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August 24, 2010

Inflammatory Debate Topic of the Day

So.... is this "sexist"?

One of the United Kingdom's biggest and best-known corporate law firms has little difficulty retaining talented women lawyers as partners, reports the Daily Mail.

Allen & Overy's secret to success? Offering 82 holidays a year, in exchange for reduced pay. Men can also opt for a reduced schedule for up to eight years, although the program was put in place for the purpose of retaining women struggling to balance their work with motherhood, the newspaper explains.

"If we don't succeed in attracting more women through to partner, we will be choosing from an ever-decreasing pool of talent," says partner Geoff Fuller.

So long as they're willing to accept less pay (and perhaps a poorer position on the promotion track) I'm not seeing where this is necessarily a bad thing. I've long maintained that many women are willing to trade salary for autonomy/time with family. This arrangement makes the tradeoff explicit.

Posted by Cassandra at August 24, 2010 04:50 PM

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"If we don't succeed in attracting more women through to partner, we will be choosing from an ever-decreasing pool of talent," says partner Geoff Fuller. I guess I'm just a poor, dumb male, but I'm having trouble following the logic here. No women ==> ever-decreasing pool of talent. So, what--the men are all dying off in Merrye Olde England? The men are becoming poorer and poorer lawyers? There are steadily fewer men going into law over there? If this is true, then on what basis exists their tacit assumption that those factors don't apply, also, to women? And he structures the claim so as to imply that if, in fact, it isn't "an ever-decreasing pool of talent," then there is no need succeed in attracting more women. Or there will be no not-succeed. Hmm....

(and perhaps a poorer position on the promotion track) I'm not sure they (women partner candidates) are accepting a poorer position on the promotion track. The program seems designed explicitly to keep women on the promotion track.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 24, 2010 05:10 PM

The program seems designed explicitly to keep women on the promotion track.

I think it depends on how experience (or billable hours) are factored into the promotion process?

I agree that a woman of equal ability who works part time should not be promoted over a man who works full time. But I'm also not sure that a woman who works 2/3 of the hours others in the promotion pool have worked is going to be competitive.

Hey... weren't you the guy who was just arguing that women could be assimilated into the military work environment without special accommodations? :p

/running away

Posted by: Cassandra at August 24, 2010 05:19 PM

I guess I'm just a poor, dumb male, but I'm having trouble following the logic here. No women ==> ever-decreasing pool of talent. So, what--the men are all dying off in Merrye Olde England? The men are becoming poorer and poorer lawyers? There are steadily fewer men going into law over there? If this is true, then on what basis exists their tacit assumption that those factors don't apply, also, to women? And he structures the claim so as to imply that if, in fact, it isn't "an ever-decreasing pool of talent," then there is no need succeed in attracting more women.

I will admit that I'm playing Devil's Advocate here, so please take the following argument in that light.

I think that statement poses a real conundrum for conservatives. If you (meaning conservatives) think there are real differences between the sexes - and most do say that - then isn't it reasonable to believe that good male and good female attys might bring entirely different talents to the table?

Not sayin' whether I buy off on that or not, but it seems to me that you can't maintain that men and women are different when that argument favors men but wash your hands of it when it might favor women (or both sexes, possibly in different ways).

What do you think? If men and women really do bring different attributes and talents to the table, is it illogical for a large firm to want the talent pool to include candidates who offer the full range?

On the other hand if men and women are interchangeable (as Feminist doctrine would have it) then you're entirely correct - fewer women doesn't necessarily decrease the talent pool because at that point the size of the talent pool is largely a function of interchangeable bodies :p

What intrigues me about this idea is that it forces people to be more honest about their priorities. If you want to trade salary for time with family you're free to do so... but you will get paid less. If you want to optimize on salary, you'll have to work more hours.

Either way, your choice is out there for anyone to see.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 24, 2010 05:33 PM

Hey... weren't you the guy who was just arguing that women could be assimilated into the military work environment without special accommodations? Still am, too. Define "how x is factored into the promotion process" and "special accommodations."

