“Flexibility” is one of the biggest buzzwords in law firm management these days. To keep productive partners and reduce high turnover costs, firms need to offer lawyers options that allow them to enjoy a better work/life balance. One such option is a part-time partnership track.
Like other flexible arrangements, part-time partnerships can also benefit law firms. But to make your program a success, it is essential that management fully embrace the concept and formalize the terms and responsibilities.
Tone at the Top
If your firm is considering — or has already implemented — a part-time partnership track, do not just “set it and forget it.” You need to make a concerted effort to ensure its success. This starts at the top, with management’s full buy-in.
Reducing a partner’s workload for a specific temporary reason (such as for medical or family leave) differs greatly from the type of permanent cultural and policy change needed for part-time partners. The key lies in your firm’s culture. Do not just pay lip service to a flexible work environment. You must treat part-time partners the same as everyone else.
Your firm should, for example, assign part-time partners to key accounts and encourage them to assume active roles in firm committees and professional associations. Be sure to schedule routine partner meetings as well as firm and client events to facilitate their attendance.
To help ease the process, you might create a position to oversee alternative partnership tracks and act as a liaison between part-time partners and managers. Doing so can give part-timers a forum to discuss workload balancing and other concerns.
Make it Work for Everyone
It is important to understand that client demands will put pressure on both your firm and its part-time partners. After all, clients will need assistance during a part-time lawyer’s off time. One of the first orders of business when designing a part-time partnership track is to create guidelines for such situations and provide part-time partners with back-up lawyers for emergencies.
To help alternative tracks work for everyone, clearly define the terms and responsibilities of part-time partnerships. Your firm’s policy, for example, should spell out a partner’s minimum work hours and his or her schedule. If you are unsure about how the arrangement will work out, include a probationary period that allows either the partner or your firm to terminate the arrangement. Setting goals is important, too. Address the number of hours part-time partners need to bill each year as well as the amount of time they should spend on marketing, firm administration and education.
Compensating part-time partners should be no more difficult than compensating full-timers. For example, you should evaluate their performance and link their continued employment, compensation and rewards to how well they achieve their stated goals.
A flexible firm does not simply offer a part-time partnership track. To ensure you are providing lawyers with the support and motivation they need to produce their best client work, your firm needs to consider embracing broader schedule flexibility. This includes such options as flex-time, compressed workweeks, telecommuting, seasonal employment and sabbaticals. Your firm’s reward is higher productivity, improved morale and even greater client satisfaction.
For more information on how to develop a part-time partnership program at your firm, contact Rob Swenson at [email protected] or call him at 312.670.7444.