Employment experts warn on part-timers

Partnership law experts are warning that the issue of part-time work for partners is an “unexploded bomb” that could have a serious effect on law firms in the future.

Last week (11 April), The Lawyer reported that Lovells was voting on the remuneration of its part-time partners with the aim of abolishing a scheme whereby part-timers progress more slowly up the equity and are paid less than pro rata.

Barrister Roderick I’Anson Banks, of specialist partnership set 48 Bedford Row, said that part-time work in law firms has changed significantly in recent years. Where part-time work was traditionally reserved for senior partners at the end of their careers, with no dent to earnings, it is now mostly the preserve of female partners. This raises the risk of sex discrimination claims if part-timers think they are being treated unfairly.

However, according to Littleton Chambers silk John Bowers QC, not offering part-time partnership as an option may also open up a firm to accusations of discrimination.

I’Anson Banks added: “Attitudes are changing across the board; there’s no doubt that there are more women in the profession and that is having a profound effect.”

He and Bowers both agreed that remunerating part-time partners at a lower than pro-rata rate could also lead to potential discrimination claims, because most part-time work is done by women and it could be seen as unequal pay.

Tina Williams, head of Fox Williams‘s partnership law practice, said firms and partners must be prepared to work flexibly.