Note, also, that I was suggesting that their program seemed so designed, not that I agreed with their design. And I also said that _some_ women could be assimilated, Ms Alinsky.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 24, 2010 05:38 PM

On the other hand if men and women are interchangeable (as Feminist doctrine would have it) then you're entirely correct - fewer women doesn't necessarily decrease the talent pool because at that point the size of the talent pool is largely a function of interchangeable bodies.... This is a non sequitor. The law firm's rep didn't say that absent women he'd have a decreased talent pool, but that he'd have a decreasing talent pool. Whether women and men have differing talents, excluding some portion of the population reduces, statically, the available talent pool. I suggest that men and women bring different talents to the table because of their individuality. Whether there also are substantial differences in talent due to gender, I'm not so sure. Certainly there are differing outlooks and approaches to problem solving based on gender--but it's unclear to me whether these latter are driven by expectations, the way we raise our children into adulthood, or biology, or relative weighting among the three.

And it's these differing outlooks and problem-solving approaches that, to me, represent one of the strengths of bringing women into whatever the workplace might be so long as, to go back to the military example, for example, they--and men--can measure up to the physical standards that must be applied to what is necessarily a combat function. Or the physical standards that must be applied to a mining operation. Etc.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 24, 2010 05:54 PM

From the beginning of language in the infant, boys tend to "one up" everyone around, while girls tend to "raise" everyone. Combat and winning vs. negotiate and sharing. So it seems to me that part of it is biology, and there are advantages to both schemes (and the schemes match the power of males for combat and the endurance of females for patience.) Just different, and conflicting when you try to treat them as if they are not. You really need both skills, as an individual, and as a team, and as larger units.


(Part of the "disgust" with Obama may be his not playing the "male" role in public ... and Mrs. Clinton as well!)

Posted by: htom at August 24, 2010 06:27 PM

@Cassandra & @EHines -

I think perhaps that you guys are over-thinking the issue, by relying on the ABA article. Going to the source (The Mail), the firm's reasoning seems pretty clear, and sensible:

(e.g.) "Partner Geoff Fuller said the firm had no choice because it was fed up with losing high-flying women [who decided to leave the firm] as soon as they became mothers [because they believed the workload of a partner was 'incompatible' with having a family]."

[Well over half of the firm's "graduate intake" were female. While not *perfectly* clear, I take this to mean (roughly) its entry-level hires as lawyers, and further assume that such a percentage is roughly commensurate with the pool of such lawyers relevantly available to the firm for hire]

Posted by: pond at August 24, 2010 06:32 PM

Well over half of the firm's "graduate intake" were female. While not *perfectly* clear, I take this to mean (roughly) its entry-level hires as lawyers, and further assume that such a percentage is roughly commensurate with the pool of such lawyers relevantly available to the firm for hire

That's interesting given that the UK is similar to the US in the gender ratio of graduate degrees awarded (IOW, there are far more women than men at the lower tier schools but at the most competitive schools the gender ration is equal or even tilted to men). I would have expected a Biglaw firm to hire from top tier schools.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 24, 2010 06:51 PM

If we can take the Daily Mail's version as more accurate than ABAJournal's summary, the plan is equally available to men and to women (the summary implied that men could participate for only a max of eight years [my mother was a high school English teacher--I get hung up on grammar, sometimes--sue me]), and plan participants get 80% of normal pay if they take all of an extra 52 days beyond a normal 30 days off. Those 52 days work out to 20% of a work year, with weekends excluded. This works out to Cassandra's criterion of equal pay for equal work, with reduced pay for reduced work.

Whether not working 52 days when one's peers do leaves one equally qualified for promotion is open to question (but not too much, I think; I don't see taking more time off than one's peers in a given year materially injuring one's ability to perform. And it's certainly far less damaging than taking 8 years off and not returning to work until the little rug rat is off in school.)

