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Does going “in-house” mean you get a life? Not necessarily. Attorneys who resist the lure of a lucrative law firm partnership for the more manageable schedules of in-house legal positions are finding that long hours are not the exclusive domain of firms, according to a new study on work/life balance by the Project for Attorney Retention (PAR) at American University Washington College of Law. A common refrain from lawyers at law firms is that they lack time for their personal lives. When we studied firm attorneys in 2001, some told us their struggles were making them think about moving to an in-house law department. These attorneys had a vision of a slower pace that would allow time for family, travel, and even sleep. That vision did not correspond, however, with media reports of increasing hours and stress for in-house attorneys. As a result, the Project for Attorney Retention undertook a study of work/life balance in law departments to see if corporate life was indeed a haven for lawyers. Over the past two years, we conducted in-depth interviews, focus groups, and surveys of about 200 attorneys from the D.C. area and across the country to answer our question. We focused in part on the differences between work in law firms and in law departments. In terms of hours, if it were ever true that in-house work guaranteed attorneys a comfortable 9-to-5 schedule, it is certainly not true now. We found that in-house lawyers work an average of 45 to 50 hours per week, and some attorneys regularly put in the 60-plus workweek that is often found in large law firms. Fewer in-house attorneys than law firm attorneys work on weekends or cancel vacations due to work, however, and many in-house attorneys state that their hours are usually predictable. It also appears that law departments are more likely than law firms to have face-time cultures � that is, an emphasis on being physically present in the office. While face time may be required in some law departments with traditional rigid hours or as a way to ensure that the attorneys are working, the most important reason for face time is that in-house work demands on-site presence in many companies. In-house attorneys are expected to be available for face-to-face meetings with their internal clients, and to be present so that clients will seek legal advice. Many are convinced that if their clients cannot walk down the hall and chat with them, they will act anyway, without receiving legal advice. Even when they aren’t in the office, many in-house attorneys report being “on call.” They regularly respond to client inquiries, give advice, and participate in telephone conferences in the evenings and on weekends. Although these attorneys report “working” 45 to 50 hours per week, many do not include these “on call” hours in those numbers. Law departments tend to be far smaller than law firms, and size plays a key role in whether attorneys are able to find balance. A law department with only 38 attorneys would be considered among the largest in the country, whereas a law firm with that number of attorneys would be considered barely midsize. A small department may be able to be more flexible in terms of scheduling, but it may be less able to shift workloads to accommodate attorneys’ personal needs. In-house attorneys generally reported a large volume of work, which was increased by the absences of other attorneys, downsizing of the department, and new business initiatives. Almost all the attorneys also reported that they can use outside counsel to control their workloads. In addition, unlike most law firm attorneys, in-house counsel often have some latitude in working with their clients to set realistic deadlines. Law departments operate under strict budgets, and many law department managers feel the need to control their costs. The conventions used to allocate budget have an important impact on in-house work/life. Some law departments use a head-count system: They can hire only a specific number of attorneys, regardless of whether some work part time. Other departments use a full-time equivalency system, or have a salary spending cap. These budgetary considerations determine whether there will be sufficient resources to accomplish the work and allow work/life balance, and can be a factor in whether alternative work arrangements are offered to the attorneys. Attorneys are sensitive to the fact that when they move from a firm to a corporation, they have gone from being a revenue generator to being a cost center, which in turn makes them feel a need to prove their value to their clients. The number of hours they work, their availability to their clients, and their determination to be productive are driven in large part by this need. Most companies value their in-house attorneys based on client perceptions; in some environments, this system can create incentives to work long hours. However, advancement is not as much an issue for in-house attorneys as it is for law firm attorneys. Those in large law departments described hierarchies where newcomers rise in ranks, but after the initial rise, there are no further opportunities for advancement unless the attorneys higher on the ladder leave. Without a clear career path, expectations of advancement do not drive work hours or workloads for more-senior in-house attorneys the way they might in law firms. Looking at these characteristics and their impact on attorney schedules, three models of law departments emerged. The first is the corporate model, which is the most prevalent. In this model, attorneys work hard when they are in the office, often for 10 hours a day. However, they leave work in time for dinner most nights, and they generally enjoy weekends and vacations that are