Peg

Part Time at a Firm: Opportunity or Curse?

I’ve always wondered about Biglaw attorneys who are on a part-time schedule. This is partly because I try to be realistic about the future and wonder whether this will be something I will resort to once a few full time 2000+ billable years break down my cheery disposition towards Biglaw practice. Also it is partly because I wonder just how it happens.

In my mind, I can’t imagine how the arrangement begins. I frankly cannot see myself asking anybody at the firm about the option because of an assumption that I’ve concocted in my head that as soon as I leave that person’s office, whether it be a partner or the HR person, that they will be calling all the partners on the associate evaluation team to tell them that my personal life is interfering with work or that I am no longer to be considered partnership material – all because I asked for information on the firm’s part-time policies. I imagine that if it comes to the point where I’m asking for a part-time arrangement it will be temporary and will NOT coincide with a decision to abandon my aspirations to make partner some day.

Alternatively, I sometimes imagine that a partner will walk by my office late one night and see me with my shirt un-tucked, an empty pot of coffee on my desk, all my nails bitten off, a million or so papers strewn across all horizontal surfaces in the room and “refer” me to the part-time coordinator, in the way one would refer somebody to a mental health evaluation, because the stress of Biglaw practice is starting to be apparent on the surface – my bodily surface that is!

I just cannot see the start of such an arrangement as being positive. Well, I’ve found a resource online that seems to offer at least a start to the research process. The Hastings School of Law runs a project entitled the “Project for Attorney Retention”. On their hugely informative website they break down big firm part-time attorney programs by asking eight simple questions about the firms’ practices. See http://www.pardc.org/TheScoop/ Through PAR’s research, they too have found that part-time arrangements often come with a negative stigma. The information provided looks to try to show which firms’ practices are more or less stigmatized.

There are a number of ways to break down the data presented. Additionally, it is important to note that a lot of information seems missing and the site administrators claim that some information may be outdated. In any case, let’s give credit where credit is due…

From my read, top honors must go to Fulbright & Jaworski. According to the data provided, they actually have more part-time partners than associates and they have an equal number of men and women part-timers. One note, they have a disproportionate number of of counsel that are part-time, 50 out of 80, which may indicate that part-time work leads to an ‘of counsel’ promotion rather than partnership. However, without more information about the inner-workings of that firm, I’ll leave that note as pure speculation.

Other all-stars seem to be Blank Rome, Covington & Burling, Dickstein Shapiro, Hogan & Hartson, Paul Weiss, O’Melveny & Myers, Mayer Brown, K & L Gates, Steptoe & Johnson, and Wilmer Hale. However, at each of these firms there is a large disparity between the number of women and the number of men that are part-time. This may mean, that even though the firm’s program is great there is still a real stigma attached to a part-time status—namely the “mommy track” status.

In any case, give “The Scoop” and PAR’s website a glance and see for yourself how different firms and their part-time attorney arrangements stack up. This information may be particularly helpful to law students that are currently deciding where to practice after they graduate. In addition, if you have knowledge about a firm’s part-time policies please provide that info to PAR (www.pardc.org). The more complete this report is, the more helpful it will be for all of us.

1 Comments

rpontikes

I practice law in Massachusetts and am the secretary of the Women's Bar Assocation there.  In 2000, the WBA put out a report "More than Part Time" about the plight of women working part time in law firms.  Recently, the WBA partnered with the Equality Commission (the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and a professor named Mona Harrington at MIT) which put out a report on the stigma attached to part time lawyers at large law firms.  It's results are posted on the Mass. WBA's website if you're interested in reading about it—www.womensbar.org. 
I represent women employee when they sue their employers because of gender discrimination, and I have a lot of "family responsibility discrimination" case.  There is definitely a stigma attached—women are seen as "uncommitted" when they attempt workplace balance with childcare.  This stigma does not attach to men who try to balance other things with work—professional obligations for example.  When a partner becomes the president of a bar association, and thus will de facto be working part time, there is celebration and the firm's attorneys figure out how to deal with the issue while she/he is the president.  Why can't this same analysis be used w/ women and child care (and men too because to the extent they take on the traditionally "female" role they are discriminated against as well)?
If you like the PAR website, read Joan William's Unbending Gender. 
 
"No one makes you feel inferior without your consent."—Eleanor Roosevelt

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