The Evils of 'Elasticity': Reflections on the Rhetoric of Professionalism and the Part-Time Paradox in Large Firm Practice
Amelia J. Uelmen
Fordham University School of Law
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Symposium on Professional Challenges in Large-Firm Practice, Vol. 33, pp. 81-118, 2005
Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 910242
"Don't do it, it is professional suicide." This is the wise advice that most associates would receive in response to the question of whether they should open a conversation about a "less money for less hours" option in a large firm practice context. Why are large firms so resistant to creative conversations about part-time arrangements? At first glance part-time arrangements might seem inconsistent with large firm client demands. But a closer analysis reveals that a matter of sensible management, working "less money for less hours" is often perfectly consistent with outstanding client service.
Why do so many law firms resist this logic? This Article argues that lurking beneath the rhetoric is, in C.S. Lewis's terms, the evil of "elasticity," in which the all-consuming demands of the workplace gradually corrode hope for a more harmonious and balanced life. Understanding this influence not only helps explain the resistance of law firms but offers a way to engage in creative and productive conversations about "work-life" balance, including a helpful clarification of concepts in professional rhetoric such as "calling" or "vocation," "commitment," and "service."
The Article concludes with a reflection on A.O. Hirschman's scheme of "exit, voice and loyalty." It proposes that the request for a part-time schedule should be interpreted neither as exit, nor as an act of disloyalty to the firm or the profession, but rather as a "voice" of creativity and hope for a balanced life. Large firms that welcome the "voice" of attorneys with part-time arrangements may be surprised to find that they may offer not only loyal client service, but also constructive contributions to the recovery of positive professional values.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 39Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: June 19, 2006
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