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 Diana Roman Shaw, Counsel in the Washington, DC office of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

Diana Roman ShawDiversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career?

Diana Roman Shaw: Flex was something I started thinking about before I even started working in big law. Just before I began as an associate at O’Melveny, my husband and I agreed that even though I was about to become consumed by big law life, it was important that we try to sit down and have dinner together most nights. So when I started at the firm, I tried to plan each day with that goal in mind. If I knew I was going to be particularly busy one day, I’d come in very early to get ahead of the crush. I’d head home for dinner and start working again afterwards. By being organized and efficient, I was able to keep a promise to my husband that meant a lot to both of us.

Now that I’m a parent, the goal is slightly different – I try to plan each day to ensure my work doesn’t interfere with the time I spend at home with my children. I switched to a reduced hours schedule when I returned from my first maternity leave in 2012 (O’Melveny offers 18 weeks paid leave; I was able to add an additional six weeks of vacation time). My reduced hours schedule means I’m in the office between 9:30 am and 4:30 pm Monday through Thursday, and I work from home on Fridays (subject to client needs). I’ve been on this schedule for over three years (including a second six month maternity leave in 2015), and it’s allowed me to spend more time with my children during the week than if I had a typical 9 to 5 job. Work still has a way of spilling over into family time if you let it. To protect my mornings and evenings with my children, I often work a few hours before they wake up (yes, that means I’m up well before the sun) and after they go to bed. This helps ensure when I’m with my kids, I’m mentally present, engaged, and not thinking about work (and vice versa). It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

The component of a flex schedule that isn’t always in your control is the support of the people you work with. If partners and clients aren’t on board with your flex schedule, achieving success will always be a challenge. I’ve been very fortunate to have the backing of my firm all the way through – from management, to the partners I work with, to the staff who support me. In fact, I was promoted to Counsel as a reduced hours attorney shortly after returning from my first maternity leave. The firm respects my flex goals, and the people I work with help make sure I’m honoring my flex schedule when possible.

My schedule works for me because all parties – me, my family, the firm – want the arrangement to work and understand that flexibility is key. I don’t achieve my flex goals every day; sometimes I travel for work and may not see my kids for a few days. Sometimes I work on the weekends to finish an emergency project. But I approach each day with my goals in mind and work my system as best I can. There’s no such thing as working a true 9 to 5 schedule in big law, but when you can make flex work, it’s fantastic. It all comes down to whether you’re getting as much out of the arrangement as you’re putting in. If the answer is “yes” (as it’s been for me), then it makes staying in big law possible.

DFA: How have clients contributed to your flex success?

DRS: While I don’t have my own clients, I’ve established and nurtured relationships with my in-house counterparts at a number of client corporations. I’ve been honest with them about my family commitments, and they’ve fully supported my flex schedule. It helps that most of the client legal teams I’ve worked with over the last few years are made up mostly of women (many of whom are mothers of young children). They understand the challenges I face every day and can empathize. As a result, they’re happy to work with my flex schedule whenever possible.

Internally, I consider the partners I work with to be my clients. As mentioned above, my partners are incredibly supportive. For instance, I was scheduled to run an investigation and conduct in-person witness interviews in 18 regions across the US over a three week period. Shortly before the investigation started, I learned I was pregnant with my second child and started to suffer from terrible morning sickness. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the physical toll of cross country travel and assumed I would be replaced on the project. This would have deprived me of a really important professional opportunity. Instead, when I told my partner, he congratulated me and immediately began brainstorming how we could restructure the project so I could continue to run the investigation with less travel. His focus was not on my limitations but on finding the best way to make the most of my skills and abilities. He wasn’t doing it to be politically correct – he truly appreciated my “value add” and wanted to maximize it. This made me want to work that much harder.

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

DRS:  You need clear objectives – both professional and personal – when you come to work. What really matters to you? Once you figure out what’s truly important to you, do whatever you can to protect it. If the job causes you to sacrifice too much of what’s important to you, you won’t last long. Be strategic about your sacrifices. I often volunteer for an “unattractive assignment” (e.g., weekend work) when it doesn’t interfere too much with what I have going on in my personal life. That way, I’m in a much better position to pass on a future “unattractive assignment” that does conflict with my personal life. By being strategic, you’ll be known as someone who is quick to help when needed while protecting your personal priorities at the same time.

Another way to set yourself up for success is to align with mentors/supervisors who value and respect your priorities. Someone once told me as a junior associate to look around, find the people who seem happy, and seem to have relatively normal lives. Once you find them, see what kind of work they’re doing and who they’re working with. Chances are, they’re happy and satisfied in part because of the work they do, or the partners they work with support their work-life control goals. That’s how I found my way to the White Collar group. The people I admired most at the firm and seemed to have the most fun doing the job mostly worked in this group. After doing this work for many years, I realize the nature of our work is more conducive to work-life control than typical litigation. In part, this is because many of our group’s partners came from the government. They learned to complete the job with limited resources and on a largely 9 to 5 schedule. They’re used to managing cases efficiently and shutting down work at 6 pm which makes work-life control a more achievable goal.

Finally, the best advice I can give someone starting out on a flex schedule is this – you can’t feel guilty about working reduced hours. A lot of people struggle on a flex schedule because it’s uncomfortable to be working fewer hours than everyone else around you. You may feel like a slacker or worry full-time attorneys are out-performing you. I still find it hard to leave at 4:30 pm when I know my team is going to be stuck in the office until 11pm finishing a project. If you carry the guilt home with you, or worse, you let the guilt steer you away from your flex schedule, you’re doomed. I’ve learned to work my reduced hours unapologetically. I work hard and efficiently, I try to add value wherever I can, and I don’t compare myself to others or my previous full-time self. I’m a different worker now, and that’s just fine. I enjoy my time with my children without guilt and have faith that the firm values me at 80 percent just as much as it did when I was 100 percent.

DFA: How do you pay it forward?

DRS: Now that I’m in a position to support younger associates’ flex-time goals, I do whatever I can to set them up for flex success. It can be as simple as scheduling meetings that don’t run through the time they need leave to get home or reminding them, “Shouldn’t you be getting out of here?” Simple gestures like this communicate that: (1) I know what their flex-time needs are; (2) I respect those needs; and (3) I want to be an active participant in ensuring their needs are met. It doesn’t take a lot to support someone working a flex schedule, and I’ve discovered people work harder and better when they feel valued and primed for success.

DFA: How do you recharge your batteries?

DRS: I like to exercise my creative side to balance the heavy thinking I do at work. I like baking with my toddler, making my kids’ Halloween costumes, planning office parties/events – things like that. I would love to get a massage once a month or go to the movies, but that’s not likely to happen for a little while. Instead, my wonderful recharge moment is the long shower I take on the weekend. (New moms will understand why a long shower is such a luxury!) Reading is another quick and easy way for me to decompress and recharge.

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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.