Every lawyer has been asked the question by both lawyer and non-lawyer friends alike: What’s the work/life balance like at your firm?
Work-life balance and family-friendly work environments are a constant topic in the news lately. One reason for the rise in its importance is a greater diversity in the makeup of law firms – more women, more minorities, and more single parents. In addition, today’s technology allows for remote working opportunities. There has also been a cultural shift towards re-centering life around the family/having a life, particularly in the US where the traditional focus has been on “living to work” (nowhere more apparent than at a law firm), as opposed to the “working to live” model.
Several law firms have gone to great lengths to promote themselves as being family friendly/flexible and have even used such appeals in their literature to attract law school students and lateral hires – how can you, as a job candidate, learn the truth?
Previous survey’s, particularly of women in law, have looked at what the law firm is saying it will do versus what it is actually doing to provide a proper work/life balance. Back in 2009, a Rutgers’ Center for Women and Work study found that only 19% of law firm partners were women. Looking at the breakdown of the data from that year, the survey results showed that 70% of women who had changed jobs within the last five years stated that they did not feel that their previous employer was supportive of “full-time flexible alternatives”, while 30% said the same of their current employer. Clearly, finding the right working environment for your needs may be a reason to consider a lateral move.
As of 2014, 83% of law firms had committees looking into the matter of work/life balance and flexible options, particularly to retain more female talent, according to the Yale Law Women annual list from the same year. There was an increase in the availability of part-time or flexible working hours with 80.5% of those taking up such options being women; and more firms offering paid maternity leave with 90% of women taking it, but only 50% of men at the time.
In 2017 and into 2018 women’s rights once again came to center stage across the US with the heightening of the #MeToo movement and further interest by women in the legal sector with over 50% of new law school student being female.
Today there are a growing number of lawyers taking advantage of more flexible working options. 53% from a Working Mother Best Law Firms for Women report taking advantage of remote working, with 9% using a reduction in hours. Of those 53%, while women take more advantage of the option, men are not far behind: 55%/60% of female non-equity/equity partners and 50%/52% of the male non-equity/equity partners; 61% of female counsels and 51% of male; and 55% of female associates and 53% of male.
While the tendency has been to focus on women and being a mother, I believe that the results of many of these surveys can be applicable to fathers too as we see an increase in fathers wanting work-life balance, including paternity leave. Surveys conducted in the last decade have focused more on the numbers of who is doing what at which law firms with regards to policies on paper and those taking advantage of them, but none of the surveys address the pressing question: how do you find out if these policies really exist?
The best, and simplest, way to actually find out whether or not a company has a family-friendly working environment is to scour your network and see if you know anyone who currently works there or has in the past – and this is where legal recruiters can provide help. Recruiters can talk with prior candidates they placed in the law firms you are interested in and get you in-depth answers to your questions. Attorneys may also feel awkward during the interview process asking about work-life balance, and here again, using a legal recruiter can be invaluable. Just as legal recruiters can help negotiate a candidate’s salary, they can also ask for further information about maternity/paternity leave, telecommuting, and other family-friendly benefits of a prospective law firm.
In the end, there are law firms with family-friendly work environments, and if you are thinking about making a move for this reason, using a legal recruiter will be to your advantage.
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