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Monday, September 18, 2006

Are lawyers flexible?

Is change in the air, or is it just lip service? The large national law firm White & Case annouced today it will start a Flexible Work Arrangement Program. In a press release, the firm says any employee can ask for flexibility in their schedule, WITHOUT giving a reason. Here's what they consider flexible arrangements: part-time, take timing off between assignments or telecommuting on a regular basis.
"This is important,'' the release says, "because a stigma is often attached to associates who request part-time work, such as sometimes occurs when women lawyers request reduced schedules so they have more time for child-rearing."
The firm says its new program allows lawyers to remain on the partner track, because participants will continue to meet the same performance standards as their colleagues who work more traditional hours. If a male or female wants this arrangement, they must get an executive partner's approval.
While I applaud the law firm's efforts, I'm skeptical about how it will play out. Is it possible to ask for and get flexibility without giving a reason, especially to a law partner? By their nature, lawyers demand more information. Is it realistic to think that someone with a flexibile schedule will advance at the same pace as someone who puts in lots of face time? I hope the answer is yes on both counts. This is a bold first step for a law firm. The next step, implementation, will be even more important. Perhaps our workplaces will advance enough that one day soon, White & Case's bold step becomes the standard for all firms.

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