The Path to Part-time Success

Recently one of my students asked me a question that I am embarrassed to say I don’t know the answer to. Maybe there isn’t one. She explained to me that she would like to work someplace for four or five years, and then go to working part time in order to start a family with her husband. Did I know of any fields of law or career paths which would be more accommodating to these goals? Sadly, I had to confess that my practical exposure to the profession was basically limited to the bill-hundreds-and-hundreds-of-hours-until-you-

make-partner-and-then-bill-hundreds-and-hundreds-more-hours career track. By and large, I enjoyed working at my firm. My colleagues were on the whole pleasant, intelligent, and decent people. On the other hand, I don’t know that I can in good faith advise my student that she ought to head to K Street to achieve her goals (or maybe I should; I’ve no doubt she has the brains and discipline to thrive there). Yet I don’t really know where I would suggest that she go to find her bliss. Suggestions?

You may also like...

10 Responses

  1. I can think of a few options off the top of my head:

    1. Licensing. Once one has a book of clients, this can be done both part time and remotely. Client sends draft, lawyer revises or comments and sends back.

    2. In-house counsel: At large companies, part time in-house counsel can still offer aid (see licensing above, for example). Many smaller companies might not be able to afford full time in-house counsel, and thus are willing to have part time in-house counsel.

    3. Trademark (and copyright) registration: Because most of the work is ex parte and with long lead times, an attorney can work part time without problem. The same is true with patent prosecution if the technical skills are there.

  2. David says:

    I’ve heard these areas of law aren’t hours-intensive and would be amenable to part-time practice:

    1) trusts and estates;

    2) tax; and

    3) employee benefits (counseling, not litigation).

    Similar to in-house, government practice is far more flexible than a private firm. That said, there can be a wide variation in expectations, depending on the particular government office.

  3. I just returned from the Ms. JD conference, which is building resources on options for women in the law. Also, check FlexTime Lawyers.

    Part of the problem when you work for others is your schedule is never your own. One of the major problems with law firm part time programs is “hours creep,” where the 35-40 hour schedule turns into 50 hours.

    I have my own practice, which I find is most compatible with part time practice because I can pick and choose my cases and workload. Criminal work is definitely not something that is amenable to part time, but virtually any other cases are. The issue is partly predictabiity, but partly amount. I have always handled 1-2 litigation matters annually as part of my part time repertoire, but more than that would be difficult. In my experience, Appellate work is excellent for part time, you do everything from home except show up for a 15 minute argument one morning. You can also do work on a contract or outsourcing basis for other attorneys. My specialty is regulatory work at FERC,many paper hearings, everything is electronic, very reasonble schedules and great pay because of my experience and the limited nature of the field.

  4. Jim Layton says:

    Government offices are great possibilities. In the Missouri Attorney General’s office, we have a number of part-time lawyers. Some have pure part-time schedules, carrying a portion of a caseload. Others “share” a particular job and case load.

    My favorite is the woman who went to half-time after her first child — and worked out an 10 hours at-home/10 hours in-office flextime arrangement with the office and her husband (who also works here) so that one parent was always home. She went down to 10 hours per week total after her second child was born.

    Of course, paying off law school debt may be pretty tough on our salaries.

  5. Deborah Cantrell says:

    The Project for Attorney Retention ( has a great website with information related to work/life balance at different types of legal workplaces. In particular, the Project has looked at how law firms and corporate legal departments handle parttime workers, and the ways in which parttime work can be more successfully utilized.

  6. Jeff Lipshaw says:

    Another possibility to consider is to sign on with a contract lawyer agency that provides fill-in or temporary lawyers. When I was at AlliedSignal, we used such a lawyer to much success (the agency was the Elaine P. Dine Agency in NYC) where we were selling a division and I didn’t want to bring in somebody as an employee either for the short-term or under false pretenses. I think the Wallace Law Registry was another group in Michigan that did this.

  7. mmmbeer says:

    I will take some exception to the suggestion that contract/licensing work is a good field to go part time in. It’s true that if you had a good book of clients that it might be possible to work out an accommodating schedule, however, the successful lawyers that I’m aware of that do similar transactional work tend to get fewer billable hours per hour at work simply because of the nature of the work (lots of fits and starts).

    In addition, the work does not always come with real long lead times. More often than not, it seems that such work comes in with very short deadlines or very anxious clients.

    Finally, depending on the complexity, the negotiating part of that line of work can be pretty time consuming.

  8. yclipse says:

    1. Appellate work

    2. General counsel for a smaller company

  9. anonymous says:

    Part time success is easy. Too bad its on a full time job, and the rest of it is failure of varying degrees.

  10. manish kumar says:

    i want to join this please help me how to jion?