The full article also said that the law firm hired far more female graduates than males, as they tried (I speculate) to stack the deck against an expected higher attrition rate. This would be consistent with Fuller actually meaning, despite his sloppy grammar, that absent women he was facing a smaller, rather than a shrinking, talent pool.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 24, 2010 07:43 PM

[pond:] ". . .[I] further assume that such a percentage is roughly commensurate with the pool of such lawyers relevantly available to the firm for hire."

[cassandra] " . . . at the most competitive schools the gender ration is equal or even tilted to men). I would have expected a Biglaw firm to hire from top tier schools."

My assumption may be wrong (assumptions often are). And perhaps the figures reflect additional female affirmative action type influences. Which would not be surprising, I suppose, since the firm is Allen and Ovary Overy. (props to a commenter to the ABA article)[& hopeful that the strikethrough appears, above, notwithstanding its non-appearance in preview mode]

Posted by: pond at August 24, 2010 07:50 PM

Hopes dashed. You get the point, anyway, I suspect.

Posted by: pond at August 24, 2010 07:51 PM

Men and women can choose a schedule with less time without it being a big deal-- I like it. Be nice if it was around for the divorced fathers I've seen who keep getting free time off when it's their week with the kids. (I don't begrudge the time with kids, I just don't like having to pick up the slack when we get paid the same!)

Posted by: Foxfier at August 24, 2010 08:54 PM

From a moral or legal standpoint, I don't have a problem with it. The company has made it clear that the policy is gender-neutral, and it's a fair tradeoff for people who do or don't choose it. I'm questioning how it's actually going to work out from the organizational standpoint, or from the standpoint of the people who choose the reduced-workdays option. I can see possible plusses and minuses, and I don't have a good feel for whether it will turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing. I guess they'll try it and the rest of us will see how it works out.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at August 24, 2010 09:03 PM

I did, pond :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 24, 2010 11:15 PM

Who needs promotion? I want the extra time for riding and breeding horses. I'll make up the missed salary in horse-trading, get benefits and intellectual stimulation by practicing part-time law.

This sounds like a hell of a deal. In fact, it sounds like the deal Marx was offering: "Do one thing to-day and another to-morrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner." The only downside to that was that it didn't work.

Posted by: Grim at August 24, 2010 11:21 PM

So...is this "sexist"?

"Men can also opt for a reduced schedule..."

Based upon that second statement, I'm voting "No".

Posted by: camojack at August 25, 2010 12:34 AM

First, no it's not sexist for the reason camo states. If it's equally available, it's not sexist. It's not one work standard for men and another for women (which I would argue it is for women in the military), it is one work standard with two option packages. And as for promotibility, so long as the positions they're being promoted to are also on the same option tiers (i.e. the full time folks are competing for a promotion to one of the full time slots, and the part time folks are competing for a promotion to part time slots) then again... I have no problem. It becomes a complete two tier system unrelated to each other. I'd have problems if one of the part timers was allowed to compete for a full time slot without demonstrating full time work (on a theoretical level... I neither work there nor own the business, and honestly... it's not my business how a privately owned company decides to promote internally).

As for the "talent pool" argument. It might just be a spurious, flowery argument, but I think there's at least a touch of truth to it. Let's imagine we have a very talented female lawyer fresh from law school. She wants to compete with the "boys" and goes for a full time slot. She's skilled, she's talented, but one fine day, that biological clock goes off. Whereas before she'd be forced to choose her career or family, potentially throwing her promising career under the bus, since she works for this firm, she now has a third option.

Sure our hypothetical phenom now puts out less hours practicing law than she was. But her talent is still being used, even if at a lesser rate. Isn't that better for the firm than losing her completely? Wouldn't that qualify as being able to draw from a larger talent pool than inflexible firms?

Posted by: MikeD at August 25, 2010 09:22 AM

My only question would be if the women could only opt for the reduced schedule for up to 8 years.

If so it sounds like a perfectly reasonable policy, to me.

I just don't want to hear N.O.W. bitching about how women at this firm are making up to 20% less than the men because more women are choosing to take the reduced workload.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 25, 2010 10:38 AM

So.... is this "sexist"?

