Spotlight on Flex – Dana Justus
Our Spotlight on Flex showcases professionals from member organizations who exemplify personal and professional success while working a flexible schedule. Their stories illustrate the long-term benefits that flexible schedules offer to both individuals and organizations.
For June 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Dana Justus, Counsel, Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox (Washington, DC)
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?
Dana Justus: A healthy combination of luck and maintaining strong relationships! I worked before and during law school as a paralegal and then student associate/law clerk at an Intellectual Property (IP) firm in DC. While there, I developed a great relationship with a partner, Monica Talley, who’s since became a Director at Sterne Kessler. After graduation, I worked in the trademark group for another general practice firm for five years. Although I loved the people I worked with, the workload was very demanding and my husband did not have much flexibility at his own job. I knew that our future family life would be dependent on one of us (likely me) finding what I considered to be a potentially non-existent, “dream” reduced-hours trademark attorney job.
During my last year at my prior firm, I billed 2600 hours while pregnant, and I knew that schedule wouldn’t be sustainable for our long-term lives – particularly as my husband had just made partner at his firm. In what turned out to be a massive stroke of luck, Monica Talley reached out to me about moving to Sterne Kessler as a “reduced hours” associate in the trademark practice group. I really liked the fact that Monica and the firm had brought in another reduced hours associate the prior year, so the groundwork had been laid to add a similar position to the group. Also, the workload sounded like my ideal balance – not too much litigation or “all hands on deck” situations. It was the type of work I wanted, with the flexibility I needed, at a firm I liked, with a partner I already knew and respected immensely – my “dream” job come true!
I started with Sterne Kessler in May 2016 with a 1200 billable hour requirement. I originally aimed to work in the office four days and one day “off” per week, but this routine quickly proved to be too inflexible. Now, I still bill at 1200 hours/year, but I telework two days/week (typically Tuesdays and either Thursdays or Fridays). I don’t feel tethered to the office; if there’s a week where I have a lot of house projects or my son is sick, I let people know. My practice group and the firm value my arrangement because they view flexibility as an asset – my Director has told me that she never knows if I’m in the office, teleworking, or traveling, and she doesn’t care. My work is done on time, and it’s done well.
The level of support for flex and my schedule hasn’t changed at all over the years. Last year I started assisting with more litigation matters outside of the Trademark practice group. The team knew I was offline from 5 pm – 8 pm and working from home at least twice a week, and it was never an issue. I strongly believe in the idea that face time does not equal value, and I believe my work product reflects this commitment.
DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to your overall internal and external development? How have clients supported your flex journey?
DJ: Flex is integral to my professional outlook, overall job satisfaction, and career development. My current arrangement is the perfect balance for me, especially as I’m preparing for my second maternity leave. I have quality work that I feel gratified, I’m not missing out on any professional development opportunities, and I have enough time to spend with my son and take care of personal matters. I rarely feel overwhelmed, but I also don’t feel stagnant or bored with my career.
I’ve never had to tell a client I’m working reduced hours – thanks to technology and my commitment to being flexible, the results are the same as if I were working full time in an office. There’s no difference in my availability or response time. I strongly believe it’s important to stay present for both your external and internal clients, and I’m always willing to shift my telework days if a client wants to meet in the office. Similarly, I’ll come into the office rather than dial in for an important client call or firm/group meeting because I want to be there in person. I don’t want to be viewed differently or for people to think I have any less loyalty or commitment to my work, the firm, and my clients because I work reduced hours.
I really appreciate Sterne Kessler’s adaptability and commitment to having more senior attorneys in flexible arrangements. I have never felt like a “second-class citizen” because of my reduced hours as compared to full-time associates. During my first year here, I was asked to mentor a summer associate, and my first reaction was, “But I’m not full time.” Then I realized it had nothing to do my schedule; rather it was the firm’s support and belief that I would make a good mentor. My schedule shouldn’t, and didn’t, matter in terms of the value that I could provide in that role.
DFA: Looking back, what would you tell your first year associate self?
DJ: I feel very lucky to be in this role and strongly believe in developing and maintaining relationships from the very beginning. Monica thought of me and reached out when she needed another team member because I maintained a strong relationship with her over the years. Even though flex is not as common as the traditional associate track, it makes me happy that Sterne Kessler was, and continues to be, open to these arrangements.
DFA: What do you do to recharge? How do you pay it forward?
DJ: I’m able to accomplish a lot during my telework days, and I’m able to keep my weekends primarily open for family time. Time with them and regular yoga classes help me to recharge.
I’m still very involved with the IP community at American University Washington College of Law, and I speak on panels and review resumes for students. I believe in paying it forward because I was lucky throughout my career to be in the right place, at the right time, or to know the right person.
If you are a professional working a flexible schedule and would like to share your story in an upcoming Spotlight on Flex, contact Eliza Musallam.