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Nina R. Mishkin says that she was a “person with a life” before she was a lawyer. That realization prompted her to leave a full-time job at Goodwin, Procter & Hoar in Boston after 12 years to work a more flexible schedule at a firm that has created a niche for lawyers who want the fulfillment of practicing law while having time for activities outside of work. After more than three years of working in civil litigation and environmental law four days a week at Boston’s Sullivan, Weinstein & McQuay, Mishkin has had time to “reclaim my body” by joining a health club, dabble in creative writing and take up classical piano lessons again. While the flexibility is a bonus, she notes that she puts in whatever time is necessary to get her job done. “I go to things. I live,” says Mishkin, a former copywriter and book editor and the mother of two adult children. “There’s more to life than working in a big firm.” Mishkin is one of six “flex-time” attorneys, all of whom are women, and seven full-time male and female lawyers who make up the firm, which was founded in 1995. Flex-time lawyers at the firm work a variety of schedules that accommodate their outside-the-office needs, with most putting in a minimum of 25 hours. Although a survey released this week by the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts found that many female lawyers who worked part time had less-than-favorable experiences, the situation of those at Sullivan Weinstein seem the antithesis. The report, “More Than Part-Time,” focuses on the loss in career development and professional esteem that female attorneys often experience when they choose to work reduced-hour schedules at their law firms. The report also notes that respondents reported they were viewed as “less committed” than when they worked full time. What founder Robert E. Sullivan says about his firm is that he went in with the idea of offering a flexible schedule because it would help make for an environment that induces productivity and high morale, resulting in better service to clients. In addition, flex time has allowed the firm to tap into a large pool of very talented lawyers — mostly mothers — whom the large firms ignore, he says. “Flex-time lawyers may be working on fewer cases, but the nature and intensity of their work on a case is the same as full time,” says Sullivan, formerly a partner for 25 years at Boston’s Palmer & Dodge and Herrick & Smith. “We believe that professionals have the same responsibilities: namely, to their clients and their work.” There is a salary trade-off in going from full time to part time; even the full-timers at the firm earn less than large-firm counterparts. Citing privacy, Sullivan declines to provide salaries at his firm. Full-time lawyers at his firm work 40 to 70 hours a week, depending on client demands, but keep to an annual total of 1,800 billable hours, he says. In contrast to the WBA report, any notion that reduced-schedule lawyers are second-class citizens does not exist in their firm’s culture, members say. A. Lauren Carpenter, who worked at Goodwin, Procter & Hoar for 10 years, says that her colleagues have a mutual respect for each other — no matter how many hours are logged. “The full-timers have the same attitude that as long as you get your job done, face time is not necessary,” says Carpenter, who works 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for four days at the office and one day at home each week (30 to 35 hours a week). Adds Sullivan, “Full time gives no one an excuse or reason to be better than anyone else.” A CLIENT’S PERSPECTIVE The attitude of clients toward part-time schedules has changed since Sullivan and his partners, Jerome N. Weinstein and Sandra S. McQuay, incorporated flexibility into the way their firm operates, they say. Much like how banks operate now — via ATM accessibility and Internet service — the bank’s building is no longer important; what counts is “smarts and versatility,” Sullivan says. That’s in part because the use of computers, e-mail, cell phones and faxes makes lawyers more accessible, whether they work at home or in the office or for reduced hours, he says. The challenge of juggling cases with a reduced schedule merely means being very organized and letting the firm’s staff know where — and especially when — to reach colleagues, they say. There are numerous reasons why lawyers may prefer a more flexible schedule, but an overriding reason for most of the part-timers at Sullivan Weinstein & McQuay has to do with child care. When Beverly Gudanowski graduated from law school in 1996, she was hard-pressed to find a law firm that would offer her part-time hours. As the mother of a fourth-grader at the time, Gudanowski did not want to put in the 60 to 80 hours a week those at big firms were working. On the recommendation of a career services counselor at New England School of Law, where she graduated summa cum laude, Gudanowski hooked up with Sullivan, Weinstein & McQuay in 1996. After starting out working just 10 hours a week because her daughter was younger, Gudanowski now works 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. four days a week, with Fridays off and an option to work some of the time at home. Like some of her flex-time colleagues, she puts in more than her scheduled time if necessary. With the time commitments that come with raising a 16-year-old, Gudanowski still wants the flexibility of working fewer hours. She provides research support for her firm colleagues and spends no time in court, a situation that makes it easier to stick to her schedule. “This schedule works out well for me and my family. It’s important to integrate work and family in a sane rather than an insane way,” says Gudanowski, who practices in the areas of labor and employment, discrimination and securities. When it comes right down to it, firm members say, as long as the client is receiving the best service possible, it doesn’t really matter how many hours lawyers work each week or from where they operate. “Even clients are working out of home. You can talk to them and hear your dog and their dog barking in the background,” Carpenter says.

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