Study of Atlanta Law Firms Finds Flexible Work Schedules Profitable, More Written Part-time Policies Needed.
These conclusions emerged from the "It's About Time" study, the first comprehensive survey of part-time policies and practices among Atlanta-area law firms. The study was conducted by the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers (GAWL) and the Women in the Profession Committee of the Atlanta Bar Association, in partnership with the Georgia Commission on Women.
The authors surveyed law firms and lawyers, gathering responses from 37 Atlanta-area law firms, comprised of more than 7,000 lawyers, as well as from 167 individual attorneys. Survey respondents were women and men, associates and partners, part-time and full-time lawyers, and retired and active attorneys. The part-time participants in the survey had an average age of 37 years and an average of seven years of full-time legal experience before they went part-time.
The survey responses debunk a common myth that part-time schedules are unprofitable. "Many firms figure the costs of attrition into their assessment of overhead," said Rebecca Godbey, president of GAWL, and a principal in Bird & Godbey LLP. "By improving retention, part-time schedules actually reduce attrition-related costs and improve the firm's bottom line."
Other major findings include: * Women lawyers now comprise about one-third of law firm lawyers in Atlanta. At the current rate of growth, women will make up 50 percent of Atlanta law firm lawyers within 10 years. * A noticeable gender gap in attrition persisted during the three-year study period, from 1999 through 2001. The average annual attrition rate among women lawyers ranged from 15 percent to 19 percent, whereas it ranged from only 11 percent to 12 percent for men. * Ninety percent of part-timers said that flexible schedules made it more desirable to stay with their firms. * Most full-time lawyers who recently left a law firm did so for better schedules, not for a larger paycheck. Only 22 percent of respondents reported that they left for "more money" in contrast to 33 percent who left because they "wanted fewer hours" and 19 percent who "wanted a different schedule."
As the highlights above suggest, the study revealed numerous benefits to firms that encourage and support equitable part-time schedules, among them:
* Improved retention; * Greater profitability; and * More diversity in firm leadership positions. Lack of Flexible Schedules a Barrier to Women
"The single most important finding of this study is that many women will continue to walk away from law firms, even as mid-level and senior associates, until they find a work schedule that complements their quality of life," said Mary Grace Diehl, chair of the Atlanta Bar Association's Women in the Profession Committee and a partner with Troutman Sanders LLP.
One third of surveyed law firms do not permit part-time attorneys to advance to partnership. In those firms, part-time lawyers -- mostly women -- are not considered for partnership, regardless of their performance and their seniority.
"A law firm without a flexible partnership track drives a disproportionate number of women out of the workplace and leaves the women who choose to stay in the firm with less hope of achieving real influence," said Diehl. "By contrast, firms with part-time partnership tracks benefit in the form of improved retention, diverse viewpoints, and a wider range of role models and mentors, not to mention increased business prospects."
According to the study, reversing lawyers' diminishing leadership in the community is another important reason to promote flexible work schedules and partnership tracks. On average, part-time respondents reported that they work about 1,400 hours annually, which is about 28 hours a week for a 50-week year.
"Years ago, 1,400 hours of work was considered a full-time schedule," said GAWL's Godbey. "The American Bar Association itself, in its 1962 handbook, noted that, given a lawyer's civic, administrative, and other non-billable matters, there were only about 1,300 billable hours in a year. The contemporary model of emphasizing much greater billing has prompted widespread calls for reform due to the negative consequences for pro bono work and the incentives for fraud, among other disadvantages."
"All in all, flexible schedules and paths to partnership are crucial to increasing the number of women leaders in law firms," said Godbey. "The opportunity to work and advance to partnership on a reduced-hours schedule is about fairness, the integrity of the legal profession and devotion to our families and communities."
More Firms Need Written Part-Time Policies
The study also helped pinpoint problem areas for law firms that want to support their part-time attorneys. For example, only about one third of the firms reported having written part-time policies. Yet even at firms with written policies, attorneys often learned of those policies by word of mouth or by approaching their supervisors. And in spite of written policies, many attorneys reported that firm management failed to assist them with the implementation of their part-time arrangements.
"Many law firm practices create or perpetuate the belief that a part-time arrangement is a special accommodation for mothers rather than a legitimate career choice for any attorney," said Diehl. "Ad hoc implementation, secrecy about part-time 'deals' with individual lawyers, inadequate monitoring of part-time arrangements, and the failure to assure consideration for partnership are among the practices that clearly stigmatize these arrangements - and the lawyers who enter into them."
Although part-time attorneys generally reported that they were satisfied with their schedules and felt loyal to their law firms, they were dissatisfied with their opportunities for advancement and the negative attitudes that frequently accompanied their part-time arrangements. For example, respondents to the survey indicated that some partners refused to work with or vote to advance part-time associates and that some peers disrespected or resented part-time attorneys.
For firms wanting to achieve the benefits of forward-thinking part-time policies, the study makes several recommendations:
* Develop and communicate written policies that serve as guidelines; avoid ad hoc arrangements. * Ensure that compensation, bonuses, and opportunities for advancement for part-timers are proportional to those of their full-time counterparts. * Encourage a firm culture that supports flexible work schedules as a legitimate choice for any attorney. Participating Law Firms Alston & Bird LLP Anonymous Arnall Golden & Gregory, LLP Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore LLP Cohen Pollock Merlin Axelrod & Small Epstein Becker & Green, PC Fellows, Johnson & La Briola LLP Fisher & Phillips LLP Ford & Harrison, LLP Goldner, Sommers, Scrudder & Bass Goodman McGuffey Aust & Lindsey Gorby, Reeves, Peters & Burns, PC Holland & Knight LLP Hollowell Foster & Gepp Hunton & Williams Jones Day Reavis & Pogue Kilpatrick Stockton, LLP King & Spalding Kitchens Kelley Gaynes PC Lamberth Bonapfel Cifelli & Stokes, PA Littler Mendelson Love Willingham Peters Gilleland & Monyak McKenna Long Aldridge Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP Nall & Miller LLP Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy LLP Pursley Lowery & Meeks LLP Rogers & Hardin, LLP Savell & Williams Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP Troutman Sanders, LLP Warner, Mayou, Bates, Nolen & Collar Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC
About the Atlanta Bar Association and its Women in the Profession Committee
Formed in 1888, the Atlanta Bar Association is the largest metropolitan bar association in the Southeast and one of the most active in the country in serving its members, the Atlanta community and legal system. The Atlanta Bar Association has more than 6,000 members in a 12-county area of metropolitan Atlanta with 19 specific law sections. In addition, more than 40 committees work on projects to better the bar, the community, and the profession. The Atlanta Bar Association's Women in the Profession Committee serves as a forum for addressing matters of particular interest to women lawyers.
About the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers
Founded in 1928, the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers (GAWL) proudly serves the diverse interests of more than 8,000 women who are admitted to the State Bar of Georgia. While providing a forum for networking, mentoring and leadership training, GAWL also seeks to maintain honor and integrity in the legal profession by sponsoring educational, social and fundraising programs for its members and the greater community. GAWL is a statewide organization with local chapters in Atlanta, Savannah, and Columbus.
CONTACT: Glen Jackson of Jackson Spalding, +1-404-724-2505
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|Date:||Feb 5, 2004|
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