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At the tiny litigation boutique of Caldwell, Leslie, Newcombe & Pettit, partner Robyn Crowther discovered that balancing the workload of an impending trial with the demands of a new infant was as easy as setting up a portable crib in her office. Crowther answered phone calls, wrote briefs and emerged hours later to find her 2-month-old happily cooing on the shoulder of partner David Pettit, who has two grown daughters. But that dream scenario isn’t the case at most firms, especially the ones that have grown too big to feel like family. Many lawyers are afraid to go on part-time schedules, and when they do they often find themselves working longer than they signed up for. The result is unhappy attorneys, who often end up leaving the firms that invested in developing their careers. “If you basically offer a workplace where you can work 50 hours a week or leave, most people will leave,” says Joan Williams, director of a WorkLife Law program at Hastings College of the Law. “What too many firms have now are paper policies that stay on the shelves.” Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham, with 1,000 lawyers worldwide, says it didn’t want that. Just over a year ago, the firm hired organizational psychologist Jeannine Rupp to perform research on work-life balance inside the firm and create practical solutions. Last week, the firm announced its new “balanced hours” program: Any U.S. lawyer “who demonstrates need arising from personal responsibilities outside the firm” can propose alternative arrangements, such as working fewer hours or telecommuting. The “need” may arise from issues regarding, for example, child care, elder care, infirm dependents or a spouse’s relocation. But, Kirkpatrick Chairman Peter Kalis responded over e-mail, “[It] is not a charter to write the Great American Novel.” The firm also appointed a part-time coordinator to help lawyers with their proposals, serve as a liaison with managers and conduct follow-ups. Roslyn Pitts, based in the firm’s Pittsburgh office, is charged with ensuring that lawyers participating in the program are working their target hours — and not above that amount. About 40 lawyers in the firm’s U.S. offices, or 4.67 percent, currently work part time, but the firm expects to see those numbers grow. Kirkpatrick’s efforts are applauded by Williams and her colleague Cynthia Thomas Calvert, who together designed the model used by the firm. The women say that many firms in the Washington, D.C., area have adopted features of their model, described in their book “Solving the Part-Time Puzzle: The Law Firm’s Guide to Balanced Hours.” However, Kirkpatrick may be the first to adopt their model almost “full hog.” “They’ve made a commitment to get rid of the stigma,” Calvert says. While it’s too early to tell how it will all work out for Kirkpatrick, other firms have found different ways to grapple with the work-life problem. Foley & Lardner’s Nancy Geenen, managing partner of the firm’s San Francisco and Silicon Valley offices, says managers have to answer a question in their evaluation of what they have done to improve the retention of women and minorities in the firm. “It is part of my review,” says Geenen. “It is an objective based on my job description.” Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s managing partner, Marina Park, says that after the firm’s most recent merger a year ago, she began holding conference calls with various groups of lawyers and soliciting their ideas on solving the work-life balance. Now she’s planning a Web site where lawyers can anonymously post their own stories about what has and hasn’t worked for them. “For the women that I met with, work-life balance is a whole compilation of issues. And that is not something alone the firm can solve for you,” said Park, who worked part time for Pillsbury for 10 years. “To make life-work balance work, women need to have a spouse at home that is supportive. They need to have kids that are doing well. They hopefully have parents who are healthy.” Ultimately, consultants say the biggest obstacle firms face is the economics. Joseph Altonji, a consultant with Hildebrandt International, says firms must consider overhead costs, as well as other expenses, when coming up with a formula to pay part-timers. He says firms can’t afford to simply adjust associates’ pay based on the number of hours they are working. Altonji says the formula is even more complicated when partners go part time, because their responsibilities can include such non-tangible goals as developing a client base or managing a practice group. “This is a topic that frustrates managing partners on a regular basis,” says Altonji. The firm leaders are asking, “How do we do this?” Calvert says a study by the National Association for Law Placement says that about 43 percent of associates leave a firm by their third year. “It’s very costly,” says Calvert, who estimates that the cost to replace a single lawyer is between $250,000 and $500,000. And that’s why Williams says part-time and alternative work policies make business sense. “We are not arguing that firms should do it as a matter of professional responsibility,” says Williams. “We are arguing that it will enhance businesses’ bottom lines.”

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