Part-Time Lawyers Becoming More Common

Part-Time Lawyers Becoming More Common, NALP Says

Part-Time Lawyers Becoming More Common, NALP Says
Data shows significant regional variations with the highest percentages in West Coast cities
Charles Toutant
New Jersey Law Journal
January 13, 2011


Part-time schedules at law firms are growing in popularity as a way of improving recruitment and retention of talented lawyers, but attorneys working reduced hours -- predominantly women -- remain a small fraction of the total population, says a new survey by the National Association for Law Placement.

NALP reports that at large firms across the nation, 6.4 percent of lawyers were on part-time schedules in 2010, compared with 5 percent in 2006. In northern New Jersey, 5.4 percent were part time, up from 3.4 percent in 2006.

Working a reduced-time schedule is still largely the prerogative of women lawyers: 88 percent of part-time associates and 64 percent of part-time partners in the NALP survey are women. In 2006, women made up 89 percent of part-time associates and 72 percent of part-time partners.

Nonetheless, beween 2006 and 2010, the proportion of all male lawyers who were part time increased by 70 percent, while among women the increase was 12 percent.

The NALP data show significant regional variations in the incidence of part-time lawyers. For example, the proportion of partners working part time in Chicago and Washington, D.C., both 4.7 percent, was more than twice as high as in New York, 2 percent. The percentage of partners working part time was highest in Portland, Seattle, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco, ranging from 7 percent to 9.7 percent. But in Austin, New Orleans and Wilmington, Del., fewer than 1 percent of partners work part time.

Nationwide, 3.6 percent of partners are part time. In northern New Jersey, the figure is 1.9 percent.

Allowing partners and associates to work part time enables a firm to retain talented people who might return to full-time schedules down the road, says Robert Denney, a legal management consultant in Wayne, Pa. It also helps firms to recruit and to maintain good relationships with their lawyers by "acknowledging that not everyone wants to work 2,500 hours a month," says Denney.

Denney acknowledges that some law firms are reluctant to offer part-time schedules because it can put a dent in billing expectations, especially in litigation practices. But he says the recruitment and retention benefits that flow from having such a program in place outweigh those concerns.

McCarter & English managing partner Stephen Vajtay says the firm has had attorneys on reduced-time schedules since at least 1983. Eleven associates and nine partners are on such schedules, including two male partners and two male associates. The program helps the firm retain lawyers who have other commitments and achieve parity with corporate clients offering such policies to their own workers, says Vajtay.

It also improves diversity. "We believe that our attorney population should reflect society as a whole and the workplace," says Vajtay. "That has ramifications with respect to our diversity program and with a broader respect to our balanced hours program."

McCarter & English uses the term "balanced hours" instead of part time to refer to its reduced-hours program, because the latter implies "second-class citizenship," Vajtay says. And when there's a big case or deal that requires all hands on deck, everyone, even balanced-hour lawyers, must be prepared to work nights and weekends, he says.

Lawyers who choose to work less than full time aren't foreclosed from advancement, but might face a longer partnership track, says Vajtay. For the first time at McCarter, one balanced-hours associate was recently promoted to balanced-hours partner, he says. "It most assuredly does not close off the partnership track," he says.

Lowenstein Sandler of Roseland, N.J., has permitted part-time schedules since 2003, and currently 15 associates, two partners and two other lawyers there are counted as part time, according to NALP. Of the 19 part timers, all but two are women. The firm offers part-time schedules "to attract and retain quality talent who can't commit to a full-time schedule," says Nicole Bearce Albano, chair of Lowenstein's Diversity Initiatives Committee.

Lowenstein has no set part-time schedule; different lawyers work different hours and days, depending on their practice group, the type of clients and the cases, says Albano. Making the arrangement work, especially when the workload gets heavy, requires constant communication among the lawyers, their practice group leader and the human resources department,' she says.

"It's something we all need to be attentive to, if it's going to be a success. And problems arise if there's not communication. From an administrative standpoint, I can understand why some firms might be resistant to putting such a policy in case," Albano says.

NALP's survey was based on 1,310 large law firms that employ a total of 129,000 lawyers.
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