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Working Part-Time Isn’t Always Career Suicide for Attorneys and Professionals
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Recent trends show that women who choose to work part-time to be with their families do not always give up partner positions and other executive roles.

Summary: Recent trends show that women who choose to work part-time to be with their families do not always give up partner positions and other executive roles.

According to Chicago Business, several prominent female attorneys and business executives have discovered, much to their relief, that working part-time hours to spend more time with their families does not always mean that top positions will be unattainable.

  
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Attorney Rebecca Eisner worked for Mayer Brown.  When she decided to cut back on her hours to have more time with her family, she felt sure that she had just thrown away an equity partnership at the firm. However, for close to a decade, from 1996 to 2004, Eisner billed between 60 percent and 80 percent of the hours required for a full-time schedule.

Eisner

Eisner

However, former Illinois Attorney Genera Ty Fahner, Eisner’s colleague, asked her why she was not a partner—and Eisner asked herself the same question.

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Fahner

Fahner

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Last month, Mayer Brown, which enjoyed a cool $1.22 billion in revenue in 2014, selected Eisner to serve as the head of its Chicago office, which is the largest out of the firm’s 22 locations. Eisner now joins the ranks of other women who have rejected the idea that part-time work means that they will not advance in their careers. Although these business executives and equity partners who at one time worked part-time schedules may be the minority, they are employed with some of Chicago’s top professional services firms—such as Ernst & Young, Navigant, and McGladrey—and a minimum of six law firms. According to Eisner, there is no reason why both women and men should not be able to work part-time for a while “and then dial it back up when they’re ready.”

These trends hint that, when firms do support those women who cut back to part-time work for a while, they remain on a management track instead of leaving the workforce altogether while their children are still young. Although women enter consulting, accounting, and law careers at about the same rates as men, far fewer women become equity partners, which is usually required for management. In 2013, women comprised roughly 17 percent of equity partners at law firms, the National Association of Women Lawyers reported. Additionally, just a quarter of the nation’s largest law firms had even a single woman on their highest governing committee.

In accounting, the numbers are not much better. A 2012 survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs demonstrated that just 19 percent of partners were women.

Cheryl Rich Heisler owns Lawternatives, a Chicago-based career counseling practice. According to Heisler, many female attorneys seek her services after they experience a “worst of all words” part-time plan where they work more hours than they previously agreed while earning less money, “and realistically, they’re no longer on that partnership/management track.”

What law firms are the most family friendly?

Professionals who work part-time are usually called “reduced target,” and most bill fewer hours per day instead of working a set schedule at home. According to the National Association for Law Placement, just 6 percent of attorneys in 2013 worked part-time, and 70 percent of those part-timers were women. Although there are not comparable statistics for accountants, a 2010 survey by an AICPA committee revealed that over 79 percent of part-time professional accountants were women.

As for Chicago professionals who have worked part-time for a certain period, there are a few common trends. Usually, a mentor who approves of the arrangement was part of the equation. Without such a mentor, going part-time usually meant not being able to work on large cases or being quietly removed from the partner track.

Additionally, flexibility on work assignments was usually partnered with a strong commitment to client service. In some instances, clients were not told that the individual had gone part-time.

Finally, going part-time may mean that it will take longer to achieve equity partnership status.

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Kim Simios was named a managing partner at Ernst & Young’s Chicago office last July. However, to get there, she had to give notice that she was quitting. After her second child was born in 1998, Simios “hit a brick wall” as she tried to balance both her work load and her family responsibilities. Her mentor suggested she take a leave of absence, which she did. Afer a couple of years, she returned to Ernst & Young, working a schedule that varied from 65 percent to 80 percent of the full-time, 2,000 hour-per-year requirement. She was named an equity partner in 2005.

Simios said, “It did slow me down a little on the promotion path…and that was fine by me. It’s just what I needed to keep my sanity at that point in life.”

A judge forced a female attorney to bring her newborn baby to court, after which he taunted her.

The managing partner of McGuireWoods’ Chicago office, Amy Manning, said that her hands were trembling as she asked her boss over sushi if she could reduce her billable hour requirements and work from home at times so that she could have more time with her three children. Her boss agreed because he did not want Manning to leave the firm. While working from home, Manning called the office several times a day “because if the great case came in, I didn’t want to miss out on it. I wanted him to know I was still fully engaged.”

Manning

Manning

Of course, the risks involved with going part-time depend on the individual organization, Manning remarked. “Some people look at (reduced hours) and say, ‘Less committed.,” she explained.

However, Julie Howard, who began as a consultant for Navigant, said that part-time and flexible schedules are necessary to keep the top talent at a firm. Howard herself took a two-year hiatus from Navigant when her kids were born in the early 1990s, after which she returned on a part-time basis. In 2012, Howard was named the CEO of Navigant, and chairman in 2014. Last year, Navigant reported close to $860 million in revenue.

Howard commented, “Women feel like they have on option but to stay home, when we should be working harder to make sure they stay tethered intellectually to their company.” In fact, one Washington firm has made sure that women are able to fill their roles as both parents and attorneys, according to the New York Times.

Howard said that if Navigant had not given her options, she likely would have left for a company that did.

Source: Chicago Business

Photo credit: Daily Mail, Chicago Tribune (Manning), Mayer Brown (Eisner, Fahner)



 

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