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Family friendliness in law firms and whether it matters to law departments

By contributing author Jane DiRenzo Pigott, R3 Group LLC

The Women’s Law School Coalition is a consortium of the women’s groups at Boalt (Berkeley), Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Northwestern, Virginia and Yale law schools. They recently published a list of the top 50 family-friendly law firms. The list was developed based on multiple factors and the data was obtained from law firm NALP forms (the form any organization must file to interview at law schools).

Family friendly policies that are viable are an essential tool in law firm recruitment, retention and promotion. But what impact do family friendly policies have on corporate legal departments hiring decisions when they are considering which law firms to hire?

On the one hand, a firm that ranks higher on the list is likely to have lower attorney attrition. While family friendly is not a gender issue, family friendly policies most likely also have a disproportionate impact on women attorneys, and thereby also may assist a firm with maintaining or enhancing its performance vis-à-vis gender diversity.

On the other hand, in-house legal departments and the businesses they service expect a very high level of commitment – the proverbial 24×7 commitment on a moment’s notice. Does this expectation conflict with a law firm being family friendly? The argument is used regularly by law firm partners and practice groups when they explain why family friendly policies cannot work. It is easy to see where the two may not be consistent, but that quick response lacks creativity and realism. The truth is that meeting client expectations and having a life can be consistent if you want them to be, just as they can be inconsistent.