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Can In-House Attorneys Get a Life?

The Legal Intelligencer
August 11, 2006
By Ursula Furi-Perry

More corporate law departments are embracing initiatives to help in-house counsel attain a work-life balance.

General counsel are increasingly paying attention to work-life balance and implementing flexible work arrangements and other programs for their in-house counsel. Long work-weeks may still be the norm, but many legal departments are now offering flexible work arrangements. Other work-life initiatives such as in-house amenities, stress-management programs and help with child and elder care are also taking root.

"Creating flexibility is an imperative," said Ellen Ostrow, psychologist and principal of Lawyers Life Coach, a personal and career coaching service for women lawyers in Silver Spring, MD. Ostrow said the reasons behind the change are two-fold: Attorneys increasingly strive to achieve better balance between work and family life, while legal employers generally face lower rates of retention among their attorneys. In an effort to keep their best employees and attract new talent, many corporate legal departments hope promises of flextime and other work-life balance tools will lead to more loyalty and better retention rates.

HOW CAN FLEXIBILITY WORK?

First, "be receptive to alternative work schedules," said PAR's Calvert. Job sharing, where two employees split a full work-week, is new to the legal field. But Calvert said it can work particularly well at legal departments. "When the attorney is not in the office, there is someone covering her job," Calvert explained. "The clients are happy and the attorney is happy, so it's a win-win for everyone." Telecommuting at least part-time is another good option," said Ostrow of Lawyer's Life Coach, "since most internal clients can be perfectly well served by someone who's working at another location."

"Even if job sharing or part-time arrangements mean increased costs in employee benefits," Calvert said, keeping a loyal workforce quickly offsets those costs. "It takes six to 18 months to get a new attorney up to speed," Calvert said. "A huge drain on the department, and the department will not function as efficiently." "Cutting down on attrition costs will greatly benefit the department in the long run," Ostrow said.

Of course, not every position or employee is well suited for an alternative arrangement. "You have to think, for any given position, what are the requirements that have to be fulfilled?" Ostrow advised. "With job sharing, the department will need two people who work well together and have seamless communication and coordination," said Ostrow. With telecommuting, the department will have to evaluate the extent and amount of face time that's still necessary to do the job right.

"Attorneys' quest for more balance and happiness isn't likely to go away," predicted Ostrow. The pool of employees will only have increasing external demands to meet. Ostrow advised: "Rather than resisting that, a department will be much better able to respond if it has diversity that reflects the business's clients."

 

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