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Baby boom downtown

|Written By Jennifer McPhee

The Toronto Crown’s office is experiencing a mini-baby boom.

A record-setting number of downtown assistant Crown attorneys are currently expecting first, or second babies.

“There must be something in the water,” jokes Jennifer Crawford (centre) seen here with, from left to right, Kelly Beale and Marnie Goldenberg.

Seven are pregnant, and when they go on maternity leave, they’ll join seven others already on leave, says Toronto Crown Attorney Paul Culver. That’s more than 14 per cent of Crowns in that office.

“There must be something in the water around here,” jokes assistant Crown attorney Jennifer Crawford, who is expecting her first child in December.

Culver says he plans for the staff changes, “as much as you can” by hiring short-term contract workers.

Although this results in a significant number of people working on a contract basis, they often later end up in full-time positions when a full-time Crown leaves or is appointed to the bench, he says.

Crawford and two other expectant mothers interviewed by Law Times, say Culver and the other staff in the downtown Crown’s offices are amazingly supportive and family-friendly.

“It’s a very positive office for that,” says Crawford.

Culver recently sent out an e-mail, congratulating all the women and letting staff know about the new record. Another staff member knits a baby blanket for every expectant mother and father in the office.

“I have to say, one of the nicest things about being pregnant is everyone is so nice to you –– the lawyers, the judges,” says Crawford. “Everyone is so nice all of a sudden.

When Crawford was “extremely ill” early on in her pregnancy, Culver made it possible for her to keep working on a large prosecution by having another Crown prepped and waiting in the wings in case she became too sick to continue.

“I don’t know how many other places would do that,” says Crawford. “It’s that kind of support that makes all the difference in the world.”

New mothers returning from maternity leave also often request and receive part-time hours, says Crawford.

“That’s the great thing about this office,” she says. “There are options.”

When Toronto assistant Crown attorney Kelly Beale returned from maternity leave after her first pregnancy (she’s now expecting her second in February), she was put on the domestic violence team.

Although the workload is just as demanding, the team doesn’t go to trial court as often, and that means she can make it home by 6 p.m. four nights a week, she says.

In stark contrast to these women’s experiences, some lawyers in private practice often worry about when and how to tell their employers about their pregnancies, and fret about whether starting a family will impact their partnership potential.

They are also faced with the very real concern that their client base will not be around when they return from maternity leave, says Crawford.

But in the busy downtown Crown’s offices, that’s never a concern.

“Some Crowns take two years, they take a year without pay,” says Crawford. “And when they come back, there’s always work available. We don’t have to worry about destroying our practice in the meantime.”

Taking any significant amount of maternity leave is extremely difficult for solo criminal lawyers, points out Toronto assistant Crown attorney Marnie Goldenberg, who is expecting her first baby at the end of January.

“They have no financial support during that time because it’s their own business  . . .” she says. “A lot of people take two or three months off and get right back in there.”

But many Crowns, including Beale, feel free enough to try for a second child while their first is still in diapers because they know it won’t adversely impact their careers.

“In a lot of other [workplaces], the last thing you want to do is take two maternity leaves back to back,” says Beale. Of course, being a Crown attorney is a difficult, demanding job - one that will inevitably become even more challenging when combined with the sleep deprivation that accompanies having a new baby in the house, says Crawford.

“That’s one thing that worries me,” she says. “Sleep deprivation combined with difficult prosecution. . . . I’m not there yet, but I can imagine.

“But I think what makes it better is that we have such a supportive environment,” she says. “Everyone gets along really well, and everyone helps each other out.”

However, Crawford does have one pregnancy-related fear that can’t be eased by supportive colleagues.

“The closer you get to the end, the more you start to think, ‘Uh oh, this thing has to come out, and it supposedly might be very painful,’” she says, with a laugh.

“I’ve noticed the women who’ve had babies are just sort of silent on that point. They don’t go, ‘Oh no, it’s great.’ They just say nothing.”

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