Having a baby and quitting my BigLaw job.

2 major life events in the Summer of 2005.

For those of you not burdened by the tyranny of the billable hour, “BigLaw” is lawyer slang for the biggest and most successful law firms. Lots of lawyers working lots of hours.

Not wanting to balance motherhood with billing over 2,100 hours a year, I found a great reduced hours job and scheduled an appointment with the head of my department to quit my old one.

I went in prepared to graciously quit my job. I expressed genuine appreciation for the opportunities and training I had received at the firm. I avoided extraneous details like how great my new job was. I offered help in easing the transition of any of my projects.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the following question, “Why can’t the firm retain more women?”

While I could have written a treatise on the topic, I kept my response personal, that I wanted a reduced hours schedule and since there wasn’t anyone in our department working such a schedule, I didn’t think it was a possibility.

But kudos to that male attorney for recognizing that there was a larger issue at play and wanting to hear more from women on how to solve it.

So how do you successfully negotiate a reduced hours schedule?

Make sure you are okay with missing out on certain career opportunities

Before you transition to a reduced hours schedule, make sure you are okay with potentially missing out on certain career opportunities.

I haven’t worked a full-time job since my eldest daughter was born 15 years ago. Working reduced hours has enabled me to spend time with my kids, volunteer at their schools, and take care of chores and errands during the week.

As my kids have gotten older, my schedule has also given me free time to pursue a writing career.

But there has been a huge cost to my legal career.

Unlike my husband, I’m never going to be a BigLaw partner. I’m probably never going to be general counsel of a good-sized company. I may never sit on a board of directors.

Which isn’t to say I won’t be successful. It’s just a different path than the one I was on when I quit my BigLaw job 15 years ago.

And I’m okay with that. Most days.

Think about what level of success you want in 5, 10 years and make sure a reduced hours schedule isn’t going to prevent you from reaching it.

Analyze your current work environment and determine if a reduced hours schedule is feasible

Remember what I said above about there being no one in my old department who worked a reduced hour schedule?

Not only did no one work a reduced hours schedule, everyone was working a “super” full-time schedule, as in billing in excess of 2,100 hours a year. For the non-lawyers, billable hours are the hours the firm received payment from clients. Not to be confused with the much higher number, actual hours worked.

This, combined with the fact that those lawyers with kids had either stay-at-home spouses or full-time nannies, led me to the conclusion that negotiating and enforcing a reduced hours schedule was not worth the effort. If I wanted a reduced hour schedule, I needed to seek employment elsewhere, which I did.

So before you ask for a reduced hour schedule, give some serious consideration as to how well your request will be received.

Does your company culture favor face time? Do your colleagues routinely eat dinner in the office? If your request was granted, would be the first (or only) person working a reduced hour schedule? Chances are your request will not be favorably received, or if it was granted, may lead to resentment from your co-workers.

The good news, as I quickly discovered, there are plenty of employers open to reduced hour sched-ules. If your employer isn’t, find one that is.

Know your worth, but be reasonable

If you don’t have a job whose salary easily correlates with hours worked, how much should you ask for in your reduced hours negotiation?

First of all, always keep in mind your worth. Your reputation as a reliable and talented employee. Your responsibilities and contributions to the company. How much time, effort, and money would have to be spent to replace you.

Reduced hours shouldn’t be a huge pay cut, but an equitable one.

Here’s how I calculated my salary for my reduced hours gig. I researched what someone with my experience would be paid for a full-time job and used that number to come up with an approximate hourly rate. If you are also in law or in another profession that bills by the hour, another way to cal-culate your hourly rate is one-third to one-half of your billable rate (the rate charged to clients for your time).

Don’t forget to build in an overtime payment if you work more than the agreed upon number of hours. I always structured mine as an end-of-the-year bonus.

Be prepared with a few different schedule options

Come up with a few different options for how your schedule could be arranged that works.

Work 5 reduced days a week? Work 4 slightly longer days a week? Every other Friday off?

Be prepared to present a few different options for your employer to consider.

Come up with a good answer to the “but what if I need you when you’re not here” question

This one is a little tricky.

You may need to make yourself available outside of your new schedule to handle issues that can’t wait until you’re back in the office.


You don’t want to make yourself so available that you basically blow your new reduced hours schedule (see above about pay reduction).

Here’s my approach. If it’s a true emergency, I’m happy to take a cell phone call when I’m not in the office (and respond with a “can it wait until I’m in the office on [date]” if someone is looking for me to do something). I also usually check emails twice a day on days I’m not in the office. Any emails that require a substantive response, I respond with “I received your email and I will respond on [date].”

Don’t let your work creep too much in to your time off.

Do you work a reduced hours schedule (or are thinking about it)? Leave a comment or send me an email.

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All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2020 Siobhan Fitzpatrick.

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