No, but it *is* ageist.

You know perfectly well that if you gave me 82 days off, I wouldn't even remember that I had a job, let alone where I worked...

Posted by: BillT at August 25, 2010 12:17 PM

It sounds great...but, who picks up the slack when they are gone? The firm will now need a larger place to accommodate more people. It will also cost more to cover insurance and other expenses. The part timers will need to be very productive to cover the additional cost.

Posted by: Russ at August 25, 2010 12:31 PM

@ Russ --

"who picks up the slack when they are gone? The firm will now need a larger place to accommodate more people. It will also cost more to cover insurance and other expenses. The part timers will need to be very productive to cover the additional cost."

I think you can rest assured that the partners have thought this through carefully, and decided that such a program is in the firm's best interest.

Many lawyers are fairly smart. And this may be somewhat more reflected in the owners of larger firms than otherwise. (E.g., while it's been my experience that superior or excellent lawyers can be found in firms of all sizes, if you've engaged a larger firm you have (as a "general rule" and ceteris paribus) a greater chance of avoiding being represented by a mediocre or poor attorney.)

Posted by: pond at August 25, 2010 01:01 PM

The firm will now need a larger place...also cost more to cover insurance and other expenses. The part timers will need to be very productive to cover the additional cost. To a large extent, these costs already exist as the firm constantly has to replace a high employee loss rate with new hires. There may be some incremental costs, but those won't be purely additive.

There also are cost savings involved with the firm's plan: the 80% workers (I think it understates their contribution to call them part-timers; those, to me, are half-time, or are temps hired from a contracting agency) won't have a learning curve that has to be paid for every time they come back to work (which I speculate won't routinely be after a 52-day break, but simply after more frequently taken, and perhaps somewhat longer than "ordinary," breaks). And their steadiness of work compared to a constant, high turnover rate will have lower attendant costs.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 25, 2010 01:35 PM

Not to mention if the choice is between 32 hours/week or 0 hours/week. You have to add an employee for every single employee you lose as opposed to only having to add 1 employee for every 5 that drops down (and on-boarding costs can be quite significant).

There's a breakeven in there somewhere and the trick is to stay on the right side of it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 25, 2010 01:57 PM

"There's a breakeven in there somewhere and the trick is to stay on the right side of it."

Yeah, the question is where that is. Once you cut hours down below a certain point, stagnation of knowledge and loss of situational awareness kicks in, and at that point the employee is no longer productive. I don't know enough about the law profession to know where that point is. In engineering, it's around half-time.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at August 25, 2010 02:24 PM

This isn't that hard. Firms spend a lot of time and money training an attorney. After several years of working for the firm, having a productive attorney leave is very costly, especially if replaced with a younger, less experienced attorney. Not only is there the expense of teaching the ignorant yet overconfident recent graduate the job, there is also the opportunity cost of what the firm could have done with the senior level atty leaving to raise rug rats.

Thus, keeping a productive attorney for less money in exchange for less time is very possibly very profitable. Fact is, and some of you may know this, many women are competent at their jobs, even tough jobs where math might be involved. If you can keep them, that is good.

Should these part timers be on the same track as the full timers though? Of course not. Promotion and more pay is the spoils of ignoring your family, regardless of what type of genetils you claim.

Posted by: Hummer at August 25, 2010 03:33 PM

A couple of problems I see with the scheme. First, all hours in a law firm are not alike. Someone who is not viewed as being fully available (nights, weekends, 24 hours a day in necessary) will not be tapped for the grade-A cases. Second, even if a high-hour and a low-hour lawyer are both technically partners, the days are gone when all partners were alike. Increasingly, there are what you might call "full" partners and there are the others, sometimes called contract partners, or non-equity partners, but what it amounts to is that they're neither as powerful nor as secure as the full partners within the law firm.

