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The district attorney of Nassau County, N.Y., Kathleen Rice, recently announced that prosecutors who do not agree to work full-time will be given no time. In other words, work full-time or be fired. The edict affects a dozen part-time attorneys, all of whom are women and most of whom are mothers. The district attorney’s decision has been assailed as regressive and anti-family. And the adverse impact on women cannot be denied. In defending herself, the district attorney has emphasized that prosecuting criminals is a matter, literally, of “life and death.” Since criminals don’t work part-time, neither should prosecutors. To frame the issue in such polar extremes (mothers/families versus law and order/death) may be satisfying from an emotional or political perspective. But it does not get at the root of, or a resolution to, the problem. To be clear, the district attorney’s policy is gender-neutral on its face. It applies equally to women and men alike. So this is not a case of intentional sex discrimination. In fact, as the DA appropriately points out, in the short period of time in which she has been in office, two of the top three executive positions are now held by women (compared with none under her predecessor). Negative impact on women Equally clear, however, the part-time ban has a more pronounced negative impact on women than it does on men. As in the microcosm of the DA’s office, female attorneys in society at large are much more likely than male attorneys to work part-time. For example, a 2005 study of private law firms in Pennsylvania by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession found that 79% of the part-time attorneys are women. The gender gap relative to part-time work is critical relative to the changing gender demographics of the legal profession. According to the ABA study, while women account for only approximately 29% of attorneys in the United States, they accounted for 51% of the J.D.s awarded in 2004. To prohibit part-time work is to exclude a disproportionate number of highly-qualified women and to narrow dangerously the pool of top-notch talent. When an employer excludes a significant portion of the best and the brightest, the employer’s only option, in a highly-competitive employment market, is to lower its standards. In the case of the district attorney, lowering her standards can affect, literally, life and death. Seen from this perspective, her rationale for prohibiting part-time employment is exactly why permitting part-time work is so important. Employers in general and lawyers in particular need to embrace part-time work not only because it is the right thing to do in terms of increasing inclusiveness and supporting families. We also need to embrace part-time work because there are not enough stellar full-time workers to meet our needs. That’s not to say that the district attorney’s concerns do not have some merit. You cannot stop a mass murder trial so that an attorney can pick up his or her kids at school. But this argument rests on a false premise as to how part-time employment can and should work. To be successful, part-time work, in many professions, must be a two-way street in terms of flexibility. In preparation for and during a trial, a part-time attorney has to be able to work a full-time schedule. This means that a part-time attorney with children usually will need to have support at home, whether from a spouse or partner, other family member or friends or paid caregivers. If the part-time worker does not have the resources to offer this kind of flexibility, then he or she may not be qualified for some jobs. But the key is not to develop across-the-board rules which assume universal inflexibility. Instead, the imperative for quality demands that we scrutinize closely how part-time arrangements can be made to work in terms of the assignment process. It also includes educating some of our more misguided colleagues that the absence of full-time face time does not equal part-time commitment. In other words, we need to reframe part-time work as a management issue as opposed to a family balance or gender issue. Managing the competing considerations to find an appropriate balance takes more time than simple edicts but the rewards are well worth it. I feel so strongly about the importance of part-time work because my clients and I have been the full-time beneficiaries of it. I am fortunate to work with three amazing part-time attorneys who demonstrate every day the mistake in the DA’s business judgment. Jonathan Segal is vice chair of the employment services group at Philadelphia’s Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, where he focuses his practice on preventive planning, training and counseling on employment/human resources issues.

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