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Managers of New Jersey’s largest firms have accepted flexible and part-time schedules for valued colleagues, but most lawyers who benefit from the new attitude are in a traditional group: women with young children. Hiring partners, part-time lawyers and recruiters suggested in interviews last week that most firms no longer feel that granting alternative work privileges will undermine the what-did-you-do-for-me-today culture senior partners cultivate. “There was a time when it was dismissed out of hand,” says Joseph Steinberg, hiring partner at Roseland, N.J.’s Lowenstein Sandler. “And though it’s still the exception, it’s a recognized arrangement and I don’t think there’s any stigma attached to it.” Steinberg and other large-firm partners who attended a Rutgers Law School-Newark job fair on April 16 said their firms haven’t institutionalized the part-time track but have an informal, case-by-case process worked out among the lawyer, supervising partners and clients. Each firm has implementation rules. At Woodbridge, N.J.’s Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, for example, part-time lawyers must work at least 30 hours a week to retain benefits. Still missing from this warm and fuzzy landscape is a rara avis that a naturalist might call the elusive male part-timer. “There are some, but they are extremely hard to find,” says Stewart Michaels, a principal at Topaz Attorney Search in West Orange, N.J. The standard sociological explanation from recruiters and associates is this: Male-dominated law firms — and most other companies for that matter — believe that a woman seeking a flexible schedule for private reasons is being normal but a man who does so is maybe a bit off center. By all accounts, most part-timers are associates or junior partners who built sterling reputations, books of business and interesting niche practices in their early years at a firm and were granted part-time status after returning from maternity leave. Maureen Montague, a transactional associate in Lowenstein Sandler’s Somerville, N.J., office works Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is 60 percent of a full schedule at the firm. She says an understanding and supportive attitude by Somerville partner Steven Fuerst makes the arrangement possible. Now she has more time to spend with her children, ages 3 1/2 and 5. The deal, however, has put Montague off the partnership track, but that’s fine with her, she says. Lori Wolf of Hackensack, N.J.’s Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard proves that a yen for flexible arrangements doesn’t have to condemn a lawyer to permanent associate status. A 1994 admittee, she became a partner in January while working at home on Mondays and coming in twice a week an hour later than the firmwide starting time of 8:45 a.m. The flexible schedule permits her to drop off her 2-1/2-year-old at nursery school at 9 a.m. For Wolf, like many lawyers, flexibility doesn’t mean part time; it means doing a lot of work at home at late hours — work made possible by the nature of her practice, which includes representation of financial institutions in foreclosure matters. Ilana Volkov, a Cole Schotz bankruptcy partner who coordinates the part-time program at the firm, says the changed attitude toward flexible arrangements is “a function of the new technology.” Lawyers can work almost as well on location as at their offices. Wolf, not the firm, paid for her home electronic setup, a fax machine and a computer hooked to Cole Schotz’s network. She also has the ubiquitous cellular phone. Victoria Fannon, a municipal law associate at Marlton’s Parker, McCay & Criscuolo, is one of the state’s part-time pioneers. She and the firm fashioned a reduced-time arrangement that included homework in the mid-1990s. Seven years later, it’s still working, Fannon says. Like most parents who used to think preschoolers require the utmost juggling, Fannon, who has a 12-year-old, discovered that finding time for older kids is just as crucial. Christine Gurry, who heads the Morristown, N.J., office of Strategic Legal Resources, says that while most firms offer alternate arrangements only to trusted lawyers with a track record at the firm, firms do occasionally grant part-time status to newly hired recruits. This is done for lawyers with stellar credentials the firm covets, putting the new hire in a strong bargaining position. Gurry says she recently floated the resume of a real estate lawyer from a top New York firm who wanted to work part time, and a New Jersey partnership snapped her up. Gurry says she also is trying to place a man whose wife has a high-powered job and is seeking a firm that will allow him to start each day late so he can see his son off to school. So far, no takers.

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