Spotlight on Flex – Charise Naifeh

The 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.

This month, we are pleased to share insights from Charise Naifeh, Associate in the Washington, DC office of White & Case LLP.

Charise NaifehDiversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has flexibility made your career more sustainable?

Charise Naifeh: I’m a seventh year associate in the Competition Group in the DC Office of White & Case, and I started with the firm as summer associate. As an associate, there are three key factors to making my schedule work: flexibility, communication, and a supportive team.

I started on a flex schedule after my maternity leave and on-ramped back. I was at 60 percent, three days a week for the first two months, and then I went to 70 percent, four days a week and telecommuted on Fridays (this my current schedule). The firm gives us wide latitude to draft our own proposals for its review and approval; I proposed this schedule, and it made my return to work less overwhelming and much easier.

Flexibility is required both from me and my team; they know and respect my schedule. But even on my days off there are some instances when work needs to be done, and I’m happy to put in my time and make up for it later. For example, this past January I returned to a full time schedule since one of my matters was going to trial. I was able to meaningfully contribute and meet with the trial team throughout the entire preparations. Once the trial was postponed, I returned to my 70 percent schedule, and the firm supported my decision without any issues.

Communication is about being my own advocate. That means I make sure everyone I work with (or potentially work with) knows my schedule before I take on a case and am not shy about reminding them when needed.

Having a supportive team, especially the partners and counsel I work with, has been extremely helpful for me to reach my goals. They give me longer-term projects with predictable deadlines that don’t usually require a lot of fire drills. It also helps to work on large teams where the work can be divided among several associates. I’ve also worked on much smaller cases under this arrangement, and my schedule still works – it just requires planning and being organized.

I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t have time to spend with my family. Everyone has to make choices on how to prioritize their time. For me, working 30 percent less hours has boosted my happiness 100 percent. I’m able to really enjoy my time with my family, but I’m also able to enjoy my time at work in a meaningful way.

DFA: How has working flexibly enhanced your business development?

CN: Flexibility has given me time to pursue additional training that enhances my business development such as networking events and CLEs. I don’t feel as “crunched” as I would if I were working full time – I would be in “survival mode.”

DFA: Would you do anything different or what would you tell your first year associate self?

CN: It pays to work hard the first few years as an associate and earn the respect of your colleagues. Once you earn the reputation as a hard worker who produces high quality work, people will want you on their team no matter what your schedule is. I don’t think there’s any way around this.

DFA: How do you recharge your batteries and pay it forward?

CN:  Since becoming a parent, some of my personal hobbies have taken a back seat for now, and my focus is on being with my family. We have a great community of friends who also have small children, so spending time with them is another way that I recharge.

I’m a mentor with the firm’s formal mentoring program, and I also informally mentor junior associates – I want them to see that this schedule works! My own partner mentors have told me it’s OK to step back a little when you have young kids. This type of encouragement has made a huge difference for me, so I try to pass it on to others. If more leaders embrace this mentality, we can change the workplace to better support families and working parents.

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If you are an attorney working a flexible schedule and would like to share your story in an upcoming Spotlight on Flex, contact Eliza Musallam.