This is either stigmatizing or wonderfully liberating.
I’m talking about one firm’s policy of identifying lawyers who are on the work/life balance track. No ambiguity as to who’s gunning for partnership there.
The firm that’s taking this tact is Littler Mendelson, which lists its “flextime” lawyers right on its website. Click on it and you will find 74 smiling faces. And yes, as you might have guessed, 69 of the 74 flextime lawyers are women.
To be clear, Littler’s “flextime” designation doesn’t apply to full-time lawyers who happen to work off-site. Littler shareholder Scott Forman, who created the flextime program, says it’s “designed for those looking for work/life balance.” He adds that means participants work “significantly fewer overall hours,” and that there’s “no expectation of client development, speaking engagements or article writing.”
The program was born out of the recession of 2008, explains Forman, when firms faced a market shakeout. He adds that the policy also acknowledges the reality that not everyone wants or can be a partner.
“In a class action case, typically the client wants the most senior thought leader to provide strategy,” he says. “But there’s also lots of tactical, routinized work.”
And do clients think less of those lawyers on the flextime arrangement? Not at all, Forman says. “From a client perspective, it creates value” because “the client is getting someone senior who costs less—at a price point that’s less than many associates.” (Forman says lawyers in the flextime program have on average 13.5 years of experience.)
So the client is getting a great deal. And the flextime lawyers are thrilled that they have control over their lives. (Forman says there’s now a waiting list for the program.) So what’s there not to like?
Here’s the thing: I’m still a bit bothered that women make up 93 percent of the participants in the Littler program. And let’s be honest, the term “flextime” doesn’t have the greatest connotation. More often than not, it suggests a female professional who’s not fully vested in her career.
Why single out this group, asks Lauren Stiller Rikleen, who consults about women’s issues in the legal profession: “It should not be such a big deal that it is necessary to identify users of the policy on a website,” she said. “That, to me, would signal that there is still some stigma attached that the workplace may be trying to get past.”
Designating flextime lawyers on the firm website is a “horrible idea, completely stigmatizing,” agrees a female associate at a big firm in New York. “It basically is saying to the world of clients that I won’t be always available for you.” Instead of singling individuals out, she advocates that the policy “be placed in the benefits section of a firm’s website that will be read by potential job applicants to the firm, not by clients looking up specific individuals.”
Stigma or not, some people might not find the title of flextime lawyer so horrible. “It’s a fantastic recruitment tool,” says consultant Caren Ulrich Stacy. “It sends a message to law school grads and laterals that their lawyers use it and support it.”
So is it just some of us who are hung up about this work/life balance label? Maybe it is a pink ghetto. But maybe that shouldn’t matter.
Contact Vivia Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.