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June 29, 2015 Practice Points

An All-Woman, Family-Friendly Firm

By Lauren Michels

Recently, the New York Times article, “A Woman-Led Law Firm That Lets Partners Be Parents,” entered the lives of two partners at the Washington, D.C.-based firm Gellar Law Group to explore the creative ways that parents can be partners and partners can be parents.

The article opens by describing the challenging phenomena faced by some women in the legal world. For example, in 2013, women comprised only 16.5 percent of law partners despite graduating from law school in numbers on par with men. According to the article, most women fall off the partner track because of the rigid realities of firm life—long hours and inflexible work-life accommodations. While the sweeping majority of law firms offer reduced work schedules for their attorneys, only six percent of attorneys actually work part-time.

Women attorneys without a stay-at-home partner often find themselves “outsourcing their life” by hiring services to help with the children and chores. The incantation to “outsource your life,” however, was unworkable for the Gellar Law Group founder and mother of three, Rebecca Gellar. Consequently, she left big firm life in 2011 to start a family-friendly practice. Her law partner, Maria Simon, similarly left her previous practice when the obligations of work and motherhood began to clash.

The structure of the family-friendly practice is as mobile and ingenious as its employees. To begin, there is no permanent Gellar Law Group office; rather, office space is rented hourly as needed in a shared office work space. Technology allows the six employees to stay connected with shared online calendars and real-time chat spaces. The firm’s main phone number brings clients to a switchboard that automatically diverts calls to attorney landlines or cell phones. Accordingly, employees are encouraged to work wherever they want, whenever they want. The business model is so flexible that it allowed one associate to move with her family to North Carolina.

While the partners certainly have achieved greater freedom over their schedules at the Gellar Law Group, the article notes how the firm’s business model is unable to ameliorate all of the pressures on family-centered women in the law. The partners at the Gellar Law Group report that they still work around 60 hours per week while struggling to squeeze family time between work time. The Gellar Law Group is evidence, however, that while perfection may not be possible, creative and workable solutions are still within reach.

Keywords: women, lawyers, family-friendly, mobile law office

Lauren Michels works at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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