- Lawyers working part-time at major law firms has risen from 2.4 percent in 1994 to 6.4 percent in 2010, still much lower than other professionals (13.5 in specialties such as engineering, architecture and medicine).
- The percentage of part-timers was 3.6 percent for partners, 5.3 percent for associates and 22.1 percent for other lawyers, including of counsel, staff attorneys and senior attorneys.
- An increasing number of male partners are taking advantage of part-time opportunities, up from 28 percent in 2006 to 36 percent in 2010.
These statistics were from a press release by National Association for Law Placement (NALP), which stated “Overall the number of lawyers working part-time continues to be very small.”
It is probably no surprise to most attorneys that the percentage of part-time lawyers trails the rate of other professionals. If more firms allowed part-time schedules, would this really change attrition rates for women in law firms? Possibly, but only if firms respect part-time schedules and view them favorably.
In many instances, big firm associates that are lucky enough for their law firms to allow “part-time” schedules are not working what most people in the real world would consider to be part-time hours. In law firms, where a full-time associate works 60+ hours per week, a part-time attorney may get their hours down to 35-40 hours per week, which is still almost full-time in many professions. The definition of part-time is very different in law firms. Most law firms that allow “part-time schedules” actually only allow 75% or 80% schedules (meaning the attorney is required to bill 1500 hours or 1600 hours per year, not the standard 2000 hours). This is very different than a “half-time” schedule, which is what many mother attorneys really desire during the baby and toddler years.
Part-time attorneys face other hurdles when they are on reduced schedules. Sometimes their case-load is not reduced, so unless they are comfortable dumping their work on other associates at the end of each day, they may still be working almost full-time schedules (but making a lot less money!) Also, partners who work with part-time attorneys sometimes view them in a different light than full-time associates since they are not in the office as much, so they get less favorable projects.
In addition, given the nature of the legal profession, a part-time attorney may be forced to work 200 hours for several months in a row due to a trial in one of her cases or a deal, even though she is really only required to bill 130-140 per month. While that attorney could potentially take a lot of time off in the next few months to balance out her hours, it usually does not work that way. Child care is also difficult to manage with part-time schedules in litigation groups with travel and depositions, so many part-time attorneys still need pay for full-time child care. Part-time attorneys in big law firms have to be okay with taking a substantial pay-cut, for a slight reduction in their hours and a lot of additional headaches. These are just some of the reasons that many part-time attorneys eventually leave firms altogether, or unhappily sacrifice time with their children to go back to full-time work.
A part-time schedule can only work if law firms see the benefits in retaining their associates and truly viewing part-time arrangements favorably, and by making concerted efforts to make those arrangements successful. Part-time attorneys also must be willing to be flexible.
Until law firms change what it really means to be a part-time attorney, high attrition rates for females will probably stay the same. Hopefully more law firms will allow reduced hour schedules that truly make sense for mothers (and fathers) so more women will opt to stay in law firms, and will eventually make partner. More female partners can only help the next generation of female lawyers. In the meantime, Montage Legal Group and freelance law remains an option to law firm practice.
For more information on this topic, check out Deborah Epstein Henry’s new book — LAW & REORDER: Legal Industry Solutions for Restructure, Retention, Promotion & Work/Life Balance (American Bar Association, 2010).