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Firms Announce Flex Time Policies. How Exciting.

Vivia Chen

April 18, 2017

23dbc9767b85ebca4d38f836edee65d02dd109d3Maybe I've covered this topic too many times, but isn't flex-time so 2010? Based on what I've seen, many if not most lawyers (except for the junior ones) work wherever they want—from home, their kids' soccer games, the gym. I mean, who the hell cares where you are working so long as you bill, bill, bill.

Well, apparently flex-time is still making news—at least, some firms are making it so. Recently, a bunch of firms announced with some fanfare that they are implementing flex-time policies as if they just discovered a management marvel. Morgan Lewis & Bockius did so, followed by Jackson Lewis and Baker & McKenzie .

Maybe those firms are unusually tradition bound, but I bet their lawyers have been working off-site for some time too. So why the big fuss about flex-time now?

Some theories: First, I guess it's always good to have an official policy about flexible working arrangements rather than a defacto one. "Formalized policies are important," says legal profession consultant Lauren Stiller Rikleen. "Otherwise, you run the risks of quiet side deals where it seems like others can have opportunities not fully available."

My more cynical theory is that firms are making the fuss to get the attention of those fickle millennials for whom a bespoke work schedule is a birthright. "Millennial men and women have clear expectations for how they want to manage their work-life responsibilities and their personal time," says Rikleen. "It is simply a wise business decision to try to retain younger talent."

But as any third grader knows, having a policy on the books means squat if the powers-that-be aren't truly behind it. "The problem for most firms is moving from stated policy to accepted practice," says diversity consultant Caren Ulrich Stacy. "If the culture—aka the influential partners—don’t personally support it, it’s stigmatized and destined to fail."

In other words, if you work for an old school partner who believes that associates should be tied to their office seats 10 hours a day, you're stuck. That's just life in a law firm, no matter what the official policy might be.

That said, my sense is that those dinosaur partners are disappearing. Frankly, if you can bill just as much if not more out of the office, who gives a hoot if you're working out some kind of cave? (Think how much wasted time you'll save if you don't have to shower, get dress, put on makeup or schlep to the office.)

What's more, I wonder if firms are thinking about how much they'll save on rent if more folks worked from home. Greg Nitzkowski, a managing partner at Paul Hastings in Los Angeles, says that the flex-time policy is part of its “office of the future” where at least 10 percent of the firm’s lawyers won't have offices.

Thankfully, not everyone is quite as jaded as I am about these policies. "Firms are trying everything they can, including formalizing flextime, to improve diversity," says Stacy about law firm recruitment. "They seem to be doing so with the best intentions, not just for publicity."

Yeah. Whatever.

vchen@alm.com

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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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