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Now, more than ever, women lawyers place enormous value on flexible work schedules. Firms that support such schedules reap benefits in the form of higher retention, increased profitability, and more diverse leadership. In turn, the legal profession — and, on a broader level, society — benefits from contributions by part-time lawyers who are in a better position to devote time to activities that make attorneys better citizens. These core conclusions emerged from a new survey of 167 lawyers at 37 firms in the Atlanta area. These attorneys included women and men, associates and partners, part-time and full-time lawyers, and retired and active attorneys. For law firms, the study’s results and recommendations invite a re-examination of scheduling options as a way to stem attrition of desirable attorneys. For attorneys and law students, the study offers insight from practicing attorneys about what law firms say about working part time — and what they actually do in practice. Key results from the study, “It’s About Time: Part-Time Policies and Practices in Atlanta Law Firms,” conducted by the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers and the Atlanta Bar Association Women in the Profession Committee, with additional funding from the Georgia Commission on Women, include: •�A noticeable gender gap in attrition during the three years of the study (1999 through 2001). The average annual attrition rate among women lawyers ranged from 15 percent to 19 percent, whereas it ranged from only 11 percent to 12 percent for men. One of the most important findings of this study is that women will continue to walk away from law firms (as profitable midlevel and senior associates) at high attrition rates until they find work schedules that make sense for their lives. •�According to law firm data, about three-fourths of part-time attorneys are women. The study defined part time to mean a reduced schedule for reduced pay. •�Ninety percent of part-timers said their schedule affected their decision to stay with their firms, making it more desirable to remain at their jobs. •�Full-time lawyers (both men and women) who recently left a law firm did so for better schedules more often than for bigger paychecks. Only 22 percent reported that they left for “more money” in contrast to 33 percent who left because they “wanted fewer hours” and 19 percent who “wanted a different schedule.” •�On average, the part-time participants in this study were 37 years old and worked full time for seven years before switching to a reduced schedule. As the highlights above suggest, the study reveals that there are numerous benefits to firms that encourage and support equitable part-time schedules. These include improved retention; greater profitability; more diversity in leadership positions; and increased integrity for the legal profession. THE PROFITABILITY MYTH The results of the study challenge the common myth that part-time schedules are unprofitable. Although many firms figure overhead costs into their assessments of part-time profitability, few also consider the costs of attrition. Firms that assessed both found that part-time is indeed profitable. Moreover, many responses from lawyers on reduced schedules revealed a largely untapped source of potential profits — part-timers often wished their arrangements provided incentives to bring in business. In the study, 46 percent of lawyers who left their firms for fewer hours and/or a different schedule became in-house counsel. Law firms need to keep in mind that significant numbers of their lawyers end up as potential clients and referral sources, and will not hire or refer business to a firm that has mistreated them or does not reflect their values. Another key finding is that one-third of the 37 law firms surveyed do not permit part-time attorneys to advance to partnership. In those firms, part-time lawyers (who are mostly women) are not considered for partnership — regardless of their performance and their seniority. As one part-time lawyer wrote in the survey, “The bottom line: If I remain part-time, I will not make partner no matter how long I work, or how good of an attorney I am.” In Atlanta, as nationwide, women now make up less than 17 percent of law firm partners. A law firm without a flexible partnership track not only drives a disproportionate number of women out of the workplace, but also leaves the women who choose to stay in the firm with less hope of achieving real power. Ensuring that part-time attorneys have a fair opportunity to advance to partnership is one of the surest ways a law firm can increase the ranks of its women partners. The study also helped pinpoint problem areas related to flexible schedules. For example, only about one-third of firms reported having written part-time policies. Yet even at these firms, attorneys often learned of firms’ policies by word of mouth or by approaching their supervisors. And in spite of written policies, most attorneys reported that firm management failed to assist them with the implementation of their arrangements. One noticeable result of our research was the incongruity between firms’ reported policies and the impressions of the firms’ lawyers — both full-timers and part-timers. Based on the survey responses, we concluded that many firms send mixed signals about part-time arrangements. Firms make part time available, at least in theory, but fail to establish written policies, fail to publicize the availability of part-time schedules, fail to monitor the success of their part-time arrangements, and fail to ensure that their part-time attorneys receive fair and proportionate treatment in terms of compensation, work assignments, and promotion. The net result: part-time arrangements remain relatively uncommon in law firms. SPECIAL TREATMENT? Many law firm practices create or perpetuate the belief that part-time arrangements are a special accommodation for mothers rather than a legitimate career choice for any attorney. Insufficient disclosure of a firm’s policy gives the appearance of discouraging part-time work, and the perception of “secret deals” with part-time attorneys can also cause a backlash of envy among other lawyers. Appropriate disclosure, however, ensures that all attorneys who are interested in a part-time arrangement — especially those who are not mothers and may be uncertain about firm support — are informed about a firm’s policy and thus know what to expect. Although part-time attorneys generally reported that they were satisfied with their schedules and felt loyal to their law firms, they were dissatisfied with their opportunities for advancement and the negative attitudes that frequently accompany their part-time arrangements. Respondents indicated that some partners refused to work with or vote to advance part-time associates and some peers had little respect for part-time attorneys or resented them. As one lawyer wrote: “Others in my firm view me as less committed to the practice of law and therefore unavailable to work in certain cases or for certain clients. While I do have time limitations, I have always been and remain committed to getting the work done and doing the best possible job for the client.” To remedy these problem areas, the study suggests a number of best practices. Firms wishing to achieve the benefits of effective part-time policies should: •�Develop and communicate written policies that serve as guidelines; avoid ad hoc arrangements. •�Ensure that compensation, bonuses, and opportunities for advancement for part-timers are proportional to those of their full-time counterparts. •�Encourage a firm culture that supports flexible work schedules as a legitimate choice for any attorney. MAKING THE TIME Flexible work schedules and partnership tracks don’t just benefit individual attorneys and firms. Such arrangements contribute to the integrity of the legal profession as a whole, allowing lawyers to devote time to activities other than billable hours. On average, part-time respondents reported that they work about 1,400 hours annually, which is about 28 hours a week for a 50-week year. Years ago, 1,400 hours of work was considered a full-time schedule. The American Bar Association’s 1962 handbook noted that, given a lawyer’s civic, administrative, and other nonbillable matters, there were only about 1,300 billable hours in a year. The contemporary model of emphasizing increased billing has sparked dissatisfaction among rank and file lawyers, as well as leaving less time for pro bono and other professional and civic work. Lawyers on part-time schedules can address some of these complaints. They can devote more time to activities that make lawyers good citizens, such as volunteer work and spending more time with their families. The bottom line is that flexible schedules and paths to partnership are crucial to increasing the number of women leaders in law firms, alleviating some of the high costs of attrition, and addressing the problems of ever-escalating billable-hour requirements. Thus the opportunity to work and advance to partnership on a reduced-hours schedule is about fairness, about long-range profit making, about the integrity of the legal profession, and about our devotion to our families and communities. Full results of the study are available online at www.gawl.org and at www.atlantabar.org. Lynn M. Adam serves as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Public Corruption and Government Fraud Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta. She can be reached at [email protected]. Emily Hammond Meazell serves as a law clerk to Judge Richard W. Story at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. She can be reached at [email protected]. Lisa Vash Herman serves as information counsel in the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird LLP. She can be reached at [email protected].

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