ABA Journal


Work-Life Balance

Want associate work with fewer hours? Hundreds seek ‘department attorney’ jobs at Kilpatrick

Aug 13, 2013, 10:45 am CDT


Hundreds seek every open job. Even the ones that pay $25,000.

By B. McLeod on 2013 08 13, 12:20 pm CDT

Agree with #1. Bothered by the firm chairman's thought that it's mothers only that seek a work-life balance. Guessing none of the men who applied will get considered, even if they're fathers. Time for these assumptions to be a thing of the past.

By mmm on 2013 08 13, 5:13 pm CDT

@2- pure sex discrimination. People are applying for the job because people will take any kind of job.

These positions are incredibly stupid- a major firm does it (out of Wheeling, WV, no less) and refuses to consider those people for advancement, regardless of achievement. It's better than no job at all, but the refusal to place on partner-track is humiliating and creates a class system between the privileged lawyers and the basement lawyers (and the only difference in many cases is 0.2 in the GPA).

By DCW on 2013 08 13, 5:28 pm CDT

"That's why I wasn't interested in a staff or contract attorney position—because it could be more difficult to get back on the partnership track down the road."

Staff and contract attorneys, often just as bright and hard-working as associates, are often stuck in these positions because of the atrocious job market and the scarlet letter that follows them after they are branded "staff" or "contract." Not to mention the financial incentives for law firms to keep them in these dead-end positions while billing for their work at associate rates.

Staff and contract attorneys are often hungry for meaningful experience essential to building their professional competence. Any plan to further isolate them from substantive legal work by giving it to "departmental attorneys" while the contract and staff attorneys do the heavy lifting of document review for years on end, is evidence of just how absolutely clueless law firms are about their roles in stunting the careers and lives of thousands of young attorneys.

By Liberty Rules on 2013 08 13, 8:40 pm CDT

The next step will be to hire multiple "part-time" lawyers to do the same work of one associate. Desperate job seekers will line up to get any kind of job experience despite the lower pay rates and lack of benefits.

By W.R.T. on 2013 08 13, 10:10 pm CDT

I think this is a good initiative. Not all lawyers want to be partners, or be in any track - they just want to have a professional career and a life outside office hours. I am completely for it.

By OpenLawyer on 2013 08 16, 11:56 am CDT

I agree with #6. Some people do not want to become partners but really enjoy the work they do. This is a good option for those folks. Firms need to be cautious about hiring too many non partner-track lawyers as doing so can jeopardize the firm's long-term success. At the end of the day you need people bringing in business, otherwise there's no work for anyone.

As far as the comment about women, while it is true these positions give women the opportunity to balance career and life, it works the same for men and we need to start embracing that as a society. Men are becoming more engaged in their family and household activities and we need to be encouraging this without labeling these jobs essentially as "mommy track" positions.

By FirstTimeCommenter on 2013 08 16, 1:08 pm CDT

It is incredible and amazing that the firm's chair described the program openly in terms of gender, which would be direct evidence of gender discrimination if a not-hired male applicant chose to sue over not getting hired. The firm's L & E partners would advise their clients to forego such statements. AS for my firm, we want only attorneys ready, willing and able to go full bore.

By Realist on 2013 08 16, 2:34 pm CDT

I am all for law firms finding ways to retain talented attorneys who may require more balance in their daily lives. However, it is naive for young attorneys to believe that a non-partnership track "departmental" attorney will be viewed more favorably than a staff or contract attorney when that attorney decides it is time to opt back onto partnership track. In our profession, there is no substitute for experience (we "practice" law) and reduced hours lawyers miss out on hours of experience, and often the most difficult and interesting assignments. Law firms are wise to provide young attorneys who have potential with alternative carreer paths, otherwise they may lose them altogether, but firms should be completely open about what effect the alternative paths likely will have on those lawyers' carreers.

By JKL on 2013 08 16, 3:34 pm CDT

I am a partner with a very large firm. We have hired dozens or non-track lawyers to handle specific types of work. We pay these lawyers a lot less than they would get as associates but we have "promoted" a few to associate or counsel. We try to hire people with some experience. If you are stuck in Wheeling, you may not get the visibility you need to make the transition. Lawyers are more likely to work on harder tasks with people downstairs or down the hall so that they can get visual signals on whether a person is understanding the task and doing the job well. It also helps ther assigning lawyer to be close enough to let them feel (actually hear and see) your wrath if they aren't completely on the job. If you want one of these jobs to be a transition position, don't be too far away from the action.

By Geezer on 2013 08 16, 5:29 pm CDT

I am baffled as to why anyone would criticize this firm for creating this type of position, or any attorney (of either gender) for wanting this type of position. Seems long, long overdue to me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a different work-life balance than what is offered by most large firms (all work, no life), as long as one realizes that the pay will be lower. You all DO realize that (honestly) billing 1600 hrs per year essentially IS full-time work in most other jobs, right? This macho culture has got to go.

By Just Some Bloke on 2013 08 16, 8:35 pm CDT

Yeah, I'm sure his remarks will be "Exhibit A" should a gender discrimination lawsuit effloresce.

By Equine on 2013 08 16, 8:57 pm CDT

Do the math.. If you count lunch, bathroom and other breaks, you might be free 30to31hors, if you believe you can bill for every minute without fraud then you also believe that the wage slaves in the large firms also bill without connivance. Billing by large firms in my view have the same authenticity as Santa Clauss.

By Fred Ehrlich on 2013 08 18, 4:11 am CDT

With the addition of additional specialized education, professional ethics and malpractice liability, law is a business like many others. Every law firm faces the same challenges as other businesses--HR concerns, attracting and retaining talent, salary competitiveness, balancing fixed versus overhead costs. It's nice to see law firms taking creative approaches to these business challenges.

No one is ever guaranteed success or a partnership position, ever, in any firm (as far as I know). Do some have better chances than others? No doubt about it, that's just the way of the world. If you're smart and a fighter, you'll be successful and make a niche for yourself somewhere. Therefore, I doubt that a "department attorney" position is an absolute dead end. Let those who want these positions take the jobs, and if they want to work up the ladder, they'll be armed for the fight ahead. If you don't want the "department attorney" label, keep searching for other jobs or hang out your own shingle.

By Andy on 2013 08 19, 12:59 am CDT

Two problems with this analysis. First, while she seems to imply that she thinks she has a shot at a partnership track one day, I didn't see where anybody from the firm actually confirmed that's a possibility. Second, how much do these 'department attorneys' make?

By Interesting Idea, but... on 2013 08 19, 9:45 pm CDT

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