Rate of part-time work among lawyers unchanged in 2012

Most working part-time continue to be women

Most large law firms have made part-time schedules available to their experienced lawyers for many years, but overall the number of lawyers working part-time continues to be very small, and in 2012 the percentage of lawyers working part-time remained unchanged compared to the prior year. In 2012, as in 2011, just 6.2 percent of lawyers were working part-time, and most of them, more than 70 percent, were women. This reflects the fact that women are much more likely to be working part-time than men. Among women lawyers overall, 13.5 percent work part-time; among female partners, 11.7 percent are working part-time; and among women associates the figure was 10.1 percent. This contrasts with a rate of just 2.7 percent among all male lawyers. All these figures remain essentially unchanged from 2011. These are among the findings of the most recent analyses of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Directory of Legal Employers, the annual compendium of employer information published by NALP. The 2012-2013 directory comprises listings from primarily large law firms and includes part-time use information for almost 1,100 individual law offices and firms and more than 116,000 lawyers.

The lack of part-time lawyers at law firms distinguishes private law firm practice from both the U.S. workforce as a whole and from more defined segments of the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 13.7 percent of employed individuals during 2012 usually worked part-time, as did a similar percentage (13.1 percent) of those employed in professional specialties as a whole (e.g., architects, engineers, lawyers, and physicians). These rates contrast markedly with the 6.2 percent rate among lawyers at major law firms.

In 2012, nearly all law firm offices, more than 98 percent, allowed part-time schedules, either as an affirmative policy or on a case-by-case basis, but as has been the case since NALP first compiled this information in 1994, very few lawyers are working on a part-time basis, even though the percentage of offices allowing part-time schedules has increased from 86 percent over that time period. In 1994, just 2.4 percent of partners and associates were working part-time. By 2011 and 2012, the number of lawyers working part-time stood at 6.2 percent, after reaching 6.4 percent in 2010. Likewise, although associates continue to be more likely to be working part-time than partners, part-time work among associates has increased only incrementally, from 4.0 percent in 1994 to 5.3 percent in 2010 and then edging down to just more than 5 percent in 2011 and 2012. The growth rate of part-time work among partners has been greater, rising from 1.2 percent in 1994 to 3.6 percent in 2010 and 3.5 percent in 2011 and 2012. Other lawyers, such as of counsel and staff attorneys, show the highest rate of part-time work, more than 19 percent, compared with about 17 percent in 2006, the first year with comparable information. In 2012, nearly all associates working part-time (89.4 percent) are women; among partners working part-time, 65.1 percent are women. It is worth noting that, while the distribution of part-time associates among men and women has changed little over the six years that NALP has compiled this information, the distribution of part-time partners among men and women has shifted more notably — in 2006 almost 72 percent of part-time partners were women; in 2012 that figure was about 65 percent, and it had been as low as 64 percent in 2010.

“In the aftermath of the recession, we have seen a small decline in the utilization rate of part-time programs by lawyers in law firms,” noted James Leipold, NALP’s executive director. “This mirrors a similar decline in utilization in other professional specialties, like engineers, architects, and physicians, though the rate for lawyers remains far below that for the other professions. In times of economic uncertainty, there seems to be less willingness to embrace part-time professional work. As law firms continue to add a higher percentage of non-associate, non-partner lawyers to their professional mix, a group of lawyers that now has the highest part-time utilization rate, we might expect the overall figure for lawyers to go up a bit in the future,” Leipold concluded.

NALP’s most recent data also reveal that part-time use varies a great deal by geographic location. The three largest markets — Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC — account for one-third of the lawyers reflected in the Directory, and show a sharp dichotomy with respect to part-time lawyers. Part-time partners are much more common in both Chicago and Washington, DC — at 3.8 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively — than in New York City (2.1 percent) — as are women partners working part-time (about 14 percent in Chicago and 16 percent in Washington, DC versus 7.8 percent in New York City). Part-time associates are also more common in Chicago (4.4 percent) and Washington, DC (5.9 percent) compared with New York City (4.0 percent). The percentages of women associates working part-time in Chicago and Washington, DC are 9 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively, compared with 8.0 percent in New York City.

Looking at all cities, the presence of part-time partners varies even more. For example, part-time partners are most common in Seattle and San Francisco, with more than 9 percent of partners in those cities working part-time. Part-time women partners are most common in Seattle and San Francisco as well, along with Baltimore. But in half a dozen cities, fewer than 2 percent of partners are working part-time, and in three of these cities no male partners at all were reported as working part-time.

Cities also vary with respect to part-time associates, from less than 3 percent in Miami and Houston to close to 9 percent or more in Denver, Portland, and San Francisco. No male associates were reported as working part-time in six cities, including Charlotte and Columbus. The highest percentages of women associates working part-time were reported in Denver (17.9 percent) and in Baltimore and Philadelphia, at just more than 16 percent each.

Six states, or portions of states not covered by the cities above, had sufficient information for a parallel analysis. Following the national patterns, all had higher percentages of part-time associates than part-time partners. The percentage of partners working part-time was highest in New York State outside of New York City, at 4 percent, as was the percentage of women partners working part-time, at 14.2 percent. Connecticut had the highest percentage of part-time associates at 8.5 percent, and the highest percentage of women associates working part-time at 14.8 percent.

Entry-level lawyers in search of part-time schedules found their options more limited. Nationally, somewhat less than half of offices that offered a part-time option precluded entry-level associates from using that arrangement, and just more than 14 percent had an affirmative part-time policy that made the option available to all lawyers. Nonetheless, an entry-level lawyer’s chances of finding part-time work were somewhat higher in Cincinnati, Columbus, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis. The cities least likely to offer a part-time option to entry-level lawyers include Nashville, Detroit, and St Louis.

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