Feminist law prof Christine Hurt has an interesting and important post up on this topic at The Conglomerate. Below is a short excerpt:
… I’ve known a number of female associates who try to pick family-friendly departments in law firms to have a more predictable lifestyle (ERISA, wills & estates, real estate). But the pressure is immense. They are in specialities where there aren’t enough hours available to give all associates 2500 hours a year, but the expectation is still there. They are getting paid the same as the folks in corporate who are billing 3000 hours, after all. But the clients in these practices pore over billing statements, want flat fees and reduced rates, increasing the pressure on those associates in the “cost centers” or “loss leaders.” Not to mention the associates in the high-billable departments who would just like a normal lifestyle. However, if you are told that if you bill less than 2000 hours you won’t be fired but instead will forego your $25k bonus and only make $135k this year, then you may be willing to pay that premium. The model moves from one where less-than-average hours is prohibited to one where that choice is priced. Many people I know would be willing to pay that price. Of course, the system would have to be integrated into the partnership decision, and I’m not sure we know how that will play out. For example, in the Howrey firm, where associates move up in rank by merit, not by chronology, could an associate stay a “Level 3″ for an unlimited number of years? In short, I think if the model moves away from pass/fail to “pick your price,” then it could be a win-win situation.