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The Feasibility of Flex-Time Lawyering

What’s a lawyer to do when reduced hours become the norm?  It doesn’t mean less of a juggling act between a busy personal and professional life, but it does pose a challenge. “Part-time” lawyers are typically marginalized, says Deborah Epstein Henry, in her piece on Diversity & The Bar. They’re viewed as less committed and, as such, may not typically receive the sort of assignments that their “full-time” colleagues receive. 

Additionally, some of these lawyers are not paid commensurate with their hours, and are not eligible for bonuses.  Another area of concern that Ms. Henry raises is that sometimes their schedules are not honored.  For these and other reasons, there may be a reluctance to opt-in to flex hours.  

Fortunately, these and similar issues surrounding diversity can be confronted and resolved in a number of ways:   First, flexibility must be implemented, both on the part of the employer and of the employee.  What is at stake is a project’s completion and the flex-time lawyer is, in essence, responsible for 100% of its deadlines and crises, even ‘though the lawyer is not scheduled to working at that time. 

Management should ensure that, unless absolutely necessary, the lawyer’s schedule is not compromised. On the other hand, In cases where a change in the lawyer’s schedule is requested—in pressing personal matters—every consideration should be made to allow for the alteration.   Also, leadership must support the policy of reduced hours, and it must do this both externally and internally. 

This sets a positive, open tone about the policy and encourages its use.  “Leadership support needs to trickle down to the supervising partners who work with reduced hour lawyers on a daily basis,” says Ms. Henry. In a sense, they should become, to use Ms. Henry’s phrase, “ambassadors for the cause”.  The supervising partners must “understand the financial incentives” for supporting such polices.  

Support is critically important. A community of support would include a group of other lawyers who are working flex-time, with perhaps a supervisor appointed as a go-to or point person. These lawyers need “the support of a community that nurtures them and encourages them to survive”.    

Historically, explains Ms. Henry, such arrangements were kept secret, as nothing was written in stone, as it were.  A written policy will prove invaluable.  The issue of reduced hours may prove divisive, especially when hours are, as a whole, at a premium. Putting the terms in writing will force all parties to “create consensus” and “keep extremists in check”.  

In times of flux, this provides a sense of continuity and the ability—so important to part-timers and full-timers alike–to plan ahead.  It also “minimizes favoritism and ad hoc treatment”, says Ms. Henry. 

Another helpful hint is to not assume a one-size-fits-all policy.  The individual must be kept in mind at all times, for there is no across-the-board reason that lawyers choose to work flex-time hours.     

For more, go here: http://www.flextimelawyers.com/pdf/art9.pdf

-EM

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