A&O introduces partner flexi-time to improve female retention

The arrangement, which will come into place on 1 May, will allow partners to work a minimum four-day week, or to take up to a maximum of 52 days extra leave a year, provided that an agreement is reached with relevant departmental managers.

Under the terms of the firm’s lockstep partners enter the equity on 20 points and gain two a year over 15 years until they accumulate a maximum of 50 points. Those who choose to go part-time will have their total points allocation capped at 30 points – the equivalent of progressing five years on the normal equity track – and will receive their profit shares on a pro rata basis.

Senior partner David Morley (pictured) said in a statement: “The introduction of a part-time equity partnership provides greater career flexibility and removes some of the existing obstacles to promotion faced in particular by women.

“It’s no longer realistic to provide just one option and say ‘take it or leave it’. If you’re going to make any real change you have to address the options available to people at all stages of their career – from associate through to equity partner – to help balance their professional and personal aspirations.

“We don’t pretend this is a cure-all, but it’s a serious attempt to take positive steps and to send a strong signal of our intent to retain talent in our business.”

Less than 20 per cent of A&O’s partners are women, although 40 per cent of those who were made up at the beginning of this financial year are female.

This is one of a series of measures adopted by the firm to promote female career progression, including the proposal to offer workshops to teach female associates “soft” communication skills (14 September 2009).

Clare McConnell, chair of the Association of Women’s Solicitors, said that flexible working can benefit both the employer and the employee.

“There are tremendous business advantages to both flexible and part-time working arrangements,” she said. “The solicitor’s more likely to feel loyal if they feel supported in finding a balance between their commitments and the organisation wins out because they don’t lose talented women.”

McConnell said the key to successful implementation was “communication and discussion” so that “all employees – including those who work flexibly and traditionally feel that they’re treated fairly”.

The part-time working decision comes after 18 months of consultation carried out by a steering committee chaired by partner Geoff Fuller and will continue to be responsible for the initiative.