Confusion of the issue: flexibility and responsiveness from part-time lawyers in law departments and at firms

By contributing author Jane DiRenzo Pigott, R3 Group LLC

I was at an event recently where attorneys from any different firms were in attendance. One of the panels presented had general counsel from four companies talking about client relationship management and business acquisition. During the Q&A session at the end, one attorney in the audience asked the panel how she should approach business development as an attorney who worked a reduced schedule. The unanimous response from the panel was that she shouldn’t mention the fact that she worked part time. The crowd verbally expressed its disapproval of that response.

Why wasn’t that the “right” answer? I hope that it wasn’t due to some entitlement: if a person works a reduced schedule then that obligates clients and potential clients to “respect” that schedule. I also hope it wasn’t due to authenticity issues: a reduced schedule only works if I can tell everyone I meet professionally that I work a reduced schedule. Neither of those rationales makes sense to me.

I happen to have worked a reduced schedule three different times during my legal career. There weren’t many who knew I was doing so. I wasn’t trying to hide it; it just didn’t seem like something most people needed to know, including my clients. Did it matter to them that it took me a couple of hours to return their call because I was at swimming lessons with my two year old instead of because I was in a court hearing? Conversely, should it matter to the attorneys working with an in-house attorney that he/she works a modified or reduced schedule?

The issue isn’t what exact schedule an attorney is working; the issue is the level of responsiveness and commitment. We need to make sure we keep focused on the right issue.

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