I don't point this out as a gender issue, since the low-stress path is available to either gender at Allen & Overy. But it will gradually return to being a gender issue if lots of women "partners" choose the low-stress career path while men shun it. You can't get women to be simultaneously law partners and engaged mothers unless you change what "partner" means. The people who choose to have any kind of reasonable work/home balance will be somewhat sidelined and will be instantly at risk when the firm gets in a bit of trouble.

Traditionally, both men and women who find they can't stand this rat-race join lower-stress (and lower-paying) firms, or become in-house counsel, or leave to rear children, or retire early.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 25, 2010 03:37 PM

These points are certainly relevant. In a litigation firm, part-time almost always is difficult to manage b/c of the inability to "schedule" your practice. But other types of jobs may not be so difficult to manage. I won't disparage anyone's law practice, but I think this approach is most difficult in litigation.

Posted by: Hummer at August 25, 2010 03:44 PM

It's a problem in "deal" practices, too, and really in any firm that specializes in big honking emergencies. That includes most of the high-powered, high-paying firms like Allen & Overy. The clients are paying for the firm's ability to field a full-court press.

That's why lawyers who don't want to live this way drift out toward lower-stress firms or in-house counsel positions, where the work is a little more predictable and routine and you can give good value for regular pay without living in a screaming crisis all the time.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 25, 2010 04:45 PM

There are people who live for the (melo-)drama, and there are those who live for other things. Some people would rather have the adrenaline than a family, others would like a little of each, and some want their family. This sounds like a good trial approach to dealing with those issues. I know very good criminal defense lawyers who are actually working more than 120 hours a week (I don't know how many of those they're billing.) I think they're insane.

Now that I think about it, I know some professional politicians who do that, too, and this might explain their behaviors, too.

This isn't sexist, it's an attempt to be non-sexist. It will probably fail.

Posted by: htom at August 25, 2010 05:54 PM

Probably the most transparent, sexist, and assinine program of gender discrimination that I've come across yet in the legal profession. Way to build that teamwork, partners!

In a few years time the firm will be known as "Mummys & Slackers, LLP," as the real partnership material will have left in search of a saner partnership.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 25, 2010 06:42 PM

spd rdr

Probably the most transparent, sexist, and assinine program of gender discrimination that I've come across yet in the legal profession. Way to build that teamwork, partners!

In a few years time the firm will be known as "Mummys & Slackers, LLP," as the real partnership material will have left in search of a saner partnership.

Too, too, too funny! As I say, I imagine the partners thought this program through with somewhat more care than any at this blog are likely to have done, and came to their decision on the basis of rather more complete information than anyone here possesses.

Inter alia, whatever may be the precise details of the program whose broad strokes were reported in The Mail, I suspect that the firm is not so dunder-headed to be seriously at risk of falling into the calamitous circumstances which spd rdr so very authoritatively predicts. Somehow, I expect, father is likely to know best here - especially as compared to the greengrocer two streets down, and six blocks in . . .

Posted by: pond at August 25, 2010 08:31 PM

Sorry; this should have been italicized as well:

In a few years time the firm will be known as "Mummys & Slackers, LLP," as the real partnership material will have left in search of a saner partnership.

(I keep forgetting that the tags don't cross breaks here, dagnabit, and apparently don't proof-read the preview all that well either)

Posted by: pond at August 25, 2010 08:36 PM

Pond, I think you probably overestimate the careful thought that law firm partners put into window-dressing of this kind. You may also underestimate the tendency of the high-octane lawyers to split if they don't like the trends they see. They have lots of choices and are very mobile.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 25, 2010 11:10 PM

While I'm not a legal beagle here Tex, I've got to go with pond on this one. Sure, it's never a good idea to bet against human stupidity, but these folks seem to actually have a well thought out plan to me.

If I may, it seems that your argument is mostly a two parter. Part one is, these folks will never be as productive and won't be as sharp and on the ball as the full timers. Well, that's true. But it only seems so bad when you compare the part timer to a full timer who stays. Compare them to a full timer who leaves. At that point, it makes more sense. Sure, the part timer is not as up to date as a full timer. But there's a HELL of a lot more up to date than a replacement full timer would be. And depending on the turn over rate, that can be or can fail to be a winning ratio. And honestly, I don't think anyone can really say definitively if it was or wasn't. That's not really something you can empirically test.

