How to Be a Great Part-Time Associate

how to be a great part-time associateAs I mentioned a few weeks ago, my friend Y has had a very successful run as a part-time associate, working reduced hours (about an 80% schedule) for years now.  I asked her for some of the top tips she’s learned along the way, and she was kind enough to share her tips for both negotiating a reduced work schedule as well as the tips below, how to have a successful run as a part-time associate.  Ladies who’ve negotiated similar flexible work arrangements — do you agree with Y’s tips? What are your best tips for how to be a great part-time associate? 

As an associate working reduced hours, here is what I learned along the way that I would offer as advice to anyone in the same position, or contemplating making the switch:

1) Remember you are making a professional sacrifice. Remember how I said in my first post that you can’t have it all? The reduced work hours approach, in many cases, forecloses certain professional opportunities. In the BigLaw world, when you’re not available 24/7, you’re simply not as desirable for certain assignments or projects. As a junior associate, I didn’t really realize this, but as I got up there in years, it became clear to me that my professional experience was not — and could not b‎e — as well-rounded as that of my peers, and could not progress at the same rate. Most days, this was just fine, since I continued to remind myself that I was making the sacrifice to be able to raise my children as I wanted (by then, there were more of them). Some days I did feel frustrated at my perceived lack of professional development. All in all, I would say: Be prepared to make the sacrifice, and remember what you’re gaining in return.

2) ‎Stick to your agreed-upon schedule (mostly). We corporate types didn’t get to where we are for lack of hard work, and I would venture to guess that many of us have a hard time not going above and beyond. But when you’re on a reduced hours or part-time schedule, you have to be disciplined about leaving the office at the agreed-upon time and/or not working beyond the hours you’ve committed to. Avoiding “schedule creep” can be a huge challenge, particularly when everyone else is working many more hours than you are. I made a concerted effort to remind myself that a deal is a deal and that I wasn’t doing anything wrong by leaving the office at 6:00 every day; in fact, I wasn’t being paid to stay beyond then.

3) But be flexible. No part-time job in the corporate world is truly limited to 9-5 hours. While it’s important not to be a pushover or feel bad about not working to the extent your colleagues are, it’s key to demonstrate that you’re still committed to your job and are willing, when necessary, to stay late at work, get online after the kids are in bed, or travel overnight. It’s a delicate balance, and you have to have the professional experience to determine when the extra hours are necessary and/or would be appreciated by your colleagues.

4) Anticipate some level of jealousy or animosity. While others are burning the midnight oil and you head out to your second job as a mom, some may resent you for leaving earlier. I always just ignored this, since I had an official arrangement with the firm and was getting paid less than them, in accordance with how much I worked.

5) Reassess the flexible work arrangement as time goes on. Just because a reduced hours schedule suits you at one point doesn’t mean that it will always be right for you. There may come a time that you throw yourself back in the game on a full-time basis because the kids have grown, your spouse or partner becomes more available, or your life otherwise changes. Fortunately, it should be easier to transition back to a full-time workload since you’ve had your head in the game as a part-time employee rather than being out of the workforce entirely.

Ladies — have you ever tried reducing your working hours to 80% or less? What were your thoughts on it, and what are your best tips for other women considering such a flexible work arrangement? 

Pictured: Pixabay.


  1. Anon transactional practice says:

    Big law transactional associate here. I’m on 80%. It’s fantastic. Only works for me because I gave 110% my first few years before having a kid. Now the firm trusts my work ethic and doesn’t want to lose the investment they’ve made in me. FWIW I’m at the office 9-6 M-F, I just have reduced deal flow. From my perspective the “20% less” is 6:00-8:30 pm when I’m almost always offline. Before having a baby I was usually in the office until 9 pm.

    • This sounds very similar to my experience only I generally work 8-5 M-F and practice m&a and securities. I am out of pocket generally until I put my kids to bed. My husband has a hard time understanding how this could be ‘part time’ so it has caused more than a few conflicts. I have to remind him that on my full time schedule it would be very frowned upon if I were to leave at 5. I would say it works pretty well. I have weeks when I work much more than others but as long as I hit my reduced hours target, I’m in good shape. Other women at my firm take off certain days. I think they have a greater challenge in retaining work because partners can’t deal with a response delayed by a day given client expectations (it means more inconvenience for the partner that then has to do the work him or her self or find another associate to jump in). But there are other areas of law perhaps where this arrangment may work well/better.

