I know of two women who either left large law firms to practice on their own in a more flexible environment where they can raise their children and still practice their profession. What I find interesting is that these women, although running independent practices, receive work from larger firms on a contract basis to do the sort of work they did before they went on their own. In one case in particular, the firm in question (I won’t name them as they probably don’t want it to be known that they are subcontracting) brings my friend in to do some pretty high level work because they don’t have the capacity at the time to do the work.
The net effect is that these women are receiving quite a boost from these large law firms. It is also pretty ironic considering the challenges many women face when still employed by these firms.
This is not a trend that is unique to South Africa. MyShingle has a post that looks at not just this practice but also the practice of allowing women who remain employees to work from home on a part-time basis to enable them to spend time with their families and remain meaningfully employed at the same time:
The impact of solo and small firm practice is far reaching, so much so that in my view, it’s helping women attorneys succeed at biglaw. Don’t believe it? Consider these two stories that ran in today’s news. The first, Deciding to Go It Alone, (San Fernando Valley Business 11/4/06) reports on how more and more, women lawyers are choosing solo practice to accomodate families and to get to the top more quickly than they might by staying at a firm. The article also notes that with technological advancements, it’s less costly to open a firm than ever. The second article, Part Timers Find Room at the Firm (Boston Globe 11/5/06) talks about how law firms’ part time programs, some which enable women to work from home, are giving women incentive to stay at firms.
So what does one article have to do with the other? Plenty! Used to be that biglaw was the only option for smart women, so large firms could call the shots, demanding that women work full time or leave. No more. As the barriers to starting a law firm decrease, more and more women are successfully starting firms (as I’ve discussed here) and don’t need to settle for the sham part time programs that some firms initially put in place.