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Law firm managers, take note: Better hours trump better pay. The No. 1 reason Atlanta attorneys left their firms in recent years was to work fewer hours, according to a newly released study of part-time work in the city’s law firms. Atlanta Bar Association President S. Wade Malone called the study “groundbreaking,” and said firms that don’t provide opportunities for part-time work risk losing attorneys, clients who go with the attorneys and, ultimately, money. Or, as the study says, “Women will continue to walk away from law firms (as profitable mid-level and senior associates) at high attrition rates until they find a work schedule that makes sense for their lives.” The study, “It’s About Time: Part-Time Policies and Practices in Atlanta Law Firms,” was paid for by the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers, the Women in the Profession Committee of the Atlanta Bar Association and the Georgia Commission on Women. A survey was sent to 76 Atlanta firms with 10 or more attorneys, and 37 firms responded. Among the findings: � Thirty-three percent of full-time attorneys surveyed who changed firms from 1999 to 2001 did so for “fewer hours,” while 22 percent cited “more money.” � Women made up a third of Atlanta’s lawyer workforce at law firms in 2001 but will be half of firms’ head counts in 10 years. � Turnover among women lawyers is higher than among men, but has declined. In 2001, the turnover rate was 15 percent for women and 11 percent for men. In 1999, the turnover rate was 19 percent for women and 12 percent for men. � The study found only two part-time partners in 2001 — one man, one woman — at the firms that responded to the survey. � One-third of the firms that responded don’t consider part-timers for partnership. THE BILLABLE-HOUR CULTURE Very few attorneys in Atlanta or elsewhere choose to work part-time in a culture that is built on billable hours, said Lisa Vash Herman, the lead author of the report and a part-time information counsel at Alston & Bird. While most firms say they offer part-time work, only 4 percent of attorneys take advantage of such opportunities, she said. “Those numbers are what led us to take a look and ask, ‘What is going on?’” Sixty-five of the 69 lawyers who had worked part time and were surveyed for the report were women, with most saying they cut their hours in order to care for children. The study shows that about 90 percent of those working part time remained at their firms because of the flexibility with hours, Herman said. Rebecca G. Godbey, GAWL president and a principal in Bird & Godbey, said, “The main significance of this study is it shows that maintaining part-time positions in a law firm can be profitable to the firm.” The savings comes in reducing attrition-related costs, she said. The study didn’t support that assertion with data, but Herman said firms should calculate the cost of turnover when they lose attorneys who need part-time arrangements. “Replacing a senior lawyer is extremely expensive. It costs $150,000 to $200,000 just to replace the lawyer, and then you have instances of loss of institutional knowledge,” she said. MAKE IT POLICY Firms should develop policies that outline how part-time lawyers can stay on track for partnership, the study advocates, rather than ad hoc arrangements. Such policies are “important from the employees’ perspective that they can know what to expect,” said Godbey. Establishing such policies is also important to the firm in determining how the arrangement can profit it, she said. “There is a huge talent pool of people who place high value on work-life balance, and employers who are unable to accommodate those people lose out on that talent,” Godbey said. The majority of part-time attorneys surveyed worry about their colleagues’ perceptions of their commitment to their work. Fifty-seven percent said partners did not view them as a part of the “team” or that colleagues viewed them as “marginal or problematic.” “Nobody is saying that part-timers should get special treatment,” Herman added. “It’s not about how you should make partner the same time as your peers.” Instead, the study advocates policies of fairness in “proportionality.” As Herman explained, “If you’re working 50 percent, your track should be longer, but you should not necessarily be off track.” Nellie Duke, chair of the Georgia Commission on Women, said the findings have implications for women of all professions. Just because women work part time, they “should not be forgotten,” she said. For advancement, “the real quality of work, the amount of accounts they’re getting should be the determining factors, not the number of hours they’ve worked.” Anne Berryman is an Athens, Ga., freelance writer.

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