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Flexibility Is Key to Family-Friendliness, Says Yale Report

Vivia Chen

April 18, 2013

Upsidedown Lady © pirotehnik - Fotolia.com(1)You know it's spring when Yale Law Women releases its annual list of "Top 10 Family Friendly Firms."

This year, there are some new names on the list (Fulbright & Jaworski; Goodwin Proctor; Shearman & Sterling; Squire Sanders) and notable dropouts from last year (including Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr—both firms that are facing gender discrimination suits—click here and here). Overall, though, there's nothing earth shattering about the list.

There are some signs of progress from the year before. For instance, three-quarters of the firms in the survey offer 16 weeks' paid parental leave to primary caregivers and 5.5 weeks to secondary ones. Moreover, more than 90 percent firms offer on-site or backup child care, up from 70 percent the previous year.

Then there are also the familiar statistics: only 17 percent female equity partners, and 20 percent are female executive/management committee members. Yada yada.

So what's the big deal? And who cares about a survey compiled by a bunch of elite students who can afford to stew about such luxuries as work/life balance?

Well, it's always interesting to see what sought-after law grads really want from a job. Plus, it's fascinating that Yalies seem to be defining family friendliness in a rather counter intuitive fashion.

According to the survey, part-time and flextime policies were identified as "the most important factors for evaluating a law firm's family-friendliness." And what's not so important on the family-friendliness scale? Believe it or not: billable hours—what lawyers often blame for their lack of a balanced life. It turns out Yalies aren't bothered by the pressure to bill, as long as they can control how they work.

"Many of our alumni responded that when and where they work had more significance to family- friendliness than how much they worked," says Lauren Hartz, head of Yale Law Women. "We expected [billable hours] to play a larger role in how our alumni evaluate firms."

 The way I read it, the best and brightest don't mind the idea that they will work hard—probably very hard—but they want autonomy. (Marissa Mayer, are you listening?)

In any case, here's this year's Yale Law Women list (historical context is provided by the ABA Blog):

• Arnold & Porter (also on the list in 2011 and 2012)

• Fulbright & Jaworski

• Goodwin Procter

• Hunton & Williams (also on last year’s list)

• Orrick, Herrington& Sutcliffe (also on last year’s list)

• Perkins Coie (also on the list in 2011 and 2012)

• Reed Smith (also on last year’s list)

• Shearman & Sterling

• Sidley Austin (also on the 2011 list)

• Squire Sanders


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How does the number of female partners pertain to whether a firm is "family-friendly?"

Oh, never mind. Because women discriminate in favor of wealthier men when they choose relationships, thereby causing a situation where it makes more economic sense for the female to be the one who gets to work only part-time and raise the children and still make partner.

"Equality:" ain't it grand, my fellow guys? Heads women win, tails guys lose.

Feeling in control of your life is a big thing for most people, whatever their demographics. That's what's reflected in the "when and where" importance factor.
I would expect to see similar responses from older generations too.

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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: [email protected]

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