by Amy Nassisi
Benefits of the Flexible Arrangement to the Company
By all accounts, Morrison & Foerster’s reputation for supporting flexibility was critical in attracting Alison to the firm, though she didn’t have children at the time. When Alison, who had clerked for the Supreme Court and worked as a trial attorney in the District Attorney’s office, selected a firm from a number of suitors, an outstanding commercial litigation practice and the ability to participate fully on a flexible schedule were two key criteria. It’s also clear in talking with Alison that Morrison & Foerster’s commitment to her flexible arrangement has been instrumental in retaining and motivating this top litigator. Having been promoted to Partner while she was on 80% time, Alison is not only one of the firm’s top litigators, she’s one of their biggest champions. According to others at the firm, Alison’s situation and others like hers are motivating for the entire staff, as they send a clear signal that valuing family is not a barrier to success at Morrison & Foerster.
Motivation for Flex Career
Alison’s motivation for working a reduced schedule will be familiar to many. With two small children and a husband who is also a top litigator (working a full time schedule), she needed to create more flexibility in her schedule to spend time with their children. Alison felt that 80% time would allow her to participate fully as a litigator, successfully handling meaty projects, while offering the quality of life that she needed for her family.
How it Works
Alison is a full partner at Morrison & Foerster, but works an 80% schedule, which means that she is accountable for 80% of the billable and non-billable hours targets that are set for the firm’s partners. Consequently, she receives 80% of her full-time compensation.
Because of the nature of litigation work, Alison doesn’t manage an 80% schedule on a daily or weekly basis, but keeps to 80% over the course of the quarter or the year. And with the unpredictability of litigation work, she readily admits that it is a constant challenge to maintain balance in her schedule. She credits technology with offering her a great deal of flexibility even in meeting pressing deadlines, by allowing her to head home for dinner and then access her files and work from home after her children are in bed.
Alison handles complex commercial litigation for a number of Morrison & Foerster’s top clients, at the trial and appellate level. She has defended high-technology companies in major patent litigation, represented a satellite television company pursuing antitrust claims, filed briefs in the United States Supreme Court, and freed a man wrongfully convicted of murder.
In a profession that is working ever harder and ever longer hours, Morrison & Foerster stands out as a leading firm that offers career opportunities to keep their part-time associates on the partner track. Alison believes the firm’s experience with reduced schedules made it much easier for her. She wasn’t paving a new path. In fact the conversation about reducing her schedule was a very short one and her request was approved days later.
In an industry of workaholics, you might think that the firm would pay a price for this flexibility. But on the contrary, Morrison & Foerster is a highly successful firm with $687 million in revenues for 2005, and they continue to perform well by both qualitative and qualitative standards. The firm was named to The American Lawyer’s A-List as one of the nation’s top 20 law firms. Morrison & Foerster was also named to FORTUNE magazine’s 2006 list of “100 Best Companies to Work For”.
Advice for Other Attorneys Interested in Proposing a Reduced Schedule
Alison recommends that other attorneys who are interested in flexibility down the line consider the issue in advance, and choose a firm based in part on its reputation for promoting attorneys that are on a reduced schedule. “If you know you are interested in part-time options, it is something you should ask the recruiter and friends at the firm before you commit.” Alison also suggests that attorneys consider working at least a 75% schedule when career advancement is important to them. And she says that it’s important to remain flexible: “You have to consider the nature of the work. As a litigator, you’re not going to be able to stick to a reduced schedule on a daily or weekly basis. Sometimes not even on a monthly basis. But you can have a successful career on a reduced schedule on a quarterly or an annual basis. And in the end this has made all the difference for my career and my family.”
Amy Nassisi is the founder of Flexibility Alliance. The Flexibility Alliance is a portal and organization dedicated to supporting highly skilled parents in creating flexible careers and in helping companies to attract and retain this valuable talent through flexible career opportunities. For more information, check out www.flexibilityalliance.org .