Monday, July 17, 2006

 

Blogging World Abuzz as Attorney Mom is Fired

Denise Howell, a very experienced intellectual property attorney who was one of the first legal bloggers (she is credited with coining the word "blawg"), has been fired from her firm, Reed Smith. You can read her blawg post about her firing here.

She says she can't talk publicly about her firing, but she makes it clear that workplace inflexibility (she has a young child) played a part. It appears that she had been working part-time, and it also appears that Reed Smith's part-time policy wasn't working too well.

In her post, Denise makes several excellent points: part-time policies are "merely a good start" (PAR wrote whole chapters in its Solving the Part-Time Puzzle book on implementing part-time policies so as to avoid stigmatization and other ills that undermine well-intentioned policies); part-time schedules can be career-enders (see PAR's first report on stigma); firms need to have a "Chief Work/Life Balance Officer" to oversee their programs (absolutely! Dickstein Shapiro was the first firm we know of to appoint a "part-time coordinator", which was the model for PAR's best practice of appointing a "Balanced Hour Coordinator"; Kirkpatrick Lockhart took extended this idea by appointing a Director of Professional and Personal Life Integration and a balanced hour coordinator); firms need to offer a variety of types of flexibility (again, agreed: PAR has long advocated that flexible work should be available to everyone but that firms should individually tailor each person's schedule); and firms should take a long-term view when considering attorneys' needs for flexibility, looking at what attorneys can contribute over the course of their careers and not just in the immediate future (we're in complete agreement; see our "business case" discussion in Solving the Part-Time Puzzle).

I don't know if Denise knows about PAR's work, but we certainly seem to be on the same page when it comes to thinking about law firm management.

Several bloggers have expressed their outrage over Denise's firing, including Dennis Kennedy, Jeneane Sessum, Gerry Riskin, and Ross Runkel. Everyone is puzzled by a firm's decision to let go someone of Denise's caliber.

I wish I could say that Denise is unique, but she is only visible. Almost every week, PAR hears from another mother-attorney who has been let go or has seen the writing on the walls and knows it is time to paste a smile on her face and tell everyone that she really wants to spend some time at home with her little ones. Some sue, and some win, but most go quietly. I applaud Denise's decision to go as public as she could with her story -- the more attorneys speak up, the more quickly change will happen.

One place attorneys can speak up is on PAR's website. We're revamping "The Scoop" -- a treasure trove of information about what it is really like to work a flexible schedule at particular firms. Please send us your information (all information is posted anonymously) about your firm so attorneys changing firms can get accurate information and so firms can get valuable feedback on how they're doing. Send to scoop@pardc.org.

We just got some information for the page about Reed Smith...

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