Spotlight on Flex


 

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.

2019 Spotlights

For July 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Sharon Newlon, Member and Environmental, Energy & Sustainability Practice Group Co-Chair, Dickinson Wright (Detroit, MI)

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?

Sharon Newlon: I had always looked for a career that could meld my interest in math, science, and the law. By the time I was in law school, I knew I wanted to focus on environmental law since this mixed all my interests into one area. I was introduced to Dickinson Wright when I was hired after my first year of law school as a research associate for a bankruptcy attorney here who was writing a book for Matthew Bender. Dickinson didn’t hire first year interns for its summer program at the time, but I was introduced to the head of their environmental practice and invited back for my second year summer in 1987. I expressed my interest in environmental law and was assigned great projects in that area – and I’ve been with the firm ever since!

I’ve had different career opportunities over the years, but I was, and am, really happy at the firm and with the environmental group. When my son was born in 1998, flex/reduced hours were already in place for associates, but not members. Dickinson saw how well flex was working at the associate level, and they expanded the reduced hours policy to income members while I was on maternity leave. I came back from leave, at full time for a month, but found it was hard to manage expectations both as a new parent at home and at work. With the new reduced hours policy for members in place, I switched to a 75% reduced hours schedule.

I started by working 3-1/2 days per week at the office, while our son was in part-time daycare. Flexibility was a key consideration, and after receiving recommendations for day care programs, we selected one that could keep our son for a full day, if needed. Fortunately, we were able to limit that to a handful of times. Once my son entered elementary school, I would come into the office every day during the academic year, but I would leave by noon two days a week. Once my son was in high school, I kept the same reduced hours but was able to take on more work and be out of the office for one day. I feel like my flex schedule and the firm’s flex initiatives have adapted together as my son has gotten older (now he’s in college).

Dickinson doesn’t currently have a program for reduced hours for equity members. However, they do have a consulting member tier with a negotiable billable hour requirement and some profit sharing abilities. As it was originally established to help transition equity members moving into retirement, only equity members could progress to this tier. When I was coming up the ranks, a female associate told me, “People are watching you and want to see how you’re going to address this issue.” I was an income member at the time, and hearing this made me realize I could do something that would pay it forward for younger members and associates at the firm. I asked our CEO if I could change my status to a consulting member; I highlighted how allowing income members to also progress to the consulting tier was a win/win for the firm. If I did better, then so did Dickinson. I, and others, would be incentivized to stay and excel. After some further campaigning, the governing board changed the partnership agreement, and now income and equity members have an opportunity to move to consulting member status.

As a consulting member, I still keep a reduced hours schedule but with profit sharing when I exceed my base numbers.   The biggest win, from my perspective, is it sends a signal to people working their way up that there are options. You are not lock-stepped into only income or equity status. This whole process showed me I’m more control of my career than I thought. And it’s showing others how to take ownership of their careers while providing value to clients and the firm.

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?

SN: Some clients know about my schedule, and those that do are very supportive of it. They appreciate knowing when I’m off so they can respect my hours; I’m responsive to their needs, and they respect that.

If you think you’re going to be able split your time as 50% mom and 50% attorney, it’s not going to work. There are going to be days when you feel like you’re the worst attorney and mom, and there are going to be days when feel like you’re the best attorney and mom in the world! My flex success has been my ability to focus on work priorities and still eat dinner with my family every night. If I get behind in hours, I have room in my schedule to make up for them later.

I was overwhelmed as a new parent when I returned to work, and I don’t know if I would have been able to sustain a full time practice as well as happy, healthy family life without flex. Flex and reduced hours made it possible to stay and flourish. Dickinson has been extremely supportive of the policies in place and of my needs over the years. Two years ago my husband had an extended illness that required constant care during his recovery. I worked remotely for six weeks to be with him, and the firm immediately set up the technology I needed in my home office to make work operations seamless.

My reduced hours schedule also allows me to focus on internal development and firm citizenship. I was on the associate’s committee for three years, and I am co-chair of Dickinson’s environmental practice group. I’ve been able to fully commit to those responsibilities on top of my external business development. When you have flexibility, you have time to focus on many things – I can take a day to network with other women in environmental science, to actively participate in professional organizations, and still perform at work. It’s so important to build time for these development opportunities into your schedule – flex allows for that to happen.