free from significant work interruptions. Their workload is lightened by the fact that they do not have rainmaking responsibilities and billable hour requirements. The general counsel tend to have a business orientation, which is reflected in an entrepreneurial method of operation. The attorneys are viewed as strategic team members, and their close relationships with their internal clients enable them to better manage their workloads. They, and their clients, can distinguish between genuine emergencies and projects that can wait a day or two. Attorneys in corporate models report being reasonably satisfied with their ability to balance. A significant number of law departments can be categorized as law firm models. As the name implies, these law departments are characterized by the long hours often found at law firms, including frequent nights and weekends, interrupted vacations, and unpredictable hours frequently exceeding 50 per week. This pattern can arise for several reasons, including familiarity: When a CEO hires a law firm partner as general counsel, the new general counsel runs the department using the only model he or she knows. Attorneys in such law departments report they feel unable to balance work and family. A small number of law departments are “balance-supportive models.” Examples include Eli Lilly and Co., Ernst & Young, and Deloitte Touche. These law departments actively support attorneys’ desires to balance their work and personal lives. They may be motivated to do so to retain valued attorneys, to align their practices with corporate human resources policies, or because of the philosophy of the general counsel. The key characteristic of this model is that it actively encourages use of alternative work arrangements, and works to ensure that such arrangements are not stigmatized. The full report of our study gives several detailed descriptions of balance-supportive law departments. So, can in-house attorneys find balance? The answer is yes for a significant number of attorneys. Still, too many feel the same stresses of large law firm life for us to be able to state that in-house positions are a solution to work/life conflict. Attorneys have to examine a law department carefully to ensure its culture will be compatible with their balance-related needs. Work schedules are not the only factor to consider; relationships with clients, ability to use outside counsel, cross-training for coverage when outside the office, method of evaluating performance, and integration into strategic decision making are all equally as important. For attorneys who cannot find balance on a standard schedule, alternative work arrangements may be the answer. Flex-time, or the ability to begin and end the day at a time of the attorney’s choosing, so long as the attorney is present during core hours of the day and carries a full workload, is popular in many law departments and is not that much different from the schedules many partners have in large law firms. Another alternative is the compressed workweek, available at only a handful of law departments, although the number appears to be on the rise. Compressed workweeks allow attorneys to work the same number of hours as full-time attorneys but in fewer days per week. Such schedules can work in-house, where it is feasible to compress a relatively predictable 40- or 50-hour workweek into fewer than five days. Interestingly, part-time schedules are not as common or successful in-house as they are in law firms. While we interviewed several part-time in-house attorneys who were happy with their arrangements, a far greater number reported that part-time positions were hard to come by and resulted in significant stigmatization that affected their careers. Overall, part-time work is stigmatized to a much greater degree in law departments than in law firms. Part-time attorneys reported isolation, loss of status within their departments, negative comments from supervisors, colleagues, and clients, loss of desirable assignments, elimination of advancement opportunities, and relegation to sub-par office space. On the other hand, job sharing, although almost unheard of in law firms, is a viable option for in-house attorneys. In a job share, two attorneys share one position. While theoretically each attorney works and is paid 50 percent of what a full-time attorney would be paid, many work three days per week, overlapping on one day. Job-sharing attorneys, their supervisors, and their clients tend to view the arrangement as preferable to part-time, largely because when one attorney is out of the office, another attorney is present to get the work done. In our full report, which may be downloaded for free at www.pardc.org, we provide a detailed discussion of how job-share partners make their arrangements work, as well as lengthy descriptions of best practices now in use in law departments. Clearly, the ability of attorneys to balance varies dramatically from corporation to corporation. On balance, in-house attorneys are finding better work/life flexibility than attorneys in law firms. Better does not mean perfect, however, and much room for improvement remains. The Project for Attorney Retention (PAR) is an initiative of the Program on WorkLife Law of American University Washington College of Law, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Joan Williams is professor of law at the Washington College of Law, director of the Program on WorkLife Law, and co-director of PAR. Cynthia Thomas Calvert is an employment law attorney and co-director of PAR. Holly Cohen Cooper is an attorney in Washington, D.C., and during the study was PAR’s research director. Further information about PAR can be obtained at www.pardc.org.

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