whether document management system, SharePoint, OneDrive, etc.)
- Reference documents
- Miscellaneous notes
Depending on your organization, your manager may decide who will cover for you — or you may have the ability to ask your colleagues directly. Personally, I find it less awkward to have a conversation with your manager and have your manager decide and communicate it with your colleagues. Let me be clear: I have awesome colleagues who have and would cover for me if asked — no matter their workload, but your manager may have a more comprehensive view of their workload and can ensure fairer distribution of work.
You also have to communicate with your clients and stakeholders so they know who to go to in your absence. How you do so may vary, but I like to give my clients a heads-up personally through a call or meeting and let them know that I will be setting up an introductory call (if they don’t know my colleague) or that I will follow up by email. Depending on the complexity of the project, I may give notice as far as six to eight weeks in advance. But, most of the time, I let my clients know about a month out, give them a two-week reminder, and then let them know my last day in the office.
None of these tips are universal or rocket science. At the same time, I hope they give you an idea of some things to consider and make it less daunting, especially if it’s your first time.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.