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General Counsel Increasingly Paying Attention to Work Life Balance Issues

Work life balance is not just an issue at law firms. An August 11th article on discussed how general counsel are increasingly paying attention to work-life balance and implementing flexible work arrangements and other programs for their in-house counsel such as in-house amenities, stress-management programs and child and elder care assistance.

One beneficiary of the trend cited in the article is Michael Lee, vice president and senior counsel at Pearson Inc., an educational publisher headquartered in Upper Saddle River, N.J. Since Lee lives in New York, the commute posed burdens for Lee when his son was born. Lee recounts that the company set up an office for him in their building in Manhattan, even though the legal department had no presence there. He now works out of his Manhattan office twice a week, saving him hours on his commute. Lee also took two weeks of paternity leave after the birth of both of his children. Other Pearson attorneys such as Jerianne Mancini, a vice president and senior counsel, enjoy telecommuting arrangements. Mancini was given permission to work from home on Mondays after her son was born. Both Lee and Mancini also take advantage of the company's shortened summer hours program, which allows them to work half-days every summer Friday, or work full days and take every other Friday off.

Law firms can draw a lesson from the thinking at Pearson that is behind such flexibility: "We've found that [a flexible work arrangement] means a lot to people," said Christine Pfeiffer, coordinator of Pearson's WorkLife and Diversity Program. She adds that flexible work arrangements "don't cost the company any money to provide [since] as long as the employee is getting work done, what does it matter where they're doing it?" The sentiment is echoed at Highmark, a Pennsylvania health insurer, where the philosophy of Gary Truitt, Highmark's senior vice president and general counsel, is that he hired professionals who are there to get the job done, and as long as they do so, flexibility is available and encouraged.

Among other Pearson benefits: access to backup child-care, elder care programs, lactation rooms, wellness seminars and confidential counseling. Mancini believes such programs make the legal department more productive in the long run.

Cynthia Thomas Calvert, co-director of the Project for Attorney Retention, an initiative of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, in San Francisco, also mentions job sharing (where two employees split a full work-week) as an innovation that can work particularly well at legal departments -- and we add, at law firms as well. But we agree with Calvert that a successful job sharing arrangement requires two people who work well together and have seamless communication and coordination.

Firms considering a telecommuting arrangement need to consider the extent and amount of face time that's still necessary to do the job right.

See the full article here.

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