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Maybe I’ve covered this topic too many times, but isn’t flextime so 2010? Based on what I’ve seen, many if not most lawyers (except for the junior ones) work wherever they want—from home, their kids’ soccer games, the gym. I mean, who the hell cares where you are working so long as you bill, bill, bill.
Well, apparently flextime is still making news—at least, some firms are making it so. Recently, a bunch of firms announced with some fanfare that they are implementing flextime policies as if they just discovered a management marvel. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, followed by Jackson Lewis and Baker McKenzie.
Maybe those firms are unusually tradition bound, but I bet their lawyers have been working off-site for some time too. So why the big fuss about flextime now?
Some theories: First, I guess it’s always good to have an official policy about flexible working arrangements rather than a de facto one. “Formalized policies are important,” says legal profession consultant Lauren Stiller Rikleen. “Otherwise, you run the risks of quiet side deals where it seems like others can have opportunities not fully available.”
My more cynical theory is that firms are making the fuss to get the attention of those fickled millennials for whom a bespoke work schedule is a birthright. “Millennial men and women have clear expectations for how they want to manage their work-life responsibilities and their personal time,” says Rikleen. “It is simply a wise business decision to try to retain younger talent.”
But as any third-grader knows, having a policy on the books means squat if the powers-that-be aren’t truly behind it. “The problem for most firms is moving from stated policy to accepted practice,” says diversity consultant Caren Ulrich Stacy. “If the culture—aka the influential partners—don’t personally support it, it’s stigmatized and destined to fail.”
In other words, if you work for an old-school partner who believes that associates should be tied to their office seats 10 hours a day, you’re stuck. That’s just life in a law firm, no matter what the official policy might be.
That said, my sense is that those dinosaur partners are disappearing. Frankly, if you can bill just as much if not more out of the office, who gives a hoot if you’re working out of some kind of cave? (Think how much wasted time you’ll save if you don’t have to shower, get dressed, put on makeup or schlep to the office.)
What’s more, I wonder if firms are thinking about how much they’ll save on rent if more folks worked from home. Greg Nitzkowski, a managing partner at Paul Hastings in Los Angeles, says that the flextime policy is part of its “office of the future,” where at least 10 percent of the firm’s lawyers won’t have offices.
Thankfully, not everyone is quite as jaded as I am about these policies. “Firms are trying everything they can, including formalizing flextime, to improve diversity,” says Stacy about law firm recruitment. “They seem to be doing so with the best intentions, not just for publicity.”
Contact Vivia Chen at email@example.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.