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Lawyers Club of San Diego, a voluntary bar association dedicated to advancing the status of women in the law and society, hosted a “Balanced Life Summit” last Friday, exploring how women (and men) can find ways to balance work and life in the corporate and legal worlds.

This wasn’t a tip session on how to work more efficiently or squeeze more work in during your commute or while the kids are in the tub. Instead, it was an extremely interesting look at the business case for balanced hours and best practices that law firms and other employers can use to provide a saner work-life for their employees.

The business case, in a nutshell, is that allowing employees to work reasonable hours increases retention. That is, happy employees stick around. This makes good business sense for several reasons. One, clients want consistency. They prefer to work with the same person or group of people over the life of a project, and they certainly don’t like to pay, over and over again, for new people to get up to speed on a case. Two, turnover is expensive for employers. According to research done by the Project for Attorney Retention at the UC Hastings College of the Law’s Center for WorkLife Law, it costs a law firm $200,000 — by conservative estimates — to replace a second-year associate. That’s the cost of recruiting candidates, time spent interviewing candidates, lost training costs for the departing attorney, training costs for the new hire, and time that gets written off while the new hire gets up to speed.

The best practices? Law firms and companies that make balanced hours programs work have these things in common: a supportive attitude from the top of the organization; written balance policies; proportional pay for proportional work; real opportunities for advancement; careful monitoring of the program; and flexibility. Find more details on each of these best practices at “Creating Workplace Solutions for Women Attorneys: Report of the Lawyers Club of San Diego Balance Campaign.” And check out the Project for Attorney Retention’s Interim Report and Model Balanced Hours Policy. Although both these reports deal with attorneys and law firms, they make good resources for companies and employees in other industries as well.

Lawyers Club of San Diego 2006 Equality Survey .

JODI CLEESATTLE

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