I’ve always been in awe of one of my old friends, Y, who’s negotiated reduced work hours at numerous Big Law firms in a major market — and advanced while doing it. I reached out to her to ask for her top tips on negotiating reduced work hours and her own thoughts on the journey. Below, we present Part 1, Y’s thoughts on negotiating reduced work hours — you can find Part 2 here, where we look at her thoughts on being a successful part-time associate. Thank you so much, Y! – Kat
Working mothers can’t have it all. I truly believe that. Something’s gotta give, and when I had my first child I wondered what that would be — and how much. There are obviously many answers to that question — there is no “one-size-fits-all.” For me, the answer was asking for a flexible work arrangement at the BigLaw firm where I was a second-year associate, so that I could continue in my career while also having time to spend with my family.
I remember when I first negotiated for reduced work hours. I had been on maternity leave with my first child and knew right away that I could not possibly raise a tiny person and also work full-time (which in my job meant being on call 24/7). After contacting the powers that be at the firm about discussing a potential flexible work arrangement, I received a call from a partner, and the conversation was not nearly as scary as I thought it might be. That may also be because I went in with zero expectations, figuring that if the firm wouldn’t agree to a flexible working arrangement, I would walk. At that point in my life, working full time at an AmLaw 100 firm was not on the table for me.
By that time, I had done my homework and knew that some women were already working at the firm on an 80-percent basis. (Depending on their practice area and reason for working part time, they either worked reduced hours on a relatively regular schedule or committed to billing 80 percent of a full-time associate’s yearly billables, even if that meant working long hours on a deal one month and taking time off the next.) When I stated that I wanted to work four days a week and be home in the evenings with my baby, the partner agreed to offer me an 80-percent arrangement. He added that there were no guarantees with regard to the bonus but that the firm would aim to give me one that was prorated.
Having heard horror stories of women who officially worked part-time and were paid accordingly but billed just as much as a full-time associate, I asked what would happen if I ended up billing more than 80 percent of what a full-time associate would. Would I be reimbursed at the end of the year? The answer was no. While it didn’t seem equitable, it did incentivize me to stick to my reduced schedule rather than revert to my type-A personality and try to do it all (despite my cognitive recognition that, as a mother who wants to remain intimately involved in her child’s upbringing, I could not). “One last thing,” the partner said as we continued to talk. “I’m not saying that we’d definitely never make a part-time partner, but we most likely wouldn’t.” I just said “fine” — it was not even remotely on my radar at the time, let alone something that would have influenced my decision.
That started my long journey as an associate with a reduced work schedule.
Here are some tips I would offer to anyone thinking of requesting a similar part-time arrangement:
1) Do your homework. Find out what your company and peer companies have offered in the way of flexible work arrangements so that you don’t ask for something outside your company’s comfort zone.
2) Pinpoint your priorities as they relate to the flexible arrangement you’re seeking and determine what, if anything, is non-negotiable. For me, it was getting home to put my kids to bed most nights (even if that meant logging back on later) and spending time with them on the weekends.
3) Determine whether it makes sense for you to negotiate a commitment with regard to a bonus and/or career advancement. This will depend on how much these matter to you and whether you think what you’re asking for is realistic, considering the company and industry norms.
Ladies, have you considered negotiating for reduced work hours? What were your priorities, first steps, and more?
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