Everyone is talking about re-entry. As I write this, law firm committees are busy grappling with their post-pandemic work policies. The decisions that are being made now have the potential to significantly alter a work system that originally was designed by and for men. That system has not worked particularly well for many women.
This is the first time in history that women have had an opportunity to have a voice in systemic change of this scale. Let’s seize the moment to influence the outcome.
Law firms seem to be deciding among three different re-entry models: (i) going back to a “normal”, 5-day a week in-office schedule; (ii) using hybrid models stipulating a minimum number of days in the office per week (some name specific days); and (iii) leaving it up to each practice group to decide on their re-entry model.
Based on conversations with our WLF community, we know that while everyone has their own personal priorities with respect to re-entry, there is unanimous agreement that flexibility to work both in the office and at home is optimal. This hybrid model allows lawyers to reclaim the benefits of face-to-face communication (including development for younger lawyers) and the healthy work-life boundaries that were lost during COVID, while maintaining some of the invaluable time saving benefits that were gained during COVID. Both men and women want to, and will, benefit from flexible work arrangements. However, having a flexible work arrangement is more important for women lawyers because they suffer far more under the historic law firm system.
For many women, working a partial remote schedule is not new. The important new opportunity here is to institutionalize a system that has the potential to help all women (and men) find more time without facing doubts from their firms about how a flexible work arrangement may adversely affect productivity, profitability, and commitment level. It is worth noting that The American Lawyer found that profits per equity partner at Am Law 100 firms grew by 22% for the 12 months ending in November 2020. The factors contributing to a profitable 2020 also suggest that we’ll see double-digit PEP growth again in 2021.
In a number of WLF cohorts this month, we have been discussing influence – both individual and collective. This is a moment for collective influence. Fortunately, the post-pandemic work system is not just a gender issue – having flexible work opportunities is important for many men, and it is a very significant generational issue. The question is how can you use your collective power to influence your firm’s re-entry policy and make sure it lasts (more on this next month)?
The four levers of influence we discuss in WLF are: your network, your accomplishments, your brand, and your presence. Think about how you and other women (and men) can use these levers to influence re-entry policy.
You can start by thinking about the following questions concerning your network:
1) Who in your firm is responsible for developing the re-entry policy and do you, or anyone in your network, know them?
2) What can you learn from your network about the status of your firm’s re-entry policy discussions? If your firm’s re-entry policy has been announced, is it a transitional policy or a permanent policy?
3) Are there institutional networks within your firm for women to provide feedback in your firm’s re-entry policy discussions (e.g., women’s affinity group)? If so, how can you participate?
4) What do your peers think about various re-entry policy options? Are your peers participating in the re-entry policy conversations in their firms? If not, how can you encourage them to get involved?
5) If your practice group is responsible for developing its own re-entry policy, how can you participate in your practice group’s discussions?
6) What other avenues are there for you and others to have a voice in discussions on work arrangements?
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