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September 23, 2009 2:03 PM

Study: Part-Time Partners Pull Their Weight

Posted by Vivia Chen

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There's good news on the part-time front, reports The Project for Attorney Retention (PAR), an organization that promotes work/life balance policies in the legal profession. PAR has just released what it describes as a "ground-breaking study," spotlighting the success of partners who work part-time. "This report...shows that law firms can create successful reduced-hours programs--and that part-time lawyers and their law firms can flourish when they do," the report starts off.

According to the study (available for download below), the number of part-time partners has shot up in the last nine years--from 1.6 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2008. Moreover, PAR says, part-time career tracks are more acceptable and respectable today: 60 percent of the respondents now say there is no stigma to the arrangement. (PAR interviewed 109 lawyers; 82 of those work reduced schedules and the 82 consist of 53 equity partners, 23 income partners, and six of counsel. The study focused mainly on partners at law firms in Colorado, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco ranging in size from three to more than 750 attorneys.)

The big surprise, says PAR assistant director Linda Chanow, is that many of the study's respondents have "significant books of business" and bill 1200 to 1600 hours [annually] at an "average billing rate of $500 an hour, which means they generate about $700,000 for the firm." Those figures should dispel the notion that part-time partners aren't profitable, says Chanow.

According to the report, many of the part-timers have leadership roles at their firms--some serve on executive committees and a handful are managing partners.

Another surprise finding is the number of litigators (25) represented among the part-time partners. "Back ten years ago, people said you can't work part-time as a litigator," says PAR director Cynthia Calvert. "But that's not true. With litigation, there's more peak and valley, and you can work intensely sometimes and not others."

Low-scoring part-time practice areas include mergers and acquisitions and insurance  (there were three part-time partners in each, among those surveyed). Calvert won't theorize about the insurance practice, but she describes the presence of any M&A practitioners among the part-timers as "encouraging."

Overall, the report should give those looking for greater work/life balance reasons to be optimistic. But one point bothers us: big New York firms are largely absent from the study. Would New York firms tip the results in the other direction?

"I do feel New York would show a different result," says Calvert. Based on research from NALP and various bar associations, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are far ahead of New York, admits Calvert. But she remains hopeful:  "I don't think we need New York on board to make progress on this issue."


Download "Reduced Hours, Full Success: Part-Time Partners in U.S. Law Firms"

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