I know you've got list-fatigue. So let's just cut to the chase about Working Mother and Flex-Time's 2011 top 50 law firms for lawyer-moms.
Here's the news flash: All 50 winning firms now offer lawyers reduced hours. Even more remarkable, 47 of them say that reduced-hour lawyers are eligible for equity partnership. (About 100 firms submitted entries this year, says Flex-Time founder Deborah Henry Epstein.)
Now for the news behind the news: Only 10 percent of the lawyers at those firms actually work reduced hours, and only 0.375 percent lawyers got promoted to equity while working part-time (see post on Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, which elevated a part-timer to equity this last round). Job-sharing gets a big fat zero, although five of the firms offer it on their books.
"Job sharing is going nowhere," admits Henry. "The big challenge" for all these programs, she adds, "remains in usage rate." Still, having those policies on the books is a significant first step, says Henry, because it will encourage people to use them in the future.
For now, though, it seems form trumps substance at most firms. So how meaningful are these lists of family-friendly firms?
It depends who you ask. Elizabeth Anne "Betiayn" Tursi, chair of Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF), says focusing on so-called family-friendly firms is a distraction from the real problems that women face--namely, power and money. "I don't care care about flex-time, part-time, or anytime," says Tursi. "And I don't care which firms have lactation rooms." WILEF's own survey, she says, focuses on the bottom line--like how many women are equity partners and hold leadership positions.
"From where I am sitting," explains Tursi, "it is virtually impossible--except in rare circumstances--for women to become business developers and leaders while working flex- or part-time. Law firms compensate people for two things--the business they bring in and the hours they work. Until the profession figures out a new model, that's the way it is going to stay."
Working Mother Media president Carol Evans strongly disagrees with Tursi: "Having a child is not a distraction in a woman's life." Balancing work and family, she adds, is the "essence" of the issue facing working women today. "Most women--though not all--choose to have children," says Evans, "and if most women want children, how can you ignore how work and family come together?"
So what should women focus on when they look for a law firm job--the firm's family-friendly offerings, or how many women there attain real power? Can big firms offer both quality of life and advancement--or is that just an illusion created by the firm's marketing department to suck you in?