DFA: Looking back, what would you tell your first year associate self?

SN: In addition to developing a good understanding of the business of our work, I would make sure I understood there are options, and taking ownership of my career means exploring and expanding those options. I don’t know how hard I would’ve pushed for consulting member status had I not been reminded that others were watching how I would navigate my career trajectory. I was empowered and nervous at the same time, but I did it to create a sustainable career for me and others at the firm. I had shoulders to stand on as I was making my way, and I believe you should do things that can make it better for others behind you too.

DFA: What do you do to recharge? How do you pay it forward?

SN: I’ve been singing longer than I’ve been practicing law, and when I’m singing, I’m in my happy place – in fact, I met my husband because of it! I sing at our church where my husband is the Minister of Music. We take family vacations, and with my reduced hours, I can plan accordingly. Just like you need to build in time for business development, you need to build in time to relax.

I informally mentor younger associates about how I “make it work” with flex, and I openly participate in firm initiatives and panels to highlight our flex policies. I present every year at a program for high school girls showcasing careers in math and science sponsored by the Cranbrook Institute of Science and the American Association of University Women. I serve on the alumni board of the College of Engineering and Science at my undergraduate alma mater, University of Detroit Mercy, and I support students from my law school, Notre Dame, by participating in mock interviews. I look forward to seeing how these future leaders will adapt to and with the workplace.

 

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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 May 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Teresa Reuter, AssociateSidley Austin LLP (Chicago, IL)

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?

TR: After graduating from law school in 2009, I clerked for a year in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and then joined a large law firm in Atlanta. In 2013 my husband’s job took us to the Midwest at which point I joined Sidley as a lateral in its Chicago office. I worked full time until I came back from maternity leave in April 2017. Since then, I’ve been working a 90% reduced hours schedule.

With the addition to our family, I knew I needed to make adjustments to my schedule. I wanted to be fully engaged with work and also have some “give” with my hours to adjust to life with our newborn and a husband who travels for work. My reduced hours gives me that balance. Sidley guaranteed me the option to work a reduced hours schedule upon returning from leave, but I still was nervous to ask for it. Without any hesitation, my practice group leader and Sidley fully supported my request, and I’ve been working reduced hours ever since. I come into the office every day, and I have the flexibility to take care of work and personal matters as they’re scheduled or occur. With my reduced hours, I adjust my schedule to the changing demands of life. For instance, ever since transitioning my son to a daycare, I leave at 5 pm a few days a week to pick him up.

The 10% reduction in billable hours may not seem like a lot, but it has been tremendously helpful in allowing me to meet work and life demands as they arise. I have less pressure to bill and more time to spend with my family and on business development matters. Flex will continue to be a priority for my career, especially starting this summer as we are relocated to Munich, Germany for one year. I’ll be working out of the firm’s Munich office and will further reduce my schedule to 60% – 70% of billable hours.

Sidley has been incredibly supportive of my career and personal development, and that support has manifested in different ways over the years. I transitioned from having more flexibility at home with an in-home caretaker to a more regulated schedule once my son started day care – it was a harder transition than I thought it would be. When discussing some of these issues with a senior partner in my group, she encouraged me to take the time I needed and to let people know I had to leave the office by a certain time to make the transition work. We all have different commitments outside of work, and I have come to learn that it’s important to communicate openly about these matters. The idea is: you’re a professional, we trust your judgment to stand by your clients, the firm, and your family, and you can make your own decisions. That’s not to say that when there’s an emergency you’re not available; you adjust accordingly, and the firm trusts that you are capable of managing this effectively.

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?

TR: Becoming a parent changes your life in so many ways. I wouldn’t be a good parent and a good attorney without flex, especially with a partner who travels often for work. Flex is a necessity, and it’s helped to make my career sustainable. The 10% fewer billable hours not only gives me the breathing room I need to take care of my family life, it also gives me the room to attend work events and be more present in the legal community. It’s easy to tell people they have to “be out there and get to know people” for development purposes, but it’s a lot harder to do when you’re thinking about it on top of meeting your billable hours.

