By Jill Russell • April 03, 2007•Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life
This weekend I attended the Legally Female conference at Yale Law School. After hearing an amazing set of speakers and panelists and interacting with amazing women from across the country, I can't stop thinking about a question that was raised during one of the sessions. What is the limit of the part-time phenomenon? Can corporate litigators or criminal trial lawyers and others under huge time pressures really do their job effectively in a part-time situation? I guess the reason I keep thinking about this is because I just don't know. If there is a good answer, I haven't thought of it yet. The panelists believed it could be done- that we just need creative solutions to do it. But I'm not sure this is true. If it is, I'll be extremely happy. But I wonder if the reality is that we just want it to be so, even if it isn't. One of the panelists, Deborah Epstein Henry of Flex-Time Lawyers (who is amazing by the way) spoke of the dangers of part-timers being pigeonholed into certain areas that are "more flexible" and less deadline driven- like trusts and estates. But as she pointed out, part-time workers must be able to work with more than just dead clients right? But I just wonder how a balance can be struck that meets the time demands of the work while still allowing flexible hours. Certainly partners COULD give assignments earlier instead of waiting to call you late Saturday night to test your dedication. But that's not really what we're talking about here (and by the way law partners, this is mean anyway!). The reality is that some work will ALWAYS have a time crunch. Children need to be removed from their abusive homes and their parents are entitled to a hearing within 24 hours. When a homicide happens, you can't wait until the next morning to go investigate. Witnesses must be prepped and exhibits must be made and closing statements written. Is it realistic to expect that these things be done with the precision and quality when the lawyers working on them must go home to be with their kids or aging parents? When does one have to be fully committed to the job to be effective? I have concerns that flexibility in these time constrained areas may make part-time work unrealistic. But are we losing the battle if we concede that? I'm sure there is always some project that "needs" to be done. Admitting that part-time might not work in some areas may give partners in other areas reason to say, "See they can't do it in litigation and they can't do it here either." This is a particularly tough scenario because I think there are good arguments to be made for both sides. Are lawyers who want to work reduced hours in these time sensitive areas too deMANding? Or are their employers just not doing enough to make it work?