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Empowering lawyers returning to practice

Returnity provides vital support for new parents.

A group of women laywers and their children pose in front of a peice at an art gallery

After my happy and always-hungry son was born in 2022, I found myself swimming through the identity transitions all new parents go through and looking for a support network. 

I was lucky to join a "moms group" with people from all occupations. But months later, as the conversation inevitably progressed to going back to work, I couldn't help but think, wouldn't it be great if there was another lawyer I could talk to who innately understood the challenges of returning to law after parental leave, and was navigating the same waters? 

Being a new parent is hard – it can often feel overwhelming and isolating with a new baby. You are tired. One study shows that even if your baby is sleep trained, "sleep satisfaction and duration did not fully recover for up to 6 years of [your] first child". 

As Julie Ward writes, "The practice of law can be rewarding, but it comes at a personal cost to many professionals. The billable-hour model, expectations that lawyers be on call at all hours, and the industry's highly competitive nature can make for a relatively inflexible, unforgiving and challenging work-life balance, particularly for parents."  

Parents with infants may feel even more vulnerable heading back to work. For some, the end of their parental leave is a natural transition point to a new employer offering a better work-life balance. For others, it's the challenge of being "overtly or covertly" penalized on their return to the same employer for taking parental leave.  

Lawyers are in a unique position to understand and support each other through this big transition of welcoming a baby into their family and returning to work, but it's not always easy to find these peers. To fill that gap, I started Returnity YYC, a Calgary program designed for lawyers in Calgary on parental leave (maternity, paternity or adoption). Our first cohort ran from January to June 2023, with 22 lawyers from various practice areas and organizations. It was a massive success - so much so that Returnity YYC is running its second cohort now, with 35 lawyers (including our first male lawyers), and the idea has caught on in Edmonton. Returnity YEG welcomes its first cohort starting February 2024. 

The program centers around activities for participants to do together with their babies. We've hosted baby & me barre and a session on baby CPR, which help build relationships between participants. Towards the end of the program, we introduce learning components related to returning to work, such as a speakers panel with lawyers who have recently returned to work from parental leave.  

We also have a very active WhatsApp group where you can share anything from recommended breast pumps for when you're back in the office, to congratulatory messages to a participant who made partner during their parental leave (both of these are real examples!). 

Peer support works. It is proven to improve the well-being of new parents and their babies. I can attest to how much of a lifesaver it was for me. It's not a panacea for the complex structural issues of gender inequality in the legal profession, but it lightens the load. 

Apart from it being the right thing to do, the public is best served by an inclusive legal profession that is representative of our diverse society. The Law Society of Alberta views the promotion of "equity, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession" as one of its regulatory objectives. 

For organizations, supporting new parents as they return to work helps with talent retention and is good for business. These employees fill an important gap in the talent pipeline for the organization's long-term success. In addition, supporting initiatives like Returnity may help meet KPIs or commitments that organizations have set regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. Finally, for law firms, there is a non-traditional opportunity for participating employees to create authentic relationships with in-house lawyers. 

If you are or know of a lawyer who would like to join Returnity in Calgary or Edmonton, please email or And if you are interested in supporting Returnity or starting a chapter in your city, please reach out as well.