Work-Life Balance

Can Law Firms Offer Same Flexibility as Accounting Firms? Probably Not, Law Prof Says


Summers off and sabbaticals at 40 percent pay are among the perks granted at several large accounting firms, which have increased their focus on flexible working conditions.

At Ernst & Young, for example, accountants arrange to cover for others’ personal commitments, even during crunch time, the New York Times reports. “When it comes to respecting the work-life balance of employees, the accounting industry far outshines the rest of corporate America,” the story reports.

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, flexibility policies have helped cut turnover from 24 percent a year to 15 percent a year. Deloitte estimates its flexibility policies have saved more than $45 million a year in hiring and training costs.

The Careerist blog noted the story and wondered whether law firms could emulate the bean counters. The experts weren’t optimistic.

University of Indiana law professor William Henderson told the blog about one problem: Law firms depend on rainmakers while accounting firms have “relatively large and stable client bases loyal to the institution,” he said. The star structure allows lawyers to make more money than accountants, he added.

Some law firms may be able to offer more flexibility, Henderson said, but they would have to offer more training and emphasize teamwork. “It won’t be M&A or high-stakes litigation” firms able to adopt such an approach, he said. “It would be labor and employment or regulatory compliance—what some lawyers call operational legal work. For accounting firms, everything is operational.”

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