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Carey Bartell was a fourth-year associate at Sachnoff & Weaver when she took a 14-week maternity leave. When she returned to work, Bartell experienced something that is familiar to many women attorneys: She wondered if she could be a good lawyer and a good mother. But Sachnoff & Weaver, like many firms, has an alternative work arrangement policy that helped put Bartell’s fears to rest. Not only did the Chicago firm reduce her hours by 20 percent to give her more time with her daughter, but the firm also promises that part-time attorneys are extended the same consideration for partnership as full-time attorneys. Sachnoff & Weaver is one of a growing number of firms in recent years that have adopted part-time work arrangements to include partnership consideration. A 2001 study of the part-time partnership track in the Washington, D.C., market found fewer than 10 examples, according to Cynthia Calvert, co-director of the Project for Attorney Retention, an initiative of the Program on Gender, Work and Family at American University Washington College of Law. “Now, we are aware of more than three dozen firms that have promoted part-timers to partner, and our research is ongoing,” Calvert said. Despite the trend, however, traditional firm culture still poses barriers, and promotion is not widespread, cautioned Diane Yu, chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. Part-time work is often stigmatized, and the few who opt for a reduced work schedule know they forgo any realistic chance at partnership. Surveys by the National Association for Law Placement confirm that the number of attorneys working on a part-time basis is slow in rising, from 2.9 percent in 1999 to 4.1 percent in 2003, while 96 percent of the firms surveyed have part-time arrangements either on a case-by-case basis or as affirmative policy. At Sachnoff, there’s no disparity between policy and practice. Four lateral attorneys who joined the firm on a part-time basis have been elevated to non-equity partnership, the lower of the firm’s two-tier partnership system. Eight percent of the equity partners — those who share in firm profits — are women, as are 20 percent of the non-equity partners. And despite their part-time status, the non-equity partners are quick to point out that their reduced schedule has not affected the caliber of their assignments. “We firmly believe that it’s important to support professionals who can work on a reduced schedule in order to assist them and to keep them in the practice,” said Sarah Wolff, partner and chairwoman of the litigation department at the 135-attorney Sachnoff & Weaver. Karen Litscher Johnson, national director of professional development for Piper Rudnick, based in the firm’s Chicago office, noted that “firms that enable their lawyers to structure their lives in a more personal way are really the leader in attracting and retaining talents.” Like Sachnoff & Weaver, Piper Rudnick prominently mentions its alternative work program in its recruitment. Piper Rudnick, which is merging with Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich in January, also has a written policy allowing part-time work and eligibility for the firm’s two-tiered partnership. All associates elected to partnership are promoted to the first-tier, non-equity partnership level. Women made up 60 percent of the first-tier, new partner class. Three of the nine new women partners were elected while on a reduced schedule, and two of the three continue to work on such a schedule. Washington, D.C.-based firms Arnold & Porter and Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky also have a written policy providing part-time attorneys consideration for partnership. But they took it one step further. Both firms have part-time program advisers who mentor part-time attorneys. The advisers are female partners who work part-time themselves. “Having a part-time program has allowed us to retain people who otherwise might have left the firm, or the practice of law,” said James Sandman, managing partner of Arnold & Porter. Progression from part time to partnership occurs less frequently than at Sachnoff & Weaver or Piper Rudnick, but Arnold & Porter’s one-tier partnership provides full equity. Angela Cheng is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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