From the Work-Life Balance Front

Right around the same time venerable law-blogger Denise Howell announced she had been fired by Reed Smith, evidently for reasons related to her part-time status, this interesting article (sub. req.) appeared in the New York Law Journal:

Faced with sharp criticism from the state and county women’s bar groups, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice yesterday defended her decision to let go a dozen part-time women prosecutors unless they agree to work full-time….

All of the part-timers are mothers, although the D.A.’s office has said that some have older children….

Responding to the criticism, D.A. Rice “said two of the top three executive positions in her office are held by women, compared to none under her predecessor…. She also said seven of the 14 management positions in her office are held by women, compared to just two under Mr. Dillon.” On the issue of the part-time program:

“We’re dealing with life and death,” said Ms. Rice, who said full-time attorneys are better able to form the relationships with witnesses that are key to many trials.

You can’t have part-time litigators,” said Ms. Rice, adding that some of her part-time lawyers have been allowed to leave trials at 2 p.m. while the judge and the defense are still in the courtroom.

Over the weekend the New York Times ran a follow-up article that gives more of Rice’s side of the story, and a letter from a reader appeared last week that basically says, “Having a child is a choice, so tough noogies.”

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. Andrea says:

    That’s really too bad. I’m not sure I see why part-timers are so much a waste of taxpayer dollars, except that they require a few more bucks by receiving the same training as a full-timer. In exchange we get the talents of the best, not just the best without kids they wanted to spend time with. Good lawyering is worth money too. That’s annoying about leaving the courtroom early, but couldn’t that have been solved by “Part timers don’t have 2 pm schedules on trial days?”

    At my summer internship at the International Institute of Boston, they’ve got 1 full-time directing lawyer, who’s a dad, and 3 lawyer moms who all work less than five days a week, including one who is very pregnant. Of course, they have pro-rated salaries.

    Everyone seems to love this arrangement, and the part-timers do high-level work. I found it incredibly welcoming. I was hoping there’d be more workplaces like that, not less, as my husband and I inch toward future parenthood.

  2. Jack says:

    The Internation Institute of Boston is not the Nassau County DA’s office. The problem with parttimers probably runs deeper than trial days (note comment about importance of developing relationships with witnesses). There are many different areas of law to work in and some are more conducive to part time work than others. Litigation (particularly high stakes civil and certainly criminal) is probably not one of these.

    Also note that Rice has identified areas where part time is possible, but it will take time to implement them. Saying she is anti-mom and anti-part time is probably unfair at the moment. Give her some time to make good on her proposals.

  3. Andrea, do not despair! Many high-powered legal jobs do allow part-time schedules. For example, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York has a significant number of part-time Assistants — I was one myself albeit only for six months. It is absolutely possible to combine high-level litigation and parenting. However, I don’t think this means leaving trial while it is still underway. When I was on trial (even as a parent), I worked from 6:00 am until midnight. Whether a part-time schedule is workable may depend upon how frequent trials are – or how efficient and organized a particular lawyer is (I tended to need those last hours). But I think in this day of cell-phones and email it is somewhat absurd to say that part-time lawyers can’t form relationships with clients. The work/family balance is difficult, but there are no categories of work that are off-limits. I think a great deal depends upon the willingness of management to be creative and flexible, and lawyers to be bound by their obligations even if it interferes with their part-time hours in some instances.

  4. Kate Litvak says:

    A prosecutor who can walk out of a courtroom at 2pm, leaving the judge, jury, witnesses, defendants, opposite counsel, experts, various court employees, and whomever else just hanging there is stunningly unprofessional. She should be fired on a spot. I would’ve fired my own attorney if she tried to pull this stint on me; why shouldn’t the people of Nassau County have equally good representation?

  5. Bruce Boyden says:

    I don’t think we have enough information to conclude that any unprofessional behavior was involved. Maybe Rice was talking about 2d chairs; maybe there was a pre-arranged handoff to another attorney.