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One thing the authors of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts’s report, “More Than Part-Time,” didn’t expect was the huge response to their survey from women attorneys across the state — and what they had to say. The survey report shows widespread disenchantment with how Massachusetts’s largest law firms administer part-time lawyering, with women attorneys citing a lack of respect from colleagues and damage to their careers when they opt for reduced work hours to meet family needs. “It was like we opened a door for people to say things they only told their families,” said attorney Ellen C. Kearns, who asked the WBA to form an Employment Issues Study Group during her presidency in 1997. “A lot of hidden things were unleashed. Our mailbox was full.” In the report, no chairwoman is named, and its authors are listed democratically in two equal rows of four names: Kearns, of Epstein, Becker & Green; Nancer H. Ballard, of Goodwin, Procter & Hoar; Beth I.Z. Boland, of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo; Andrea C. Kramer, of Sullivan, Weinstein & McQuay; Diane M. Saunders, of Morgan, Brown & Joy; Pamela E. Berman, of Schnader, Harrison, Goldstein & Manello; S. Elaine McChesney, of Bingham Dana; and Barbara Freedman Wand, of Hill & Barlow. All the firms are located in Boston. “All of us led different portions of the project — drafting the report, editing it, dealing with its publication. We were all committed to a group identity and process,” said Ballard. The eight attorneys largely reflect those they wrote about — many are law firm partners, most have children, and most have worked part time at some point in their law careers. But even for those who haven’t worked a reduced-hours schedule, the issue has far-reaching impact at a time when the number of women coming into the field is increasing steadily. “It’s important for the profession as a whole to address this, and for women if we want to advance,” said Saunders, adding that to attract and keep the best women attorneys, “there’s a lot of pressure on the firms to do part time.” EXPLAINING THE EXODUS Three years ago, the study group met initially to find out why so many women were leaving law firms, or not advancing as firm managers when their numbers in some law schools surpassed men students. Too often, they learned, it came back to one reason — while their law firms may have allowed them to work a part-time schedule, they often felt isolated from colleagues, viewed as “less committed” to their work by supervisors, and excluded from the daily activities of their workplace. “When we saw the surveys, we realized the gravity of it, and that it had really struck a chord,” says Boland. “The universality of the experience and the emotion and angst that was caused. The level of response was high and of those we got, the stories were very telling. It was heartbreaking, incredible, and it renewed our commitment to come out with this report.” GOOD GUYS, BAD GUYS The surveys went out in the fall of 1998, and were back by the following spring. Committee members kept a “good guys” and a “bad guys” list of law firms, based on whether they responded. In hindsight, at least one committee member believes they shouldn’t have trusted the firms to pass out surveys to their women attorneys because she doubted whether the distribution was widespread enough. Still, nearly half of the 100 largest law firms in the state responded to explain how their part-time programs are carried out. In all, nearly 250 women attorneys responded, including those who worked part time and those who had left firms between 1996 and 1998, frequently citing their firms’ lack of support for part-timers as the reason why they chose to go into smaller firms, government or in-house jobs. “Almost every firm had a policy, and the respondents were saying it was a disaster. Either they want part-timers to leave, or they don’t care [about the unhappiness],” says Berman. Committee members who had worked part time — a misnomer, since “part time” in a large law firm often means 40 to 45 hours a week — saw their own experience recounted by survey respondents. McChesney, for instance, was the first equity partner at Bingham Dana to work part time, and she was told approval for her reduced-hours schedule was unanimous from firm managers. “So it started out fine, but my professional development was altered and the perception of me was altered drastically. I was still the same person, but perceived differently,” she says. “And I was taken aback by how sudden the impact was.” Some committee members viewed the stories that emerged in the report as disparaging to all women attorneys, and to those who give equal or greater weight to family lives as to their careers. “It’s a failure [of firms] to recognize the difficult task of raising families and being a lawyer at the same time,” says Wand, adding that those who choose to work reduced hours for family reasons “are super-committed, not under-committed.” A previous report on part-time lawyering, co-sponsored by the WBA and the Boston Bar Association in 1995, established that most law firms were allowing part-time work by attorneys to balance family and professional lives. But this latest study goes further, says Kramer. “In this report, we’re asking, ‘why are you leaving and what would it take for you to stay?’ ” she explains. “ The earlier study gave the outside view. This one gives the inside view.”

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