The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 4, October 2010

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A Neutral Corner

Alternative Work Schedules: Guidelines for Law Firms

By Jocelyn Frazer, Equity Ombudsperson, Law Society of Alberta
(condensed from the full article at

LAWYERS FACE competing personal and professional demands on their time. For some, the rigours of full-time legal practice leave little time for family obligations and other interests. Alternative work schedules are a valuable option for firms to consider.

By reducing time spent at work, alternative work schedules enable some lawyers to strike a balance between their professional responsibilities and responsibilities outside the firm. As an efficient, productive means by which firms can accommodate individual lawyers’ commitments, alternative work schedules also make economic sense.

Implementing a policy on alternative work schedules is a progressive step toward resolving some of the problems many lawyers encounter with traditional full-time legal practice.

What are Alternative Work Schedules?

Alternative work schedules allow a lawyer, partner or associate, to work less than full-time hours. The key to alternative work schedules is their flexibility; they are tailored to the particular needs of the individual lawyer and law firm.

Types of Alternative Work Schedules

Some common kinds of alternative work schedules include:

1. Full Time Flexible Arrangements:

    1. Flexible working time - The number of hours that must be worked and billing requirements do not change; but, the usual fixed hours are replaced by a flexible schedule. There is usually a core time during which all employees are to be present.
    2. Compressed work week - There are varying forms of the compressed work week. The most common schedule comprises four work days of 12 hours each, following which the employee has four days off.
    3. The work schedule may include work at home arrangements whereby all or part of the work arrangements can be conducted at home or an alternate location. 

2. Part-time Arrangements:

    1. Job Sharing - Job sharing entails two people sharing the responsibilities, hours, salary and benefits of one-full time position. It is a flexible form of permanent parttime work, which can be characterized by a division of the work week, or work days, or by alternating weeks.
    2. Part-time Work - Part time work means reduced hours, either by shorter daily hours, or by working fewer days in a week.
    3. Specified case or cases - Arrangements may be made to complete or conduct a specified case or cases to completion after which time off is scheduled.

The Need for Mutual Flexibility

The success of an alternating work schedule depends entirely on the flexibility of the lawyer working the alternative schedule, firm management, and the other lawyers in the firm. Concerns about alternative work schedules must be addressed so that they are not ultimately damaging to the success of an effective policy. Some concerns that may be barriers to alternative work schedules are: profitability, productivity, commitment, service to clients, firm morale and inapplicable to the practice of law.

The Need for a Written Policy

A written policy enables lawyers who are considering alternative work schedules to know the grounds on which their requests will be considered, as well as the impact of such a reduced schedule on salary, benefits, and progression towards partnership.

For more information, please contact Jocelyn Frazer at 403-229-4769 or 1-888-229-4769.

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