Full Time Practice

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Balanced Hours Policy: A Solution to the Part-Time Dilemma

What is a Balanced Hour Policy ("BHP")? "Prominent, successful law firms have discovered that the new operating paradigm of balanced hours creates satisfied clients, attracts new business, and draws the best recruits like a magnet." (fn.1) A BHP allows law firm attorneys to choose a reduced work schedule without the traditional stigma of being a "part-time" lawyer. Law firms that adopt BHPs create an environment in which any attorney at the firm may elect to reduce his or her workload and receive proportionately reduced pay, benefits, and shareholder track tenure.

For example, an attorney who makes $100,000 per year at a firm with a six-year shareholder track may elect to work a 75% schedule from the outset, thus receiving $75,000, 3/4 of paid benefits, and a 3/4 shareholder status at six years or full shareholder status at eight years.

Law firms create BHPs using two fundamental principles: proportionality and flexibility. (fn.2) BHPs "differ from traditional part-time programs in a number of ways." (fn.3) First, a firm's business needs drive the BHP; an individual attorney's needs do not. (fn.4) Those business needs are: (1) increasing attorney retention, (2) reducing costs associated with attrition, and (3) improving client satisfaction and retention. (fn.5) Second, BHPs disavow the concept that an attorney's worth is based on the hours s/he spends at the office. (fn.6) Third, BHPs do not carry the stigma or schedule creep attached to traditional part-time policies. (fn.7) Lawyers receive proportionate pay, benefits, and shareholder track tenure. (fn.8) Law firms using BHPs support them for business reasons, making BHP schedules available to all attorneys so there is no stigmatizing or marginalizing of a few. (fn.9)

Law firms with BHPs also use a Balanced Hours Coordinator to ensure the balanced hours attorneys continue to receive their fair share of meaningful assignments, client interaction, and legal training without increasing their hours, except during a true emergency, after which the firm grants compensation time. (fn.10) Finally, BHP-using law firms create a firm-wide atmosphere of support for their balanced-hour attorneys and hold each section leader accountable for his or her BHP implementation results via section leader bonuses. (fn.11)

1. Joan C. Williams & Cynthia Thomas Calvert, Solving the Part-Time Puzzle: The Law Firm's Guide to Balanced Hours, 11 (NALP 2004); see also id. at 15 (listing prominent law firms as of 2004 who had implemented "non-stigmatized reduced-hours programs" - Alston Bird LLP, Arnold & Porter LLP, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Debevoise & Plimpton, Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP, Goodwin Procter LLP, Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe LLP, Morrison & Foerster LLP, Pillsbury Winthrop LLP, Piper Rudnick LLP, Shearman & Sterling, and Vinson & Elkins LLP).
2. Williams & Calvert, supra note 1, at 71-72.
3. Id. at 37.
4. Id.
5. Sheila Wellington, Women in Law: Making the Case, 88 Women Law. J. 2, 13 (2003).
6. William & Calvert, supra note 1, at 37.
7. Id. at 38.
8. Id.
9. Id.
10. Id.
11. Id. at 112-13.

--Tiffany Smith participates in the Balanced Hours Policy at Kirton & McConkie in Salt Lake City, UT. She balances work with her responsibilities as a wife, a mother of three, and a member of the international JRCLS WIL Committee.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! A blog with footnotes and references! Impressive Tiffany --- thanks for the very valuable information!