Kathryn Isted wasn’t looking to change jobs when a notice for a new type of attorney position at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton caught her eye: It offered reduced hours but the same status as a traditional associate.
“I’d recently had a baby, and it sounded exactly like what I was looking for,” Isted said. “I feel very fortunate to have found it.”
Department attorneys, as they are called, bill 1,600 hours instead of the 1,900 required for 2nd year associates and above, and they are not on a partnership track. Otherwise they are treated like regular Kilpatrick associates. They are members of a practice-group team and do the same type of work as traditional associates, said Paul Aguggia, Kilpatrick’s chairman.
That makes the position different from that of a staff attorney or a contract attorney—jobs that some lawyers take to control the number of hours they work.
“The department attorney program allows us to tap into an incredible pool of talent,” said Aguggia, particularly among mothers seeking work-life balance. They are people who want to do interesting work but are not interested in the extra demands of a partnership-track job—most notably, business development.
“We are learning that there is a real variety of people who are interested in just practicing law and who don’t want to be a partner in a big firm,” Aguggia said, adding that his wife told him she’d still be practicing law if she’d been able to pursue this track 20 years ago.
“We’re seeing some remarkable candidates. That tells me there’s a demand for this,” Aguggia said.
Atlanta recruiter Richard Rice said that when he ran blind ads for the Kilpatrick department attorney position, he received 412 responses the first day. “I didn’t know there were that many associates in Atlanta,” said Rice, the managing partner of American Legal Search.
He said 95 percent of the candidates were young mothers, well-credentialed and working at large firms, who wanted to work fewer hours.
Rice said he has an enormous backlog of résumés from lawyers seeking this kind of position. “Maybe other firms will start doing this,” he said. “It’s a refreshing change.”
Isted joined Kilpatrick’s complex business litigation team in July as a department attorney, after working at Wargo & French and Greenberg Traurig. She received her law degree from Florida State University in 2009.
Four years into her legal career, she wanted to spend more time with her new daughter, now 9 months old. Isted said that most days she works from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. By contrast, most other associates she knows, whether at large or small firms, must work nights and weekends.
“Not only do I get to go home earlier and be focused on [my daughter] on weekends, during the day there are always things that come up with having a young child,” Isted said, such as doctors’ appointments and, in the future, school activities. “I am able to participate in those things and not feel time-pressured and hurried.”
“It’s still litigation, so I would not be surprised if I had a brief that was due and had to put in more hours,” she added, but more free time the next week would balance that out.
Isted added that Kilpatrick’s day care program, which her daughter will start attending in January, was also a big draw. “For anyone who lives in metro Atlanta and has tried to find day care, that is a huge deal.”
In her five weeks at Kilpatrick, Isted said, she has been doing the same kind of work as in her previous jobs, drafting motions and working on depositions.
Kilpatrick hired its first department attorney at the end of 2012, Aguggia said. The roughly 600-lawyer firm now employs five such lawyers—three in Atlanta and one each in New York and Raleigh, N.C.
Their practice areas and experience levels vary, but so far all are women.
Betsy Quinn joined Kilpatrick’s Atlanta office in June from Troutman Sanders. A commercial real estate lawyer, Quinn received her law degree eight years ago from the University of Georgia. Elket Swope, the other Atlanta hire, is a patent litigator who earned her J.D. in 1994 from Emory University.
Kilpatrick has also hired a trademark and copyright lawyer, Wen-Hsien Cheng, in New York, and a labor and employment lawyer, Jennifer Rasile Everitt, in Raleigh.
The department attorneys allow Kilpatrick to offer clients more choices and flexibility in how to staff their matters, Aguggia said. The firm can charge clients a lower rate for their time because they earn a proportionately lower salary in exchange for their reduced billable hours requirement.
Because department attorneys are part of a practice-group team, they are built into staffing decisions about projects, he said. “A staff attorney can float around from team to team,” he explained.
Laurie Vitali, the firm’s director of talent management, said there are three levels of department attorney, with corresponding billing rates, so there is room for advancement.
“If the type of work changes and becomes more complex, an attorney can move up a level,” she said, adding that this makes the position different from that of a staff or contract attorney. “It’s not stagnant. People can move forward with their team.”
Department attorneys also receive credit for pro bono work, Aguggia said. Kilpatrick gives them 30 hours annually of billable hours credit for pro bono, compared to 50 hours for a traditional associate.
Aguggia said he expects the firm will add more department attorneys, as “a complementary offering of talent” to clients. He hastened to add that increasing the number of lawyers in this category does not mean the firm is reducing the number of lawyers in its traditional associate program. “That is a different group of people on the partnership track,” he said.
Asked whether it was a drawback not to be on the partnership track, Isted said that it was exactly what she wanted right now. “I’m happy not to be on the partnership track, so I have more time with my daughter—but that may not be what I want forever,” she said. “That’s why I wasn’t interested in a staff or contract attorney position—because it could be more difficult to get back on the partnership track down the road.”