Biglaw, Gender, Women's Issues

Can Remote Access Help Firms Make Female Partners?

Female partner bending over backwards.JPGThere are firms that want to make more female partners (and minority partners for that matter), but honestly do not know how to make that happen. Retaining top female associates through a couple of years of around 3,000 billable hours is just difficult, especially if those women want to have a family.
Over on the WSJ Law Blog, Ashby Jones explores the female partner problem facing Clifford Chance:

The issue was the topic of an interesting article this week in the UK’s The Lawyer. The focus of the article was Clifford Chance, which has pledged to increase its percentage of female partners to 30 percent.
As the Lawyer reports, however, “the firm has a long way to go.” Currently, only 15 percent of its partnership is female.

The Lawyer article explains that there is no quick fix to the problem:

“There’s no one thing that will solve the problem,” says Childs. “There’s no quick fix. It’s a long-term goal that we’re very focused on. It’s something that all firms face and there are many ways you can approach it.”
Aggressively pursuing a dramatic increase in female partners is problematic, Childs argues. Firms need to find creative ways to change their cultures and encourage females to strive for partnership.

Give Clifford Chance some credit here. You aren’t going to fix this issue without confronting it head on.
While firms contemplate their cultural impediments to dramatic growth in female partnership , Patricia Gillette — who is a partner at Orrick — sees one simple change that could make eating the hours a little easier for all attorneys.

Writing for Am Law Daily, Gillette wants to see firms embrace remote access as a way to help attorneys balance their work with their personal lives:

[T]he President quite often takes time out of his work day for “family time.” Then he returns to work later in evening.
Women lawyers–albeit without the support on the homefront the President has–have been doing this for years: Interrupting their work day to insert “family time” and then finishing work later. But this down time in the traditional work day often puts these lawyers in the category of part-time attorneys or requires an agreed upon “alternative work schedule,” both of which carry the stigma of not being committed.

Having the ability to work from home can allow a person to efficiently switch between professional responsibilities and domestic chores. As Gillette explains, this is something women and men should be clamoring for:

However, in our new world where technology enables nearly everything, it is time for law firm leaders to acknowledge and embrace the fact that employees can access information and provide good counsel from almost anywhere. And that makes working remotely viable for anyone, regardless of gender. Gen Yers grew up with this virtual reality and as they become a larger proportion of our workforce, they will expect different work structures and work spaces.

When you think of law firm traditions that are outmoded (like perhaps, lavish summer programs) is there really a more dated concept than “face time”?
Not everybody will chose to work remotely (personally, I don’t like writing while my dog is flinging tennis balls in my direction). But there are very few business reasons for law firms to keep people tied to a desk downtown.
Remote Control [Am Law Daily]
Childs: percentage of female partners at CC is ‘not good enough’ [The Lawyer]
More Female Partners: A Noble Goal, but How to Get There? [WSJ Law Blog]

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