Politics & Government

Thousands of NC trial lawyers who become parents will now be able to secure leave

Parental leave for lawyers in NC increased

North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced a change that will allow lawyers practicing in the state to take 12 weeks of secured parental leave instead of working by the court schedule.
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North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced a change that will allow lawyers practicing in the state to take 12 weeks of secured parental leave instead of working by the court schedule.

There are about 20,000 lawyers in North Carolina, and those who become parents will be able to take up to 12 weeks of leave now, N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced Tuesday.

“Strengthening families and supporting children is incredibly important to the work of our courts,” Beasley said at a news conference at the North Carolina State Bar in downtown Raleigh.

Earlier this summer, the Administrative Office of the Courts opted into Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order to provide up to eight weeks paid leave for all employees.

Beasley said Tuesday that in the Office of the Courts, about 100 employees per year will be eligible to use the paid family leave policy. Those employees join the list of thousands of other state employees who are eligible for the work benefit that started Sept. 1.

The new rule change includes all lawyers who work in superior and district courts in North Carolina and whose parental leave time is often dependent on the schedule of the court system.

Being a lawyer and a new parent

Kim Crouch is executive director of the N.C. Advocates for Justice, a nonpartisan association of legal professionals. She said the group made the case for the secured leave in February, driven by their women’s caucus, which advocated for the rule change.

She said it increases the opportunity to become a trial lawyer or to stay one.

“A new parent’s life is plagued with uncertainty. 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,” Crouch said.

She said until now, lawyers had to balance being a new parent with the court calendar.

Lauren Newton, a member of the Advocates for Justice women’s caucus, said that before the new secured leave rule, only three weeks of consecutive designated leave a year were allowed. That was a problem when she gave birth by C-section, which has an eight-week medical recovery time.

Jason Lunsford, a public defender in Durham, is a new dad. He and wife Jamie Lunsford are parents to two-and-a-half-week-old Jessalyn Lunsford. Jason Lunsford is using secured leave and vacation time to take off four weeks. While his job doesn’t fall under the Administrative Office of the Courts paid parental leave policy, he said “it’s nice to see our profession is getting help.” He said he asked for his secure leave in advance.

Beasley said the law is a tough profession. Lawyers love it and are committed to it, she said, but lawyers are “at our best when we’re healthiest mentally.”

The change was made through amendments to the General Rules of Practice and the Rules of Appellate Procedure. The leave won’t necessarily be paid; that will be up to the employers. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows many of them to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.
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