The latest data on part-time attorneys isn’t likely to shock anyone in the legal world: Working part-time is an option few attorneys take, and the vast majority of those who do are women.
According to figures compiled by the National Association for Law Placement, 5.6% of U.S. attorneys work part-time, and about 74% of them are women. That represents only a slight increase from the previous year, when 5.4% of attorneys worked part-time and 75% were women.
NALP Executive Director James Leipold said that his organization hasn’t looked at why utilization of part-time programs is low, but he said a common critique within the legal industry is that attorneys fear their careers may stall if they don’t work a full-time schedule.
Part-time attorneys are more common among the associate ranks nationwide, with 4.9% working less than a full-time schedule. By contrast, only 3.2% of partners work part-time, according to the NALP survey. Women constitute 90% of part-time associates and nearly 70% of part-time partners. Close to 20% of staff attorneys and of counsel currently work part-time.
While the number of part-time attorneys is still low, it has grown since 1994 — the year NALP began tracking the trend. In 1994, only 2.4% of attorneys were working part-time.
Currently, 98% of law offices allow attorneys to work part-time, which is up from 86% in 1994.
Utilization of part-time work schedules varies vastly in different regions and cities, the NALP survey found. For example, part-time partners are more than twice as common in Chicago and Washington. — at about 4% — than in New York, where 1.9% of partners work part-time. There’s no data to explain the difference, Leipold said, though there are several theories.
“People in the industry would say it’s the culture of these [New York] firms, that the bar is set high, and that it’s due to internal competition,” said Leipold.
San Francisco, San Diego and Portland, Ore., have the highest percentage of part-time partners, ranging from 6% to 7%, according to the NALP survey. The legal industry has far fewer people working part-time than the U.S. Work force overall. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that about 14% of workers in 2007 were part-time, compared to the legal industry’s 5.6%. Even other professional specialties such as engineering, architecture and medical care have a much higher percentage of part-time workers.
“The legal industry stands apart from other industries,” Leipold said. “There are definitely fewer part-time attorneys. We also have a huge gender disparity.”
Nationwide, women account for nearly 19% of law firm partners and about 45% of associates, according to an earlier NALP study of law firm diversity.