In House Counsel and Law Firms Can't Decide Who's Worse at Flex- and Part-Time

By Kevin Fayle on April 02, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Apparently, in house attorneys and law firm representatives spent a lot of time at a recent meeting pointing their fingers at each other over the issue of support for flex-time and part-time policies designed to retain and advance women at law firms, according to the National Law Journal.

What's worse, the Project for Attorney Retention (PAR), who organized the event, invited the attendees because it considered them leaders in the field.  Which begs the question: If the leaders don't know how to do flex- and part-time policies right, what chance does everyone else have?

Both sides seemed to find fault with the other when it came to the policies.  Law firms generally seemed to think that in house counsel should be more vocal about their support for the policies, and base their hiring decision on law firms' implementation of them.  The in house counsel at the meeting, on the other hand, held the opinion that law firms weren't transparent about their use of flex- and part-time arrangements and were reluctant to put them in place generally.

Both groups recognized the need for more communication on the issue between in house counsel and law firms, and acknowledged that much of the confusion over the issue arose from misconceptions about the other side's approach.

Another point of consensus was the importance of implementing the policies in order to retain female associates and partners.  Women currently account for a scant 17% of law firm partners, according to Joan Williams, a University of California Hastings College of the Law professor who co-founded PAR, despite the fact that they've been enrolled in law school in equal numbers to men for many years.

Besides the readily apparent equality arguments against that situation, there's also a business case for providing flexible schedules as a way to encourage female attorneys to remain with a firm: Retaining an attorney helps to avoid the costs of hiring and training a replacement, which can add up to $200,000 or more.

So what's the deal?  Do you take these kinds of policies into account when hiring outside counsel?  Are law firms generally open to flex- and part-time set-ups, or do they resist them?  Or do you not have a clue because they refuse to talk about it? 

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