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Opt-In Project Offers Number of Solutions for Retaining Legal Talent

A few statistics from the recently released Opt-In Project by the international law firm of Heller Ehrman LLP:

– & #8201;Women account for only 30 percent of the enrollment in business schools today the same pattern seen in the legal profession.

– & #8201;Women make up only 30.2 percent of the total lawyer population of the United States; 44.1 percent of associates are women, but only 17.3 percent are partners.

– & #8201;The rate of women in law school steadily increased over a 54-year period, from 1947 to 2001, to 49 percent of the law school population. But since 2001, the number has been decreasing each year, with the 2005 to 2006 enrollment at 47.5 percent.

– & #8201;The percentage of U.S. Supreme Court female law clerks has dropped dramatically: Over the last 15 years, the number of female law clerks rose to more than 40 percent women, and, in the last five years leveled out at close to 38 percent. In 2006 to 2007, the number dropped to 19 percent.

– & #8201;Women make up 16.6 percent of general counsels for Fortune 500 companies, and only 15.7 percent for Fortune 100 companies, while only 5 percent of managing partners at large law firms is female.

There is no evidence that women are abandoning their careers, said the report, and usually return after two years. But, when they do, “They do not usually assume the same types of positions they left.”

Worth Considering

What are the potential solutions? Here is a sampling of some of the report’s suggestions:

– & #8201;Having no billable-hour requirements and lower salaries for the first two years of an associate’s career with the firm. In this case, the attorney could focus on training and skill development, without worrying about those billables.

– & #8201;Measuring performance and setting salaries without reference to the number of hours billed, focusing instead on such things as productivity , including deals completed, quality of work, team work and client skills.

– & #8201;Hiring fewer first-year associates, billing them out at a significantly reduced rate, and paying them less. This would allow firms to give associates more training, mentoring and attention.

– & #8201;Allowing associates to choose between various salary levels or bonus opportunities based on how much time they want to work in a particular year with the understanding that a reduced workload might impact the partnership track.

– & #8201;Having law firms pay back law school loans for new associates, in exchange for a commitment that they will stay with the firm for a certain period.

– & #8201;Developing a tiered approach to partnership, and having more levels of success, so that partnership isn’t the only alternative for associates eliminating the “up-or-out” system.

– & #8201;Creating an “on-ramp,” keeping employees who leave the firm connected, in the event they opt to return. In this way, the firm is “recapturing” its initial investment in the attorney. This on-ramp could include keeping bar memberships active, inviting alumni to in-house training programs, and partnering with law schools to create training programs for out-of-practice attorneys to update their knowledge of technological advances and legal developments.

– & #8201;Creating no-fault flex time for attorneys, who wouldn’t have to justify or even identify their reasons for taking this option.

– & #8201;Providing employees with PDAs, fax machines, laptops and other devices that would allow them to stay connected when not in the office.

– & #8201;Providing on-site child care; bringing services, such as dry cleaning, car washing, and grocery deliveries, to the workplace; or hiring a “concierge,” who could help employees with day-to-day errands.

– & #8201;Making sure that partnership opportunities aren’t adversely affected by part-time status by promoting qualified part-timers as partners.

, Pat Broderick


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