October 2021 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.
For our October 2021 Spotlight on Flex we are pleased to share insights from Elise Attridge, Associate, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule? How has the firm and/or your clients contributed to this?
Elise Attridge: After my first child was born in 2016, I started working at an 80% reduced hour schedule. At that time, I had been a Litigation Associate at Morgan Lewis for five years.
When I first shared the news that I was pregnant to members of firm management, multiple people offered me the opportunity to work on a reduced schedule when I returned from maternity leave, which I was thrilled about because I’d heard of other working mothers taking this approach. And because the firm had raised it first, I felt extremely supported in the decision to work a reduced hours schedule.
I’ve been on that 80% arrangement ever since. It’s been about five years now and I’ve gone on to have two more children.
Right from the beginning, I received excellent advice from one of our litigation partners. Even though I planned to be in the office four days a week, she recommended that I have childcare available for all five days. I took that advice to heart and it really helped me ensure that I am able to be successful with my flexible schedule. My arrangement is that our nanny comes four days a week, and I target Monday as my day off to be with my children. But my nanny is available all five days if I need her to work, which sometimes I do.
While working four days a week is my goal, that is not always feasible, particularly as a litigation attorney because I have deadlines that are out of my control and unavoidable periods of heavy workloads.
So, I don’t measure the success of my reduced schedule on a weekly or even monthly basis. There are certainly some months where I work full-time hours. Instead, I measure my reduced schedule on a yearly basis. I can then balance those periods of heavy workloads — for example, when I have depositions or a trial — with more time off at slower points in the year. It is a constant, and sometimes tricky, balancing act.
So far, however, because of my approach, I think I’ve been successful at having that work-life balance that works for me, my family, my firm and my clients.
The firm definitely has been giving me ongoing support during my flexible schedule. And in terms of my clients, I would guess that most, if not all, of my clients probably don’t even know that I work on a reduced schedule. It’s certainly not a secret. Even though I’m on a reduced schedule, once I’m on a case, I’m still 100% committed to delivering great legal work and exceptional client service. So that’s why calibrating my schedule on a yearly basis is so important, because there are times when I need to meet client needs, even if it’s on a Monday.
DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business development opportunities?
EA: Working flexibly has been essential for me to maintain my career. Without a reduced hours schedule, I believe that I would not be working in big law after having children. There are certainly some rockstar parents who seemingly can do it all and handle that full workload, but for me, I need a more flexible schedule to be able to thrive at both my job and be the kind of mother that I want to be. I’d say the flexibility has been absolutely essential for me to continue working.
One thing I have noticed, especially during the pandemic when I’ve gotten to know my colleagues and clients better because we’re all working from home, is that so many of my clients are also working mothers. So, I’m able to connect with them on this level and have those shared experiences in common, which in turn helps me solidify the personal relationships that are so important for business development, too.
DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your first-year Associate self?
EA: I don’t believe I would do anything differently. I would want to reassure my first-year Associate self that I’m doing a good job. And that all that work, the long hours, the travel, saying yes to firm projects and activities, meeting people within the firm, that relationship building, it’s all worth it. Becoming the kind of associate that others could rely on set me up for success on a reduced schedule later in my career because partners, colleagues and clients already knew my work ethic.
DFA: How do you recharge, and how do you pay it forward?
I have an infant (my third boy), so there’s not a whole lot of recharging going on in my house right now! But typically, I really enjoy getting outside to go on a walk or a bike ride. And recently, I started reading again for pleasure, which I’ve been able to find time to do when I’m feeding the baby. So there’s a lot of multitasking!
In terms of paying it forward, I often have law students or new lawyers reach out to me for informational interviews. And I always, always, always respond to their email and offer to schedule a call to speak with them about my own career. If we discuss the important topic of work-life balance, I’ll highlight some of the programs and policies at Morgan Lewis that have helped me, just so they can get a sense of what might be out there for them and what to look for.
For example, even before the pandemic, Morgan Lewis had a formal remote work program that Associates could take advantage of, which could help them maintain some flexibility in their schedules and work from home one or two days a week. And I personally have benefited from generous parental leave policies as well as “ramp down” and “ramp up” programs that reduce my billable hours requirement before and after periods of leaves. That way, I can slow down before I go out from work and also when I come back. I recently came back from maternity leave, in fact, so I’m still in that ramp up program where I can meaningfully look for projects that suit my goals.
These are just some examples that signal your employer values your wellbeing, which I like to discuss with the law students and young attorneys that contact me. This should be something they look out for when they’re determining whether a job would be a good fit for them.
DFA: How has the pandemic impacted your flexible working schedule?
EA: I think for me, like for many people, the pandemic has had both a positive and negative effect on my work schedule. At first, it was very, very negative as we didn’t have any childcare for about two months, which I’d say was the most challenging period of my career. At that time, I had a one-year-old and a three-year-old who needed constant supervision. So, it was extremely difficult to care for both boys and then try to meet my professional demands and still be a good colleague at the same time. But my husband and I made it through and overcoming those challenges has given me increased confidence in myself and my resiliency. Now we have our wonderful nanny back and my two older boys are back in school this fall.
Working from home during the pandemic has also had some definite positives as well. For example, because I’m not spending time commuting right now, I have more time during the day to prep dinner or do a quick load of laundry, or even pop down and see my kids at lunch. I feel like working from home in general has been more normalized, obviously. Also, even being a parent is more normalized, meaning the fact that I have responsibilities outside of work feels more accepted. So those are some benefits as well.
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If you are a professional working a flexible schedule and would like to share your story in an upcoming Spotlight on Flex, contact Jane Caldeira.