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Freshfields to Blur the Meaning of 'Associate'

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A report this morning on the Legal Week website reveals that Magic Circle powerhouse Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has decided to implement a pilot program among corporate associates in its London office, offering them a veritable cornucopia of "alternative work schemes."

According to the article, the four options, which associates must apply for, are as follows:

The four schemes include a basic job-share whereby associates will pair up to divide their working week between them. There is also the option for associates to work off-site on a regular basis.

The third option available will see the introduction of a "buddy scheme" whereby associates will put their name into a pool to cover colleagues who have important arrangements and need time off.

The last option is a maternity phasing arrangement which will be available to female associates from the announcement of their pregnancy up to six months after their return from maternity leave.

During this time female associates will be able to take a less active role in client work in an effort to make hours worked more consistent and to avoid unsociable hours on transactions.

There's not a lot of detail there, but let's try to parse these out (in American speak):

1) Find another guy and each of you can become half an associate, presumably for half the pay. Sounds pretty great if you can afford it. Also probably a good alternative to "We're going to fire one of you soon."

2) Sure you can "work from home." We're subleasing the floor your office is on anyway.

3) This one puzzles me most. What possible motivation would one have to volunteer to "cover colleagues," presumably on little to no notice?  What sort of "important arrangements" are associates allowed to have across the pond? Vacations? Family commitments? The death of a loved one? All things associates are expected to cancel/work around. It builds character.

4) Recognition that a pregnant woman/new mom might not want to work "unsociable hours?" From the same firm that's reportedly looking to pad its female partner ranks through a women-only "mentoring scheme?" What's going on over there?

The Freshfields program is supposed to begin this fall, and run for a year. If successful, it may be expanded to the firm's other practice areas and offices.

Is this the future for U.S. BigLaw? Having "associates" who are acting as what might more traditionally be called "staff attorneys" and/or widespread use of part-time work arrangements? Is it wise to have a formal two-tiered system for associates, where some are designated "non-partner track?" Anyone have thoughts?


Posted by Eric Lipman on July 19, 2010 at 11:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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