Part two seems to be the argument that the part timers will never be as respected or "equal" as the full timers. Why should they be? Part of the equation of "equal pay for equal work" is the equal work part. If a part timer is not allowed to make partner (and such is communicated beforehand) I see no problem with that. You are NOT obligated to be a part timer, it seems voluntary from the article. If doing so lessens or removes your chances of making full partner, that's part of the decision.

But it will gradually return to being a gender issue if lots of women "partners" choose the low-stress career path while men shun it.

I believe you'll be right, but only because some "equality commission" or some other bureaucratic entity will deem it so. The firm seems to be practicing equality of opportunity, and those kinds of bureaucracies want to enforce equality of outcome. And that simply won't happen. Not at this firm, nor a traditional one.

Posted by: MikeD at August 26, 2010 09:08 AM

Been there. Saw that. Left.
Good luck, I say.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 26, 2010 09:57 AM

MikeD, I don't disagree with much of what you say. Also, I'd personally rather work in a firm full of people who like a more reasonable work/home balance than you'll find among the rainmaker go-getter young turks. And I'd be thrilled if as many men as woman opted for the reasonable-life lower-pay track, so that it stopped being considered a mommy-track and therefore a pink ghetto.

None of these things changes my view of what usually happens when law firms try this stuff. Yes, theoretically it's possible for lawyers to work reduced hours without sacrificing quality, and theoretically the benefits of avoiding disruption from changeover should outweigh any problems. Theoretically it's even possible for law firms to abandon the up-or-out policies that typically prevent less crazed workaholics from securing long-term positions as either non-partner-track lawyers or explicit or implicit second-tier partners. I've worked part-time myself. I know I can contribute good value that way.

It's still true, unfortunately, that if the young turks feel that part-timers are being given too much pay, prestige, or management influence, they'll start leaving. They're not always such great company, and they may not be regretted socially when they go, but they knock a big hole in a law firm's profitability. Start reducing the remaining partners' annual draws and you quickly see how loyal they are to their alternative lifestyle policies, which is why I call the policies window-dressing.

It's not that the slow-trackers won't be sharp or on the ball, it's that they'll be squeezed out of the good work and the secure relationships with the most influential clients, and therefore will be vulnerable to cuts in the first hard times. There really is no such thing as tenure in the hot law firms now, nor much collegiality -- just partners who either do or do not control enough essential client business to be immune to ousting for anything short of a prison sentence.

Having said all that, I'd love to conclude that it all hasn't been tried by enough firms yet, and that the firms that implement these alternative policies properly will eventually find a way to do it competitively, so that they don't get driven out of business. I dream of a day when the hot rainmakers will like the alternative lifestyle enough to stay put despite the tempting packages dangled in front of them by more cutthroat operations. I've just never seen it happen. It doesn't seem to be compatible with whatever it is that makes them successful rainmakers. As I say, I wish it weren't so, because I'm an awful rainmaker and would be thrilled to find a way to make rainmakers happy in the same environment that can make me happy.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 26, 2010 01:05 PM

I would think this program has become necessary given the discovery that harvard and other "top tier" graduates are narcissistic, overly arrogant, and pessimistically over confident upstarts. They would like to buy back their retired lawyers rather than deal with the new punks around.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 26, 2010 01:14 PM

Texan99-
I've seen the pattern of hot-newness-that-thinks-he's-going-places jumping ship when it's good for him, then getting pissed when he wants a place like the one he left when he finds out that the going-places place will dump on him to get places. Generally, the Santa Anna theory of personnel management folks will get ahead with the big one-shot places; the supportive-of-their-people places get ahead on the slow burn, and the people tend to be more willing to keep at a tough job.
(Real funny thing: I've seen this in normal life, yes, but online games are like fruit flies for this thing.)

