Talent Fueller – Sue McLean, Morrison & Foerster LLP.

20 November 2014 | Leave a comment

McLean_Sue High ResTalent Fueller Interview with Sue McLean, Morrison & Foerster LLP.

“Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’

Sue is a senior lawyer in MoFo’s European technology practice and the founder and chair of the MoFo Women London Affinity Group(i) – a group that is associated with MoFo’s firm-wide Women’s Strategy Committee. She was the recent guinea-pig for a new firm ‘Transition Time’ initiative, which supports the return of women post maternity (which she’s now done three times).

‘Transition time’ at Morrison & Foerster

Unusually for an American firm, Morrison & Foerster has several policies that support the return of women and men who’ve taken time out. One of these is ‘transition time’  and another is the automatic right to work reduced hours for one year following a return from maternity, paternity or adoption leave.  They’ve recently been named best firm for work-life balance at the third annual Americas Women in Business in Law Awards(ii) and were shortlisted in the same category at this year’s Euromoney Europe Women in Business Law Awards.

“There was an acknowledgement that prior to, and after, taking maternity leave or parental leave, you need some transition time to allow you to ramp down and ramp up to get back to where you were before. Lawyers all have billing targets and now for the month before you leave and the month following your return, these are cut by 50%.”

Flexible working in a law firm. Really?

“I think in all companies, people are slightly nervous of the concept of reduced hours/flexible working, particularly if they have never had anyone in their team working reduced hours before.  So you have a pilot and then everyone goes ‘oh yes, its fine.’

Certainly, in my experience, what tends to happen here is that when that [automatic] year ends, the arrangement just continues, if you want it to. I don’t know anybody, who, once they have had a flexible working arrangement in place, has had it taken away from them.

We have had many reduced hours returnees within the firm and it is certainly not a barrier to partnership. Indeed, we have had a number of reduced hours returnees make partner whilst on reduced hours. A couple of years ago, for example, four of the fifteen lawyers promoted to partner were currently on, or had been on, a reduced hours schedule.

Tell us some tales of colleagues working flexibly….

“I currently work four days a week and one of those days I work from home. A former colleague in my department worked flexibly for a decade. He wanted to live between London and Ireland so he worked from home on a Monday and a Friday, and he came to London on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless he had meetings, in which case, he swapped his days around. So, we have always been open to flexible working in my team.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ here. People can agree arrangements that suit them. For example, one of my colleagues in Berlin does some short days and some long days because she wants to be able to pick her daughter up from school. So a couple of days she leaves at 3pm and so as she works full time, she works late on the other days.

It’s certainly not just a UK or European practice though.  We have a male partner in the U.S. who was made a partner when he worked four days a week, which remains pretty unusual for a law firm. He wanted to spend more time with his young family. We also have lawyers who work reduced hours for other reasons. For example, we had a lawyer in the U.S. who worked even fewer days – he was an artist in his spare time and worked reduced hours to create more time for his art. I thought that the fact we enabled that was brilliant and shows that we’re pretty enlightened.

50:50 women and men new partners at Morrison & Foerster

We have a global Women’s Strategy Committee (co-chaired by a senior male partner and senior female partner) which was formed several years ago – partly in recognition that we wanted to increase the number of senior level women lawyers. As with many businesses, having more women in leadership positions remains a key challenge for most law firms.

We carried out a study and found that we’re generally good at internal promotions (our latest new partner list was 50/50 women/men), our biggest issue is in lateral hiring.

The majority of lateral hires are men and we asked ‘why is that?’ Evidence suggests that one of the reasons may be that women who make partner at one firm and have a working arrangement that works for them and their family may be reluctant to leave. A number of observers think it is because women are more likely to view their practices as being integrated with their in-firm networks. Another reason we suspect may contribute to the issue – and this has been discussed a lot in the context of the UK woman on boards debate – is that historically, headhunters and specifications for lateral hires may have been slanted unconsciously in favour of men. We now consider this issue carefully and try to scrutinise our job specs thoroughly to help rule out criteria that may put women off from applying.

Final thoughts?

The more we have men working flexibly, as well as the women, the more it becomes the norm.

I’ve not had a bad reaction from my team in terms of me working flexibly, because there isn’t a culture of presenteeism here. People know that if I leave early, then I will be logging on later if I need to.  Flexibility has to be two-way; if I was the kind of person who said ‘I am working these days and you must never contact me on a Friday and I am leaving the office at this time and that’s it,’ then that’s not going to work as we are in a client-driven business. As long as the clients are happy, it shouldn’t matter. I know the people I work with directly, don’t care if I leave the office at 5pm and then log on at 8pm, as long as my work gets done and the clients are happy. When I compare my experience as a working mum compared to friends at other firms, I must say I feel incredibly fortunate.


(i) Affinity Groups. Of the firm’s 20 affinity groups, 11 are expressly committed to providing women lawyers with an internal support network to help them advance within the firm and the profession, including D.C./NoVa Women, Los Angeles Women, MoFo Women London, New York Asian Women Associates, New York Women, New York Women of Color, Palo Alto Women, San Diego Women, San Francisco Women, San Francisco Working Moms, and San Francisco Women of Color. Each of these groups regularly sponsors programmes that address work-life balance, parenting, and reduced-hours arrangements.

Here are the groups: New York Women, New York Black Women’s Group, Nippon Women, Palo Alto Women, San Diego Women, San Francisco Women, San Francisco Working Moms, Berlin Women, DC/NoVa Women, Los Angeles Women, Los Angeles Working Parents, MoFoWomen London, New York Asian Women Associates

(ii) Awards. MoFo has also recently been recognized as one of the best U.S. law firms for women by Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC, a U.S. consulting firm. The annual survey identifies the top 50 U.S. law firms that have created and use best practices in promoting and retaining women lawyers. According to the survey, the law firms included on this year’s list lead the industry in supporting flexible work arrangements, offering generous paid parental leave, and ensuring that lawyers who take advantage of family-friendly programs are not excluded from partnership or leadership tracks. MoFo is among a select group of firms where the most recent partnership classes have included lawyers who have worked part-time schedules at the time of their promotions.  http://www.workingmother.com/content/2014-working-mother-amp-flex-time-lawyers-50-best-law-firms-women.

 

 

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