I see more clients and attorneys talking openly about flexibility and alternative schedules. I work with several women lawyers, and our use of flex is a bonding point. It’s a great feeling to know you can meet your work and personal demands by being open and effective communicators. Clients and opposing counsel will say, “I’m not in the office this day,” or “I have to leave by 3:00 p.m. to pick up my kids,” – the more we talk about flexibility, the more it will become part of the norm.

DFA: Looking back, what would you tell your first year associate self?

TR: Before I started working reduced hours, I was too hesitant in communicating openly about deadlines and expectations; instead, I assumed everything was urgent. I also would let everyone know I was still available and reachable when I was out of the office, even if that wasn’t feasible. If I could talk to my former self, I would say that it’s OK to be on vacation; my co-workers could cover for me, and it is OK to take time to recoup and recover. It’s better for me and for the firm. Now I try to take my own advice and untether on vacation and be respectful of others who are out of the office. I want more junior associates to know it’s OK to set boundaries and to stick to them!

I would do less assuming and more communicating – not everything needs a response right away. Be more forthright with asking, “When do you need this by?” I see more junior associates doing this (and doing it well), and I wish I had done that too.

DFA: What do you do to recharge? How do you pay it forward?

TR: To recharge I try to meditate every day for at least 10 minutes; it helps me reset and keep focus. My husband and I also are avid travelers; in the past year we’ve gone scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands, on safari to see lowland gorillas, and forest elephants in Gabon. These trips require us to unplug and enjoy the world’s natural wonders.

Paying it forward, I try to be more cognizant that not everyone is working when I work. When I log in at night and send emails, I try to put them on auto-delay so people don’t feel the pressure to respond if it’s not a true emergency. It’s small things like this that encourage and train us to be better communicators and relieve some of the pressure we feel from our jobs.

 

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 April 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Ann Rives Associate, Crowell & Moring (Washington, DC).

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?

Ann Rives: I was a rising third year associate when I lateraled to the antitrust group at Crowell and Moring in 2008. I was working full time, but went on maternity leave with my first child in December 2009. Crowell has a Balanced Hours policy that allowed me to return on a reduced schedule, and when I returned to work, I came back at a 60% reduced hours schedule. This was still relatively uncommon at the time, but coupled with the leave policy, Crowell has always shown its support of flexible work and its people.

But life happens, and when my son turned one, my husband’s new job required him to travel four days a week. We knew one of us needed a more stable schedule to be present for our son, and it was going to be me. I left the firm, but the antitrust group leaders and the firm made it clear that the door would always be open if I wanted to come back – even just to work on special projects. As hard as it was to leave in 2010, it was a great feeling to know I had a place to come back to at this caliber of a firm with amazing colleagues.

I made it a point to stay in contact after I left, and once my second child entered pre-school in 2013, I reached out to see if I could work on special projects for the antitrust group. The partners and the firm were incredibly receptive; we discussed what type of work I wanted, how many hours I could give, and how we could make it all work together.

Our agreed upon arrangement (and current flex schedule) is I’m an associate and bill an hourly rate with no annual requirement – it’s bill as you go, and I work primarily from home. The work ebbs and flows, and I bill anywhere between 7 – 20 hours a week. As lawyers, we’re trained to work on tight deadlines. But if you plan ahead and think about the work in the pipeline, there are things that can be pulled out of the “need it now” lane and reassigned to “non-urgent, but essential” lane instead. I focus on the latter items – complex research with high attention to detail work – and I love it!

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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 March 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Jay Kugler DeYoung, Principal, Fish & Richardson (Boston, MA).

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?

Jay Kugler DeYoung: Before I came to Fish & Richardson in 2002, I worked for two years at a general practice firm. I wanted to focus on biotechnology prosecution, and I was happy to move to Fish & Richardson when the opportunity presented itself. I joined Fish as a full time associate, and in 2008 I came up for partner – just as I had my first child. I made partner that year and came back on a reduced hours schedule after my daughter was born. I have an hour long commute each way, and I wanted to be home to see my child and eat dinner together as a family. I moved to an 80% reduced hours schedule that consisted of coming into the office each day from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm. I telecommuted as necessary too, and I’ve never looked back.

