are very satisfied with the allocation of their work and personal
time, the report notes. "That says it all," Rhode said. "We're
just not doing an adequate job."
The report, "Balanced Lives: Changing the
Culture of Legal Practice," illustrates the dilemma of attorneys
struggling for balance in a work culture that stresses longer hours,
inflexible commitment and instant accessibility. It also provides
advice and model policies for alternative work schedules and family
Drawing on surveys, statistics and other research
compiled by the ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession, the
study cites inflexible work schedules as a primary cause of early
attrition and the "glass ceiling" encountered by women in law
firms. It points to stories of attorneys closing deals and drafting
documents from their hospital delivery rooms. In one instance, an
attorney described working 2,200 billable hours during the year of her
maternity leave. In another, an attorney's frustrated 6-year-old son
announced: "When I grow up, I want to be a client."
Most legal employers have adopted work/family
policies, the study found, but many such policies are inadequate and
attorneys often fear using them. While 95 percent of law firms now
have policies allowing part-time work, for example, only three percent
of lawyers actually work part-time, the report noted. And half of the
surveyed lawyers doubted that they could work alternative schedules
without hurting their careers.
"Despite substantial progress, the gap between
formal policies and actual practices remains dramatic and
disturbing," says Rhode, who chairs the ABA's Commission on Women
in the Profession.
Changing the culture
Belynda Reck, president of California Women
Lawyers (CWL), echoes such concerns. "I think that a lot of firms
have policies because they are good recruiting tools, but the culture
of the firm has to be consistent with the policy," she said.
"That's the difficult thing to change."
At CWL seminars, Reck said, "balance of work
and personal lives is always a hot topic, a topic of grave concern."
And the pressing importance of such issues is not
lost on Reck. A full-time litigation attorney at O'Donnell and
Shaeffer in Los Angeles, she also has two children, ages 3 and 6. She
recalls working "all-nighters" into the eighth month of both
pregnancies. And even though she went part- time to ease some pressure
during her second pregnancy, she wound up working long hours
negotiating a $30 million settlement.
"You can't always predict and control how many hours
you're going to have to work," she said.
Attorneys in smaller firms such as hers, she
says, do not have a "comfort zone" of associates who can step in
and take over. These days, Reck and her "very supportive" husband,
an engineer, manage to juggle the job of parenting. But, she said,
it's always a struggle. "You try everything and it doesn't
always work," she said.
And while Reck feels she has been treated well by
her employers, she has seen others suffer adverse career consequences
in their struggle to meet work and family needs. Two of her friends,
she said, recently left the profession in frustration because their
assignments, as part-timers, were so unsatisfying. "It wasn't the
pay," Reck said, "it was the work."
There are success stories, however. Take Palo
Alto attorney Marina Park, a managing partner at Pillsbury Winthrop.
For roughly a decade, she worked part-time while she and her "very
supportive" husband raised three children. During that same period,
she advanced from associate to managing partner.
Park sees it as "shortsighted" of firms to be
inflexible. "If the firm hadn't allowed me to go on a part-time
schedule when I had my first child, I wouldn't have come back,"
she said. "You do emerge out of the other side of having little
kids. It's not as though the firm is losing money having people on a
part-time schedule. Why not allow them that alternative?"
As an associate, Park worked an 80-percent
schedule with Wednesdays off. Initially, she removed herself from the
partnership track to avoid self-imposed pressure. Later, however, she
became a partner and, in 1999, a managing partner.
A year later, she returned to full-time, she
says. But she has made it clear that her children come first. For
example, she recently opted to attend a managing board meeting in New
York by telephone so that she could go to her daughter's violin
recital. "I'm working a flex schedule that allows me to hang on by
my fingernails," she said.
Park stresses, however, that everyone's
priorities and limitations are different. What is key, she says, is
that attorneys identify what is important to them, decide what they
need and discuss their options with the firm.
During her career, Park has found some key
supporters among her male colleagues. She still recalls attending a
senior partner's retirement dinner in the early 1990s and standing
up to address 85 men in black ties. Asked to say a few words about the
guest of honor, she welled up with emotion.
"I realized the most important part of his
mentoring was that he had convinced me that I could be a great lawyer
on a part-time schedule," she recalls. "If my work was top
quality, everything would flow from there."
Los Angeles attorney Nancy Saunders, too, has
succeeded in striking a balance through part-time lawyering. When she
went part-time in 1988, she says, she was the first litigator in her
large firm to do so. She recalls being tagged a "trailblazer."
