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As 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 hoping to be a great part-time associate, or any woman lawyer contemplating making the switch to part-time:
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?