The firm has never pressured me to go back to full time, in fact, I believe the firm sees flexibility as a win/win for everyone. I chose to reduce my hours because I wanted be involved with firm activities around associate mentoring, training, evaluation, and advancement. Over the years, I’ve expanded my internal involvement to include partner evaluation and advancement too. Internal community building and professional development are both really important to me, and if I were working full time, I wouldn’t be able to give 100% to my substantive work, professional development activities, or being a mom. Flex has been a decision that’s really worked because I’m happier, have less pressure to bill hours, can devote the time I want to client development, and am able to spend quality time with my family.

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 February 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Andrea BrockwayCounsel, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr (Philadelphia, PA).

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?

Andrea Brockway: I started at the firm as a full-time litigation associate in 2008 after graduating from Temple Law School. In late 2010, I switched to a reduced hours schedule after the birth of my first child. The firm had a formal flex policy in place when I asked to reduce my hours, and my request was approved. Since switching to flex eight years ago, I’m now the proud mother of four children and have maintained a successful litigation practice representing clients in higher education and white collar criminal defense. The firm and my colleagues have always been supportive of my flexible work arrangement because they trust I’m going to complete the work and do it well.As a litigator, my work and deadlines vary day to day, but I try to block off Fridays to focus on my family. Even though the nature of litigation doesn’t always fit that schedule, my flex hours enable me to decline non-essential meetings scheduled on Fridays. My coworkers understand because they know I’ll always attend to my work commitments on time.

When it comes to flex, it’s not just the reduced hours, but it’s also the flexible work environment that’s been helpful for me. The firm has been very supportive of me working remotely where feasible. This locational flexibility allows me to save on commute time and also affords me the ability to work before/after traditional office hours.

I make flex a priority through communication and organization. All of my commitments are calendared – whether it’s a court deadline or bringing Valentine’s Day treats to my pre-schooler’s classroom. Everything is scheduled, and I’m available via my cell phone or email. I recently started using an app called iTimeKeep to help me stay organized and on top of my commitments. It’s been extremely beneficial for my time management and prioritizing tasks throughout the day.

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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 January 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Molly Senger, Of Counsel, Gibson Dunn (Washington, DC).

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?

Molly Senger: I came to Gibson Dunn in 2011 as a third year associate after I completed a clerkship with the Honorable John D. Bates at the US District Court for the District of Columbia. I started full time, but after I had my son in January 2016, I came back from maternity leave to a 70% reduced hours schedule. The only formalized aspect of my flex schedule is my reduced hours target; what I’ve learned is you have to be flexible with your time and each day is different. I’m generally in the office every day, but my hours vary depending on what’s happening in the matters I’m working on at the time. I’ve had months in which I’ve had an arbitration and far exceeded full-time hours. But I’ve also had months in which my matters have been relatively quiet, and I’ve been able to take advantage of my flex schedule.

One thing I try to keep in mind with my flex schedule is something one of my mentors told me; “it’s unlikely you’ll find a perfect balance every day, but if you strive for it, you can find the balance you want over the long-term.” Once I started working flex, I made it a priority to be more comfortable saying “no.” I enjoy my work and give 110% to all my matters, and I want to say “yes” to a lot of things. But having been in the position of saying “yes” to too many things, I’ve learned to get over the guilt of saying “no” and figure out the right balance of what I can handle at work while also having time for family, friends, and everything else in life.

Thankfully, Gibson Dunn provides a supportive and easy learning environment for flex. I can change my reduced hours percentage at any time, and the firm does an annual true-up when I exceed my agreed-upon hours. More importantly, my colleagues and the partners I work with have helped me become more comfortable finding the right balance for me. When a partner comes to me with a new matter that I’d love to help with but I’m stretched too thin, I’m upfront about my reasons for saying “no.” I remind them to ask me again when the next new matter arises, and they do! Learning that partners understand and trust the reasons behind your “no” – and that they will come to you again – has made the process of saying “no” much easier.

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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 November 2018, we are pleased to share insights from Adie Olson, PartnerQuarles & Brady (Chicago, IL).

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success within your career? How has the firm supported this?

Adie Olson: Law is actually my second career, but my legal career has come full circle with Quarles & Brady. I was a special education teacher and worked with kids with severe emotional and behavioral issues for five years. I loved teaching, but law was always in the back of my mind. I attended Marquette University Law School as an evening student and started as an associate at Quarles & Brady right after graduation in 2003.

