This week, Yale Law Women (YLW) released its ninth annual Top Ten Family Friendly Firms list. You can see the list of firms and read the full report here.
Because family friendliness can be measured in many different ways, an important part of YLW's Top Ten methodology involves surveying Yale Law School alumni currently working at Vault 100 firms about which indicators are most important to a law firm's family friendliness. This year, according to alumni, the two most important categories were part/flex-time options and the billable hour requirement.
New to the survey this year was a student component, where we asked current students at Yale Law School what the most important factors are to them when considering the relative family friendliness of law firms. Comparing what students and alumni report as the most important factors is interesting in terms of where the responses overlap, as well as where they diverge. Like alumni, students also report that the billable hour requirement is one of the top two most important categories; however, the second most important category for students is gender equity, rather than part/flex-time.
In comparing the results of the student and alumni surveys, both future as well as current lawyers see billable hour requirements as a major factor in a firm's level of family friendliness. This finding is connected to a developing trend in popular conversation about these issues --the "family" in family friendliness has expanded to include more than having babies and raising children. Being a family friendly firm involves attention to work/life balance more broadly, so that attorneys truly do have a "life" with which to balance their work, regardless of whether outside-of-work time involves child-rearing, caring for aging parents, and/or pursuing non-career life goals.
According to this year's survey data, participating firms reported actual full-time billable hour credits of 1,828 on average for associates, with female attorneys billing about 70 fewer hours than male attorneys. Notably, over half of the participating firms required full-time associates to work a minimum number of billable hours in order to receive a bonus; the average threshold was over 1,900 hours per year, while the highest target was over 2,100 hours.
As for part-time and flex-time, nearly all participating firms offered part-time schedules, and most offered flex-time options. However, these policies are only meaningful if attorneys really do feel free to take advantage of them, and alumni expressed skepticism about the likelihood of remaining partner-eligible after switching to a part- or flex-time schedule. Beyond the promotion issue, we still see the use of part-time to be very gendered -- on average, 80.5 percent of the attorneys who utilized part-time options were women.
Finally, in terms of gender equity in firm leadership, women still remain under-represented at the top of law firm structures -- both as partners and as members of executive and management committees. We continue to see what has been called the "leaky pipeline," where women comprise fewer and fewer members of each attorney level as you move up the ladder. In 2013, women comprised about 44 percent of associates with fewer than three years of experience and of associates with three or more years of experience, but only 18 percent of equity partners. Women's representation on Executive or Management Committees also remained low; only 21 percent of those committee members were women.
While these average figures seem to indicate very slow progress on family friendliness in Vault 100 law firms, Yale Law Women is hopeful that recent innovations by some firms will spur the profession to move in the right direction. For example, the expansion of on-ramp/off-ramp programs allows attorneys to take extended leaves without completely exiting the workforce. In addition, the development of active committees and initiatives that advocate for women, diversity, and work/life balance have the potential to make change towards a more family friendly and inclusive legal profession.
To learn more, please visit the Yale Law Women website.