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For many lawyers, 'summer hours' are nothing more than wishful thinking, or simply a frustrating way for the firm to cut costs. The very thought of closing the office an hour or two early, or scaling back support staff hours, even a couple days a week, over the summer, is fraught with complications (particularly when support staff babysit summer interns).
However, for those firms that pride themselves on having a good work-life balance for employees, having summer hours can often be as much of a perennial crowd pleaser for some as it is frustrating for others. Sadly, after the summer solstice, summer draws to a close (though the heat may still be around for a few more weeks, months, or forever depending on where you practice), it's time for summer hours to end as well.
Wait What? What Are Summer Hours?
If you've never heard of "summer hours," then you might want to sit down for this. For businesses that often find the summertime to be their slow season, which is often the case for law firms, scaling back the hours for operations and support staff over the summer is a great way to cut costs. Usually, for attorneys, nothing changes with the billable hour requirement except for having less support staff hours to help you meet it. Often, summer hours for operations and support staff can be coupled with flex, or telecommute, time for attorneys.
For example, if you have a dedicated receptionist for your phone, you can open and close down the phone lines an hour later and earlier, respectively (so long as you have an automated system that is actually usable so a court, or client having an emergency, can get through). This can reduce two hours of pay for a receptionist, per day. Although it may seem harsh to cut staff hours, thereby reducing the total take-home pay, law firms are businesses, not charities. Plus, there are other things you can do to make sure your staff doesn't hate you.
Do Summer Hours Have to End?
If you found that summer hours actually worked well logistically, financially, and/or otherwise, for your firm, you don't have to revert back to normal hours if you see that your book of business will continue to maintain the status quo or continue growing, despite the reduced hours. Alternatively, summer hours can also be used during the holiday season and end of year, when again, law firm business tends to slow down.
Protip: Be careful not to cut hours too drastically over the summer or holiday season as doing so may trigger "partial" unemployment (a.k.a. underemployment) protections that could cost you.
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