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US law firms are developing innovative family-friendly policies

But partnership prospects are better for fee earners not utilising those policies

30 April 2012

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

An increasing number of fee earners are utilising part-time/flex-time working and family leave options in the United States. However, promotion to partnership remains heavily skewed toward male fee earners and those who do not utilise their firms’ family-friendly working options, a recent survey has found.

Vault 100 firms were surveyed on the gender-equal utilisation of part-time/flex-time working and family leave options, as well as the level of gender diversity in promotions and firm leadership.

The survey found that, while all of the responding firms offer part-time working options and the majority provide flex-time options, only 20 per cent of the lawyers who utilise these are men. Squire Sanders and Vinson & Elkins are among the few firms to have reached gender equality in part-time/flex-time usage.

Fee earners who opt for part-time schedules are required on average to put in 60 per cent of the hours worked by full-time lawyers; some firms even require part-timers to bill at least 75 per cent of the full-time hours.

However, 82 per cent of firms provide additional compensation to part-time lawyers who work more than their planned number of hours.

Skadden Arps and Squire Sanders were noted for having more meaningful part-time requirements of less than 50 per cent of full-time billable hours.

An increasing number of firms have developed creative compensation structures. Part-time and flex-time fee earners are paid based on their number of assignments, rather than the total number of hours billed. This approach is expected to help move fee earners’ focus from high face-time and billables to more efficient working.

Nearly half of all responding firms are also offering formal off-ramp/on-ramp programmes and several have established innovative practices to reintegrate lawyers who have left the workplace. Notable offerings include the payment of bar fees, mentorship, career coaching and progressive return schedules.

Despite these efforts, the survey found that promotion to partnership remains heavily skewed toward male fee earners and those who do not utilise the firm’s family-friendly options.

While women currently make up 43 per cent of the associate pool, only 30 per cent of newly-promoted partners last year were women. Of those promoted, only five per cent were currently working part time and seven per cent had previously worked part time.

Eight participating firms achieved gender parity in partner promotions last year: Arnold & Porter, Fried Frank, Jenner & Block, Littler Mendelson, Paul Weiss, Perkins Coie, Wachtell Lipton and WilmerHale.

Women also remain underrepresented in decision-making levels in law firms. The survey found that only 17 per cent of equity partners are female, while only 12 per cent of executive management committee members are women.

The Yale Law Women survey covered members of the 2012 Vault Law 100 and responses were weighted based on a concurrent survey of Yale Law School alumni currently working at those firms.

Ten law firms have been named by Yale Law Women as having the best family-friendly practices and policies in the US: Arnold & Porter; Crowell & Moring; Hunton & Williams; Latham & Watkins; Littler Mendelson; Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Perkins Coie; Reed Smith; and WilmerHale.

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