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Flex It

Vivia Chen

April 26, 2011

Contortionist It's no secret that I'm all for job flexibility. For years, I've fought for flextime in my job. If you can get the work done--be it a brief, contract, or blog--does it matter whether you are doing it at your desk, Starbucks, or Gymboree?

Though most firms boast flextime, it means different things to different people. It can mean almost never having to show up at the office, or it can be a very prescribed schedule.

Recently, a reader asked The Wall Street Journal's Juggle how to negotiate a flextime arrangement with a new employer. The Juggle answered, "Few companies will allow her, as a new hire, to work from home"--unless the employee has unique skills.

Getting flexibility without a track record is tough--certainly in the law firm context, unless you're doing scut work. But what about the seasoned associate? Is it still tough to get a firm to buy into a flextime arrangement, or are those horse and buggy days long gone?

Flextime is generally not a big deal at medium-size and big firms, says Cynthia Calvert, a founder of  Project for Attorney Retention (PAR) at UC-Hastings College of Law. The reason flexibility has caught on is that it "costs firms little, if anything," says Calvert. Plus, male lawyers are using it too, though male lawyers "often do so in an ad hoc way, or more regularly, but without seeking formal approval," adds Calvert.
 
Still, there are old-school partners in every firm who want to see their associates at the office--first thing in the morning and last thing at night. For some, it's just what they're used to.

It's also a matter of trust, suggests Calvert. She adds that some firms fear that off-site lawyers will be unproductive, or will goof off. But "given that the combination of billable hours and completed work product is evidence of a person’s productivity," Calvert finds those arguments pretty lame. She also says that some firms insist that flextime lawyers will "become alienated from the firm’s culture, be forgotten when opportunities arise, and won’t get the mentoring and professional development they need."

Personally, I'm not convinced of those "it's good for you to be here" arguments. Let's be real: Most lawyers do their work in isolation, and few firms really care about mentoring and development anyway.

So the big question is this: How can you convince those old-timers or tradition-bound firms to accept flextime? Calvert suggests the following:

1. Start slow. "Work from home occasionally, a half-day here and a full day there, before making any formal proposal."

2. Make note of who's working from home. "See if it works well for them and their colleagues, and see if they are doing it formally or informally. If others are doing it without formal approval, you may be able to do so as well."

3. If you make a formal proposal, "focus on the firm’s business needs. No one needs to know, or probably even cares, what your reasons are for wanting to work in a different location."

4. Be specific about your work arrangement with your supervisor, such as how clients and other lawyers will be able to reach you, your proposed schedule away from the office, your availability to come into the office if necessary, and the technology you need. "Make sure people feel comfortable calling you at home; work extra hard to maintain social connections at the firm."

5. Emphasize that you will be billing full-time, and offer to share an office so the firm can save on rent.  

Calvert also advises to keep in mind that it's a negotiation, where you should "anticipate the other side’s objection . . . and plan counterproposals, such as 'if not full-time teleworking, how about just on Mondays?'" Moreover, she says, "know your bottom line; if your proposal is rejected, would you leave the firm?"

Readers, how prevalent is flextime at your office? Do women and men use it?

Related article: Flextime--Perk of the Moment.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

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Comments

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Actually, I think I prefer working in the office; fewer distractions to keep me from my work.


Flextime was most used in my office by a political appointee,my supervisor, and her friend/assistant.

Now its most used by my supervisor. I have to work a strict 8-5 schedule, and am not entitled to credit for any work I do outside of those strictures without pre-approval. I cannot even get 15 minutes leave time in a given week unless I ask for it by 9 AM, absent exigent circumstances.

This policy was implemented a few times after my miserable female boss grew resentful that I had asked off early and to come in late a few times due to evening plans.

Excellent post! Question: What does Calvert say about business development in this context? That's where the rubber hits the road in my view. If your visibility within your network drops off as a function of your flextime schedule then you'll have much more to worry about as a lawyer than the old codgers who want to see your light on late at night.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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