I didn’t think I was interested in working at a large law firm, but an adjunct law professor who worked at Quarles, encouraged me to apply for their summer associate program. The firm broke down any stereotypes I had of “big law” at the time; people were really nice, and they had families and lives outside of the office. I knew it was the right place for me, especially as I started my full-time, legal career with them with a six-week old baby at home!

It was pure luck that when I started at Quarles, they were defending a special education class action law suit. I had the substantive background – maybe not the litigation skills (yet) – for a case full of educational acronyms and was able to hit the ground running. I never set out to be a litigator, but things happen for a reason. There is a serendipity aspect to it, but you also have to be open to opportunities that come your way.

I also believe every lawyer should start off as a litigator. You learn about all aspects of a transaction – what went right/wrong, you develop amazing people skills, and you learn how to be a fantastic lawyer. I can be a very intense person, so litigation brought out the best and worst in me at times. By the time I was a fourth year associate, three of my cases went to trial in one year, I was working long days, and I was pregnant with my second child. This was a turning point for me. My career, as exciting as it was, was not sustainable as-is. I knew I wanted to have more time to spend with my growing family.

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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 October 2018, we are pleased to share insights from Mark Miller, Partner, Norton Rose Fulbright (Houston, TX).

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success through your schedule?

Mark Miller: I just celebrated my 31st year at the firm doing ERISA work. I’m based in the Houston office, but for the past six years I split part of the month with our New York office. In the fall of 2012, I was billing hour after hour, and while I was driving home one night, the song Behind Blue Eyes came on. I thought. “I just want to pause…” I didn’t want to change jobs or law firms; I just wanted a pause. I always envisioned myself with a one job, one firm legal career; I had great clients, I loved the firm, and I didn’t want to change that.

I wrote a memo to the managing partner explaining how grateful I was to do the work I was doing, how much I loved my job, appreciated my clients, and enjoyed working with my colleagues. But I also explained my intention to take a five month sabbatical (from April to September). I didn’t want to telecommute or go reduced hours; I wanted to see if I could really unplug from big law. I needed more than a vacation, and I didn’t want to quit. It would have been easy to change law firms, but it would have been the same cycle over and over. That’s what I was trying to break away from.

The managing partner asked about the precedence for my request. I told him there wasn’t one, but the firm had a maternity/paternity leave policy, and we supported people going to rehab. He took my memo into consideration, and a few days later my request was fully approved. Among the many things this experience taught me, it affirmed the fact that you need to ask for what you want. I was ready and willing to quit my job if I had to, and I’m thankful it didn’t come to that.

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Most months 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.

Although we typically highlight an attorney from a member organization, this month we wanted to showcase Dr. Cindy Kelley, Vice President, Medical Education, Summa Health (Akron, OH) one of this year’s Flex Success® Award honorees as she was unable to attend our Annual Conference due to a last minute conflict.  Dr. Kelley, along with her co-honoree, Lori Mihalich Levin (Dentons), exemplifies how flexibility works across industries and across client/partner relationships.  We are thrilled to share her personal Flex Success® story with you.

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule? How has your organization contributed to this?

Dr. Cindy Kelley: I have learned that with planning ahead and clear communication, a flexible schedule is possible.  With four daughters, I’ve realized that one-on-one time with each of them is a rarity but is so important.  So, I’ve started blocking the first hour on my Friday schedule so that each week, I can take one of them to breakfast before school and work.  Things do come up and we have to be flexible!  But I’ve learned that if you don’t at least make a plan, time will pass you by, and you’ll miss these opportunities.  My organization contributes to this flexibility by trusting us to get our work done and focusing on outcomes rather than the process.  In addition, my boss not only talks about the importance of work-life balance; he lives it.  This gives us permission to live it too.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?
CK: My career would not have been possible without the support of my institution, and specifically, my partners as I shifted and changed my schedule early on.  Just one-and-a-half-years into my first job as a family medicine residency faculty member, I went to my boss in tears telling him that I didn’t think I could continue working full-time and taking obstetrics call.  I hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to manage my schedule with a toddler and a newborn while my husband worked ED shifts.  We talked about what I needed and discussed a potential plan.  He took this to my entire group and they supported the change in my schedule.  Since that time, I have worked all kinds of schedules.  I am forever grateful to my partners for their support.

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