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!
When you’re thinking about developing your career while starting a family, deciding to stay at home to be with your family, or dealing with life circumstances, you’re also thinking about the potential experience gap on your resume. What if you decide to leave and want to come back? That gap can be hard to overcome. If I hadn’t reached out to Crowell in 2013 and if the firm had not been so supportive, I would be dealing with an eight year gap on my resume. As I said before, life happens, and I had two more children since returning to flex work at Crowell. With four kids (two boys and two girls ranging in age from 18 months to 3, 7, and 9 year olds), flexibility is clearly a priority for me, and Crowell’s policies have been proven successful as I progress in my career!
The key to any successful flex arrangement is open and honest communication. I work with the partners to identify work I want to do; I focus on researching and writing on complex legal issues, and I’m not afraid to say if the work is not the right fit for me.
Crowell is working to find more unique flex arrangements that will keep quality people at the firm. They’ve invested heavily in my career and are smart about making long-term investments in their associates. The firm sends me to client conferences and trainings because they recognize that my flex schedule doesn’t diminish my value or contributions to the firm.
I’m not shy about sharing my flex arrangement experience with others. The more people share how flex works for them, the more junior associates can see the different avenues available for them. There’s so much value, knowledge, and experience that’s left on the table when a firm isn’t willing to embrace flex and non-traditional approaches to work schedules. I don’t know if I would have come back to work without flexibility. But because of Crowell’s openness to flex and commitment to keeping talent, I’m incredibly loyal and grateful to them.
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?
AR: Clients want good work, at a fair price, and in a timely manner; beyond that, I don’t think they care how or where it gets done. This goes for internal clients too. I’m responsive to deadlines and make sure I don’t take on more than I can handle at once. My internal clients recognize the value of non-traditional work arrangements and like that they can carve out pieces of work to me. They encourage flex because they know it keeps valuable experience at the firm that would otherwise go by the wayside.
Flex makes me a better attorney between raising four kids and meeting work deadlines – I’m so much more efficient than I ever thought I could be, and it’s also made me more creative. I have to be entrepreneurial with taking on work rather than waiting for work to come to me.
DFA: Looking back, what would you tell your first year associate self?
AR: I’m so happy with the control I have over my career development and the path I’m on – so I don’t know if I would have done much differently. I invested in relationships early at the firm, and those mentors and co-workers are now the same people that send work to me. I’m also invested in the work itself. Flex arrangements don’t just appear; the best thing you can do as a junior attorney is to build the foundation for solid relationships and set a high standard for your own work product so people trust your work and your judgment.
One thing I might have done differently early on would have been to not compare myself with anyone who’s on a traditional career path. There are always trade-offs with working flex versus full time, but you have to be cognizant of what’s good for you and your relationship with the firm. I may not be able to take on every assignment that comes my way as someone working traditional hours could, but my flex arrangement also allows me more freedom to choose the projects that interest me the most.
Also, setting boundaries is important in a client-based industry, especially when you’re working a flex schedule. If there’s a client emergency, then there’s an emergency, and that has to take priority. But it’s about knowing when and how to push back that makes you a better attorney and teammate – to be willing to ask for a bit more time to produce your best work.
DFA: What do you do to recharge? How do you pay it forward?
AR: With four kids at home, I would say finding time for myself is definitely the hardest part of my flex arrangement! Someone always needs something. But honestly, another reason I love my schedule is that part of my ability to recharge comes from switching hats between mom and attorney. I love that my kids see me playing both roles, especially my daughters. I can volunteer at my older daughter’s school and then she can see me “go be a lawyer” (in her words) at night. But when I truly recharge, I’m at the gym or trying to find a rare date night with my husband – at a restaurant that serves more than chicken nuggets!
At this point in my career, I feel like others are still paying it forward to me – I have so many amazing mentors at the firm and beyond who are committed to helping me continue to be successful with my career. But as my flex arrangement and career at Crowell grows, I’m committed to mentoring more junior associates who are struggling with finding the right balance in their career path and life circumstances.
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.