Why firms should employ senior lawyers part-time: The employer's perspective

by NZ Lawyer09 Jun 2014
On Wednesday, we heard from senior lawyer, Emma Priest, about the benefits as an employee of working part-time.

Today, we hear from Priest’s previous employer, Sue Gray, who says the arrangement can work equally well for firms.

“A core issue is around how to retain women who have ambition, talent and drive, but who have young families and are no longer able to work full-time,” says Priest. “I believe the answer lies in the part-time flexible hour workplace. In practical terms however, what impact does this have from an employee’s and an employer’s perspective?” 

Sue Gray

I was a part-time partner in a large law firm for 12 years working four days a week. Over the last five years, I ran a team of largely part-time employees working two-four days per week. I see value in hiring part-time employees at a senior level for these reasons:
  1. Excellence: Great lawyers are great whether they work part-time or full-time. It’s an issue of quality, not just quantity. A measure of someone’s contribution is not only how many hours they are in the office. If you want to retain exemplary lawyers, you need to do what it takes. Legal judgement is something that is acquired slowly and is not just knowledge; it’s communication skills, emotional eq and that “x” factor which is difficult to define. The firm offered senior experience on a part-time basis, thereby filling a gap in the workplace. If you are not prepared to hire excellent women lawyers on a part-time basis, you are effectively removing 50% of the pool of potential employees. You deprive your organisation of not just the widest pool of talent, but ultimately wealth. Quality of service ensures long term business sustainability because you are providing excellent client care.
  2. Efficiency: Part-time employees are highly organised and efficient. They have to be. There are fewer coffee breaks, long lunches or chatting by the photocopier because there simply is no time. They attend to personal matters on their days out of the office.
  3. Loyalty: In exchange for the opportunity that part-time work offers, employers are rewarded with loyalty. My experience with part-time senior women lawyers with young children is that they are appreciative of the opportunity to work part-time.They are aware not all women have that option. In many ways it takes more effort to work part time due to the greater organisational foresight required which is an indicator of the high value that such senior women place on their careers. As such, they go the extra mile with their work and contribution as part of a team. It’s a myth that their work and their lives are easier because they work part time.
  4. Profitability: I wish I had a dollar for everytime I have heard people say over the years that part-timers are less profitable. Some lawyers are more profitable than others.  Some clients are more profitable than otheres. The number of hours someone works does not determine this. My team of many part-timers was always profitable. In fact it’s something I found most part-timers kept a close eye on for the very reason they were aware this was a perception they were eager not to fulfill. Moreover there is overwhelmimg research now which establishes that businesses with gender diversity are more profitable than those without. For eg, see McKinsey reports on gender diversity.
  5. Modernity: A dynamic progressive legal practice is one that reflects society. In NZ women are now over 40% of the paid workforce. This is an exciting statistic which reflects a growing financial independence and contribution by women. Now more than ever women are consumers in their own right. They are choosing professional services of relevance to them. By having a gender-diverse practice you ensure the widest possible customer base. If there is a public interest component to the practice, gender diversity is critical to ensuring the longevity of the business. There is an expectation at all levels of society that public interest roles reflect the public they serve.
We agree that there are mutual benefits in part-time employment arrangements in a legal setting.  An ideal workplace, in our view, would step back and consider the best person for the role, with an open mind but with consideration of the value senior women add to the law. Is a full-time employee really necessary or could this role be job-shared by the right people? Why can’t flexible working hours work? Is there any reason why, in the highly connected age that we live in, people cannot work from home and manage their own time? Don’t full timers do this themselves anyway? Full timers are unavailable some days in meetings, or in Court or on occasion on sabbatical leave.

Moreover, part-timers can provide valuable support for full time employers and employees. Along with many other men and women, we support an employment policy that considers who the best lawyers are and, if they are women who may be starting or have a family, to consider whether they can retain them (or hire them) simply because they are worth it. 

Resources for women seeking career advancement or firms keen to get the gender advantage: