Women in the Law

What Women Lawyers Want: Flex-Time and Part-Time Options

Flexible work arrangements are key to retaining women lawyers, but the culture of the legal profession doesn’t appear to value part-time work, according to a new study of Georgia law firms.

The study by the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers found that only 30 percent of the surveyed law firms had formal policies for part-time or flexible work. Yet 86 percent of women lawyers surveyed are interested in part-time or flexible work arrangements in the near future, a report on the study (PDF) said. The study was released on Tuesday, the National Law Journal reports in a story reprinted in New York Lawyer.

“Interest in flexible and part-time arrangements is particularly strong among women attorneys,” the report said. “Reduced-time work options are so highly valued that women are willing to exit employment to find more flexible work arrangements. Indeed, firms that provide formal, written policies governing part-time work arrangements enjoy higher retention rates of women lawyers, and firms that maintain a successful part-time program reap the rewards of retaining highly satisfied, highly motivated, and highly committed attorneys.”

The study was based on survey responses from 84 law firms, 386 women attorneys, and 29 male attorneys in Georgia.

Women made up about 28 percent of lawyers at the law firms surveyed, but comprised about 38 percent of the group leaving firms. When asked why they left, almost 44 percent of the lawyers surveyed said the reason was professional dissatisfaction, 25 percent said they wanted more money, and 24 percent said they wanted to work fewer hours. Nearly 40 percent also checked an “other” category and listed more specific reasons, including better career opportunities, the need for part-time or flexible work options, or the difficulties of raising a family while working as a lawyer.

Some examples: “I knew I could not make partner with two young children,” and, “I was viewed differently because I was a working mother. All partners were men with wives that did not work and [there were] no other female attorneys with kids.” Some said they decided to start their own practice because of the flexibility it offered.

The study concluded that informal part-time or flex-time arrangements often don’t work very well. A formal policy is more likely to be applied fairly and is more likely to scale back hours sufficiently. Illustrating the problems, the study found that 30 percent of part-time lawyers worked more than 40 hours a week and 90 percent of firms had never elevated a lawyer to partner who was working part-time hours.

Meanwhile, a Canadian working group seeking to stem the exodus of women lawyers from the profession also mentioned the need for flexible work arrangements. It focused on a different solution, as well: the need for paid maternity leave for women lawyers, Lawyers Weekly reports.

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