Posted by: Foxfier at August 26, 2010 01:46 PM

They would like to buy back their retired lawyers rather than deal with the new punks around.

One of my outfit's biggest selling points to potential customers is that all of its OCONUS minions are Army and Marine Corps retirees -- no "personnel turbulence."

The Other Brand over here, which hires on the open market, just celebrated the fact that it finally had an instructor who "toughed it out" for a full year...

Posted by: BillT at August 26, 2010 02:46 PM

...these folks will never be as productive and won't be as sharp and on the ball as the full timers. I'm not convinced this is entirely true. If the reduced-timers were taking their 52 extra days all at once, losing two more months out of a year would tend to hurt currency and productivity. But if, as I speculate will be the more frequent case, they take the time simply as more frequent short breaks, then I don't see so much loss. It's a whole lot easier to keep up with currency training (formal or informal, imposed by the company or done on one's own because it's the smart thing to do), when you're coming off a 3-day break frequently than coming off a 3-month break.

...more reasonable work/home balance.... Whose definition of "reasonable?"

It looks like the plan is worth a shot. Problem is, it won't exist in a vacuum. The "liberals" (and I can see OSHA getting involved were this in the US) bellyaching: "Why are you punishing these people unfairly by docking their pay? S/he'd work a full year if s/he could, so it's only fair and proper that you pay him/her a full year's pay."

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 26, 2010 04:24 PM

OSHA would first need to get a ruling that child-rearing could be classed as a disability.

Which, given its track record, isn't that far-fetched...

Posted by: BillT at August 26, 2010 05:39 PM

OSHA would first need to get a ruling that child-rearing could be classed as a disability. And from there, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to argue that being a woman handicaps--umm, challenges--the gender. And we will have come full circle, courtesy of our protective liberal class.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 26, 2010 05:48 PM

What foxfier reports seeing and what some of you are suggesting should happen is what I always hoped would happen, but it's not what I observed. Nothing would have made me happier than to see some kinds of young turks get a comeuppance. Instead, they jumped ship and tended to be wildly successful in their new homes, the bums.

Also, the topline firms don't really have anything like "days off" or "vacation" any more than they have "office hours," at least not for partners for partner-track types (and they're always getting rid of everyone else after a few years). The only metrics worth noticing are monthly billable hours, first for oneself, and then later for one's team or department. If you can figure out a way to keep your hours up and still take off the occasional evening, weekend, or holiday, it's up to you, but you're sort of permanently on call. (My old firm theoretically gave four weeks of vacation, but it was rare for anyone to take more than one week, and even that wasn't universal. Planning a trip? Buy refundable tickets, and take your laptop.)

I hope alternative deals will work better in the future. Experimentation is good. But for now, the only people I see making a reduced-hours approach work are in-house or doing fairly routine contract work. It's not a bad gig at all; I like routine contract work. It's just that there's rarely any security in it, because you're never going to get into management to any significant degree. You trade off the inability to control your professional life for the ability to control your real life.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 26, 2010 08:08 PM

@ Texan99 -

I think that there may be more experimentation/innovation in this arena than your experience would predict. I don't speak from direct personal experience per se (not a "big firm" type), but the A & O account certainly suggests change is at play even in very large firms (A & O has nearly 500 partners, and god-knows-how-many associates). I thought it unlikely that such a decision was lightly entered into and so far as I can tell, there does seem to be a deliberate trend in such changes in policy.

For those interested (is anyone interested?) they might go a-googling with something like | "flexible hours" lawyers lifestyle partners |, or even simply go back to the original aba article and click on "Law Practice Management" link, under "Related Topics". A fair amount of relevant stuff comes up, including articles such as these (http://www.ajc.com/business/lawyers-seek-more-work-588127.html & http://www.manatt.com/newsevents.aspx?id=10180), as well as less "happy" stories.

Of course, it may all end in tears. But perhaps not. Even if it does, though, we're only talking about lawyers, after all, so how much sympathy should one expect?; how much foul will have been done? (Not to mention "assumption of the risk", anyway.)

Cheers.

