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Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a firm known for its big-billing, hard-charging, Type-A personality lawyers, has cleared a path for part-time partners. Management implemented a formal policy last week that enables associates who need to work part time for family reasons to stay on track for partnership. “A burden is being lifted off of everyone by addressing the realities of who is practicing law,” said Fred Alvarez, an employment partner at Wilson who took the lead in drafting a policy. “The notion had been that you need to be fully committed to the practice, and the lawyers who make partner are the ones who are single-mindedly attacking the job,” Alvarez said. The unspoken emphasis of the policy is women who want to spend more time at home in their children’s early years. Of course, men qualify too, and so do associates who need to care for an ill parent or other family member. Lifestyle, however, doesn’t rate the same consideration, Alvarez said. Lawyers who just want to work part time might still have to find another firm if they hope to make partner. Wilson currently has an option for part-time associates who aren’t on the partnership track. “We didn’t want to open up the issue to lifestyle part-time requests,” Alvarez said. “This is really there to deal with family issues.” Wilson will reduce salary and benefits, like vacation time and bonuses, to match the number of hours the part-time associate puts in. Part-time associates will also face a longer track to partnership than the firm’s typical six to eight years. Alvarez started researching the policy last year after hearing partners complain they were losing good associates to child-rearing responsibilities. He started asking around and couldn’t find a written law firm policy that outlined a partnership track for a part-time associate. He found plenty of law firms that appeared amenable to giving associates leeway on a case-by-case basis but he had to design the policy from scratch. Partner Boris Feldman, who had suggested such a policy in the early 1990s, pitched in. The firm also tapped Stanford Law School professor Deborah Rhode for help. It’s too soon to tell how many associates will request the part-time partnership track. Associates learned of the firm’s policy on Friday. But as Alvarez put it, “it’s a very cool thing.” “Making people get off the partnership track was a high price to pay,” Alvarez said, “both in the talent that was lost and the commitments that people have to make.”

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