      • Anon 60% says:

        My husband also doesn’t get what ‘part-time’ entails at a law firm and will complain about my workload — usually when he has to pick up the evening slack or I can’t hang out with him after kiddo is asleep. It’s really very frustrating, especially when I do more at home AND bring home more money. I realize that’s a husband problem, not a work problem, but it’s something to be aware of.

        • Totally feeling you there. And I haven’t figured out a fix. It’s like more gets piled on at home since I’m ‘part time’ even though I am full time by any other career standard. His idea of it being reasonable is reinforced every time he talks to other people with part time spouses (who are truly part time). It’s frustrating but I do love both jobs (and my husband- most of the time), so I suppose it’s the best I can do.

  2. NewMomAnon says:

    Ok, so this line is driving me nuts: “you have to be disciplined about leaving the office at the agreed-upon time and/or not working beyond the hours you’ve committed to.” Are there firms that actually commit to a time schedule (come in at X time, leave at Y time, don’t work Fridays, etc) rather than just reducing the number of hours you’re expected to bill in a year and leaving it up to you to hit the hours however you have to?

    Law firm comp models are such a black box.

  3. Anon 60% says:

    I can’t remember if I posted this before, but make sure that your workload is actually reduced accordingly. Mine didn’t change substantially after I got back from leave, and in a counter-intuitive response, I ended up going from 80% to 60%. 80% was too close to 100% in the minds of the partners I work with to actually give me less work.

    I like 60%, the money cut is challenging, which makes me sound super spoiled, because it’s still better than most salaries out there. I usually work from ~ 9am to 4:30/4:45pm M-F, no work in the evening or weekends unless there’s an urgent project. I also take more time off than I was taking at 100% — usually they go to sick days, my mental health/errand days, or actual vacation. I would like to take more days off here or there to spend with my kid when she’s not sick, but work is erratic enough that something drops in my lap and spoils those plans.

    One of the biggest issues is that I do feel like my husband doesn’t get what part-time means as a big law associate –as I discussed above. When he’s thinking about it and reasonable, he does get it, but when he’s cranky and stressed about his work/life balance, not so much.

    • MDMom says:

      In your husband’s defense, outside of law, there are few jobs where working “part time” would mean coming in 9-5 every day. If you told the average person on street your hours (much less that of the guest poster’s), they would call that full time employment. I’m actually kind of amused- I was really excited to read this because I’m cutting back to a 20 hr/wk position soon, but the author’s “part time” schedule is basically my current full time schedule! I’m in law too, but government, so it’s a whole different world. The general tips re managing schedule are still applicable though.

      I think “reduced hours” is probably a better term for this kind of schedule.

      • MDMom says:

        Oh, meant to add: I think you should just tell your husband to think of your job as full time, as if you switched to a 40 hr a week government job. I can see why he would be frustrated if he thinks of your job as “part time.” And why you would be frustrated if he keeps expecting you to be available as if you were working 20 hr/week.

      • Anon 60 says:

        Oh, I’ve explained that to him – he works long hours too – so didn’t really realize how late I worked before the baby (and my non-billable work has gone up as I get more senior) .

        And logically he gets it, but gets cranky sometimes.

        I think some of it is that he grew up with Mom who didn’t have a career (worked some) and his close friends are in marriage with SAHMs, so he doesn’t really get it sometimes.

        But I do get how someone would think part-time means something other than a 9-5 schedule – clearly I’ve been in Big Law too long!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am not a working Mom. But because I have other job interests, I was able to negotiate a “part time” position at a law firm that pays by the hours you bill. If you don’t bill, you don’t get paid. It alleviates that self conscious feeling I would get from ever leaving the office before 7pm. As long as you hit your agreed upon billables, they are flexible and allow me even to work from home. The pay per hour is probably a little less, but I think it is a business model that many small to medium size firms are going toward. Big law will be forced to change eventually, with new changes in technology that are making smaller firms more competitive. This arrangement actually makes me enjoy my job even more