Law Firms Promote Flexible Work Arrangements Lawyers Don’t Use

Even though many Big Law firms tout progressive flex-time, reduced hours and telecommuting policies, most of their attorneys aren’t taking advantage of them, according to the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance, a think tank focused on diversity and inclusion in the legal industry.

In a survey of 28 Big Law firms published Wednesday, the alliance found that nearly all (26) have formal flexibility policies with least one type of reduced hours or full-time flexible work arrangement. Seventeen offer flexible start and end times, and fifteen offer telecommuting and annualized hours.

But only 8.8 percent of lawyers at firms with reduced hours policies actually have reduced schedules.

Among those with reduced hours, women are over-represented (at 66.3 percent) while lawyers of color and LGBT lawyers remain underrepresented, according to the alliance.

In addition, the majority of attorneys who take reduced hours are not on the partnership track, the alliance found.

The people who are working a flexible schedule are primarily low-ranking staff and lawyers. Over 30 percent of lawyers working as “Of Counsel” and nearly 20 percent of staff attorneys are working a flexible schedule, whereas only one percent of equity partners and five percent of associates at participating firms are doing the same.

“The mark of a true culture of flexibility is alignment between the unspoken rules of the organization and its policies,” said Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, in the report. “With lawyers and staff working on formal flexible schedule making up only a fraction of the law firm workforce, we continue to see a need for firms to bridge the gap between policy and practice.”

There is some promising news, however. Fourteen of the participating firms promoted at least one lawyer working a reduced schedule to partner in 2015, which is double than the previous year. Reduced hours lawyers are also represented among firm leadership in 12 of the 28 firms, including three chairs or managing partners, 11 department chairs or practice group leaders, and four office heads, the alliance found.

A note on methodology: Of the 28 respondent firms, 18 are in the AmLaw 100. The survey was distributed to all alliance member firms as well as non-member firms in the AmLaw 200, according to an executive summary. The alliance declined to release the full report, which is only available to member and participant firms. This is the third year the alliance has published the survey.  

Approximately 30 percent of 2016 AmLaw 100 firms are members of the alliance, including Hogan Lovells, Winston & Strawn, Ogletree Deakins, and Loeb & Loeb, according to its website.

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