By Peg Johnston • August 21, 2007•Firms and the Private Sector
Deborah Epstein Henry, of Flex-time Lawyers, has a thought provoking article in the July/August Issue of Diversity & the Bar entitled, "Stepping Into Your Shoes: It's Time for Job shares in Law Firms." You can find it at: http://www.flextimelawyers.com/pdf/art7.pdf (thanks to www.jdblissblog.com for the tip)
The article is very straight-forward and it does a great job of describing the ins and outs of a job share arrangement for attorneys.
I've witnessed a job share arrangement for legal assistants in the firm and it seems to work without complication. I've also witnessed enough "client teams" to know that more often than not there are multiple attorneys on a project and each fields client phone calls and makes decisions for the project. Having multiple attorneys on a project at a big firm is necessary because there is rarely an attorney that is wholly dedicated to one client so there are bound to be times when an attorney can't be available to a specific client. For example, attorneys have to travel for meetings and depositions; they can only be on the phone with one client at a time; they must make court appearances and can't handle client issues from the courtroom; etc; etc. Attorneys on client teams are already accustomed to keeping thorough documentation of conversations and changes so that all attorneys are kept up to speed. Firms already have the software to keep track of changes and monitor which attorney authors documents or makes changes. Therefore, job sharing seems like it would be easy to implement and would not interfere with the level of service given to clients. In fact, firms seem to be already set up for this arrangement.
Here's the question: Has anybody ever witnessed it in practice? If you have, what kind of influence did the attorneys have within the organization at the time that they set up the job share? It does not seem like something a junior associate could ask for because of their lack of power within the firm. It also does not seem like something a partner could ask for because of the huge set of expectations placed on them after making partner. It does not seem likely that a 6th-8th year associate that is hoping to make partner would ask for an arrangement that makes them appear less likely to work as hard as their contemporaries. Does this mean that the opportunity is limited to associates between their 3rd and 5th years, or to attorneys that don't want to be partners, because of organizational politics?
Also, I have read survey after survey that reports that associates favor less hours and would take less pay for it. The less work for less pay proposal mirrors the job share idea and yet firms don't seem eager to jump on it. Instead, salaries are on the rise as are hours as firms seem to be inching up their minimum billing requirements year after year. Minimum hour requirements of 2100, or even 1950, seem to be on the high end of what is humanly (or humanely) possible. I guess once firms raise the level to 2500 job shares will be the only answer for people that aren't going to sell their life to the firm for any price! Here's hoping that there are enough people able to implement job sharing now so that in a few years they will be common practice and a viable alternative to 100 hour work weeks -- even for people without kids or family but who just want to have a life!