Before requesting part-time, however, Saunders
worked full-time during her first child's toddler years to prove to
her firm that she would "never drop the ball." And working
part-time (80 percent of the firm's billable hours target) has still
required sacrifices - just fewer late nights and weekends at work,
Now at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown and Enersen,
she continues to work part-time and has had "great work," she
said, since her arrival nearly five years ago. Recently, she
became a partner.
"There's no perfect balance," says Saunders,
a single mother of two teenagers. "I think I've had about as
positive an experience as anyone I know . . . I feel very lucky."
According to the ABA report's findings, such
employer flexibility may be a key selling point in recruiting and
retaining attorneys. Recent studies indicate that the availability of
flexible schedules is even more effective as a retention tool than
salary increases at above-market levels. In one survey, it was the
characteristic correlated with the lowest rate of associate turnover.
San Francisco attorney Claudia Lewis, who works
part-time at Farella, Braun and Martel, believes that her firm is
unusual in supporting its attorneys' desire to lead a balanced life.
her, a part-time work schedule proved crucial after the birth of her
now 2-year-old daughter. "If working part-time was not an option, I
would have had to seriously consider whether I continued as a partner
in the firm," she said.
Lewis, a securities litigation and white-collar
criminal defense lawyer, initially had some concerns about reducing
her work week. "I didn't know how I'd work it out with my
clients," she said, "and I didn't know how my partners would
feel about it."
But her concerns were unfounded, she says. These
days, she spends most Fridays with her daughter. And the change, she
said, has provided some "modicum of sanity" to her dual career
family. "The days when I'm in the office are really jam-packed,
but I wouldn't change it," Lewis said.
She is still working out some compensation issues
with her firm. And she still works long hours when her caseload
demands it - something she sees as unavoidable. But for the most
part, she said, both she and her firm are benefiting from the
Such situations, however, may still be the
exception. Women attorneys working part-time also describe feeling
dismissed and devalued, the report noted. And one recent study showed
that female part-timers left firms at a rate 70 percent higher than
their full-time male colleagues.
The ABA report suggests that such work/life
balance issues have taken on a "new urgency" in light of changing
demographics. The number of women attorneys nationwide now totals
roughly 400,000. In addition, half of all first-year law students are
Nor are women alone in facing these challenges.
An increasing number of the nation's 600,000 male attorneys also are
likely to have caretaking commitments. And the study suggests that men
face even greater pressure to maintain a full-time workload. Just 10
to 15 percent of surveyed firms, for example, offer men the same paid
parental leave as women, the report found.
For some attorneys, time for pro bono work is the
key to a balanced life. For others, assistance with childcare or
eldercare would make a difference.
Price of inflexibility
Law firms pay a considerable price for their
inflexibility, the report concludes. Recent data suggests that less
than 4 percent of attorneys who leave firms do so to become full-time
parents; instead, they simply move to more accommodating workplaces.
Finding and training a single replacement then generally costs at
least 150 percent of a worker's annual salary, the report notes. And
the firm suffers losses in disrupted client and collegial
relationships as well.
current system makes no economic sense," says Rhode. "Firms are
spending a small fortune on recruiting and retention expenses, and all
of the evidence indicates that family-friendly policies pay for
themselves in terms of lowered attrition, higher morale and greater
Mary Cranston, chair of Pillsbury Winthrop in San
Francisco, agrees that the part-time option makes "good business
sense" and "is critical to the long-term retention of top
And a policy alone is not enough. "You need to
have a commitment from the top," she said. "If that isn't there,
then the policy is hostage to the particular beliefs of the individual
Pillsbury's policy allows attorneys - men and
women - to request reduced schedules for personal reasons for a
defined period of time. Currently, 16 partners and 50 associates are
on part-time schedules.
As for those law firms that resist such changes,
"the marketplace will ultimately punish them," Cranston said.
"You're going to be competing for half the labor pool with one
hand tied behind your back."
The ABA report also suggests that today's young
lawyers are less willing than their predecessors to sacrifice their
San Jose attorney Ann Nguyen, a 1995 law school
graduate, is heartened to hear about women partners who have managed
to balance family and career. "If they can make it work," she
said, "then that shows the other partners that it can work."
A year and a half ago, the mother of two was at
the end of her rope when she asked for a reduced work schedule. She
was one of the first staff attorneys at Robinson and Wood, a
30-attorney firm, to go part-time, she says. "For me, balance is
very important," she said. "It makes me a happier person and that
carries into my work."
She, too, sees her generation as having different
expectations. "We're hoping that employers will make the
accommodations so that we can stay in the profession," she said.
"I think we have a lot to contribute."