By Erin Stagg
While many Big Law firms may informally permit telecommuting, Morgan Lewis & Bockius’ official Remote Working Program launches today, May 1st. The policy will allow associates with at least two years experience in the firm’s U.S. and U.K. offices to work from home up to two days a week and will include a full hardware set up in attorneys’ home offices. Amanda Smith, associate talent and pro bono partner reported that shortly following the firm’s internal announcement of the policy, 100 out of approximately 800 associates had already signed up. In announcing the policy, Morgan Lewis explained that its adoption follows a successful and extensive beta test which confirmed continued associate productivity, availability, and engagement.
The growing trend of formalizing flexible working policies reflects the legal industry’s on-going efforts and commitment to attract and retain new talent as underscored in both Jackson Lewis and Baker McKenzie’s recent announcements of formal policies. Under the Jackson Lewis program, which is open to all Associate and Of Counsel attorneys throughout the firm, attorneys are permitted to work remotely from locations outside the office as needed, provided they are accessible and responsive to the firm and their clients. Baker McKenzie’s bAgile program in North America offers four types of flexible work arrangements: remote working away from the usual office of employment; alternative hours providing for working outside of the standard office hours; less than full-time in reducing standard hours; and, time out providing for taking additional leave or longer unpaid breaks for family, personal or development reasons.
While formalized flex-time policies demonstrate a Big Law shift, it remains to be seen whether such policies will impact retention of women lawyers. As Montage’s informal survey results demonstrated, the four items that have the highest impact on retaining women all involved time demands: job sharing; eliminating the stigma of part-time; creating a system to ensure that part-time schedules remained within the agreed upon threshold with quality opportunities; and, allowing lawyers to work on hourly projects on a freelance basis. [See “Why Are Women Really Leaving Firms?” for more details.]
As a woman lawyer who values her flexible work schedule, I am encouraged that flexibility in when and where the work is performed may signal that the industry will also show an increased flexibility in part-time options.
Erin Stagg received her J.D. from U.C. Berkeley School of Law in 2007, where she co-chaired the 2007 California Water Law Symposium, received the Prosser Prize in Property, and was a member of the Boalt Hall Women’s Association Leadership Forum Steering Committee. After law school Ms. Stagg joined the San Francisco office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips as a litigation associate specializing in complex commercial litigation and representing policy-holders in insurance recovery disputes. Ms. Stagg affiliated with Montage Legal Group in 2012. Erin has spoken on topics involving women in the law, including Opting Somewhere Between “In” And “Out”: How Freelance Lawyers Are Redefining the Practice of Law“ for the Women Lawyers of Sacramento.