Posted by: pond at August 27, 2010 01:09 AM

You trade off the inability to control your professional life for the ability to control your real life.

That, in a nutshell, pretty much encapsulates my experience of working.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 27, 2010 02:15 AM

Is that what they call themselves, Tex, the young turks? Cause there's an obnoxious youtube channel with the same name.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 27, 2010 12:16 PM

"Young turks" is a term I've heard used to describe the wildly ambitious up-and-comers in many fields over the years.

Pond, you're correct that lots of top-echelon firms are trying something like this; they have been, in one way or another, for at least 20-30 years. I'll bet there hasn't been a BigLaw annual partners meeting in that whole time without a segment devoted to the topic. It's up there with the eternal problem of better diversity statistics and figuring out a way to persuade recruits that the firm has made unprecedented progress in the age-old problem of partner-associate cruelty. I still maintain that, whatever they say they care about, what the ruling class in BigLaw firms really care about is rainmakers. If rainmakers prove unhappy with the policy, it is the rare law firm that will persist; they may tout their enlightened family-friendly policy on their websites and in their recruiting program, but the real money and power will go to the super-ambitious lawyers who are not "distracted" by their families.

I'm not completely hopeless about change. Things definitely have improved since I was in my early 20s and would hear things like, "Why should we hire you when you're only going to get married and leave?" These days, the hiring and promotions decisions often are made by women, or at least by men with mothers, wives, and daughters who work, which helps enormously with hiring decisions. It doesn't solve the rainmaker problem, however.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 27, 2010 03:41 PM

Well, if you make manipulating law less profitable and less beneficial to the power mad, they would be far less motivated to crush all in their way to get it.

It's like roaches. Get rid of the water and the food.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 27, 2010 03:55 PM

True, but who bells the cat? I mean, how do you accomplish that, do you think?

Posted by: Texan99 at August 27, 2010 08:59 PM

People go where the money is. They also go to where power is. This is a natural result of the instinctual desire for survival, luxury, and security. More power equals more security, usually. It also increases the chance of survival against enemies both natural and manmade.

So long as vast fortunes are decided by legal fiat, people will demand legal services of a high caliber. A basic supply and demand issue. If you remove the demand by giving people alternative ways of fixing problems, without putting everything on the line in courts, you decrease the demand for lawyers, law services, and so forth. Thus by doing so, you decrease the influence level of all law firms and all lawyers. Which tends to balance the scales between those who are ambitious and those who just work at law for no particularly ambitious reasons.

For example, the lawyer who represented Saddam, can be termed ambitious. Especially if you look at his former trial records. They go where the power is. And if power is invested in courts of law, to decide matters of nations and national leaders, then people will try to Grab that power.

The nature of government was such that it needed to be chained and made overly complex (super majority votes rather than plurality or majority votes) on certain issues, as a way of handicapping government efficiency so that it can't do things too fast, regardless of who is in control. There is a cheat, or hack in the system, though when there's a redistribution of power to an unbalanced network of institutions, whether it be lawyers or judges. Because they are not regulated by the Constitution, as much, and thus it is easier to burn through power mad schemes there, rather than under the restrictions of the Constitution or government.

Either regulate them, or remove the need to hamstring them. Regulation, as it uses government corrupted, is probably not a workable idea at present. Unless government is revitalized, trying to use it to fix the law, is like trying to use salmonella to fix a bacterial infection.

Ambitious people once flocked to businesses, in order to make monopolies or railroad empires. Now they flock to government or Harvard Law School. And it is due to a change in how power is distributed and wielded.

Normally, if power is distributed over a wide network, power mad people can't simply congregate all there and dominate the economic system. But if you isolate power and direct it towards one place, things will proceed according to human nature, meaning human vices.

The courts now decide divorces, marriage, elections, international law, local law, Arizona law enforcement and home security, and numerous other things I have yet to name. And their dictates are enforced by the black hand of government power. The courts give legitimacy and the government gives protection from honesty and honest faith.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 28, 2010 04:20 AM

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