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 Jennifer Stanley, Partner in the San Francisco office of Fenwick & West LLP.
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made work-life control a priority and a success with your schedule? How have clients contributed to this?
Jennifer Stanley: I’m lucky that I can work on a “flexible reduced schedule” at Fenwick, and this allows me to maintain some work life balance – which I otherwise wouldn’t be able to achieve, and for which I am very grateful. I’ve had a 60% commitment to the firm for past decade, and I view my schedule as an overall annual commitment to the firm, rather than as a way to set specific working hours. Given the nature of my practice (technology transactional attorney), I don’t try to take specific days off each week. Instead, I’m available seven days a week if the client needs are there. Some days I work long hours and other days I don’t; sometimes I work on the weekends, and sometimes I take a day off during the week – it depends on what’s on my desk at a particular point in time – but I keep track of things on an on-going basis so it all balances out. There is no “perfect” balance or control, and I’m fine with that.When I started my flexible schedule, I was a sixth year associate and a new mother. I knew flexibility was something I wanted for my long term career because I wanted to be present for my family in a way that was meaningful for me. My schedule allows me to have time for my husband and children, which is the most important thing to me, in addition to having a rewarding career.
Technology plays an important role in the success of my arrangement. I’m able to check in at the office, no matter where I am – either via my smart phone or laptop, and if a client needs something or there’s a deadline, I make the appropriate accommodations. I don’t advertise my reduced flexible schedule to my clients, nor do I hide it. I could be checking in while en route to another client meeting, attending a conference, or chaperoning a 4th grade field trip. Consistent communication, acknowledgment of messages, and responsiveness are important for all clients. In my experience, most clients initially just want to know that I got the message, the matter is being taken care of, and that we’re on it. As far as I know, my schedule has never had a negative impact on a client relationship.
DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable?
JS: My husband and I try to make sure that we live our lives deliberately – we’re doing things because we consciously choose to do them and not because we’re too busy to even ask ourselves the right questions or make different choices. My children are young – ages 7 and 10 and I want to be present with them now. They’ll probably move out of the house a decade from now, and I won’t get this time back! I volunteer at their school, go to their music recitals and soccer games, drive carpool, help them with their homework, and we eat dinner together as a family each night. I constantly remind myself that I have more time to devote to things outside of the office than I had when I was working on full time schedule, so I try to make every hour count both at work and at home.
I also make a point of being deliberate in my professional choices. I love practicing law; it’s an important part of who I am as a person. I’m proud of my success. Being a partner at a law firm is a difficult and pressurized job, but it’s also a privilege and very rewarding. I intend to practice law for a long time. I believe that being able to pace myself at this point in my life will be instrumental in allowing me to continue doing what I love for the long haul.
When I assign projects to my team, the most important thing to me is that the work is done well and on time – not necessarily where it’s done, and I apply the same standard to myself. I can leave the office to have dinner with my family and then complete a project from home to meet a deadline.
I also think people shouldn’t feel they have to “do it all” by themselves; having external support is key to most successes. In my world, my husband is my primary source of support – both practically and emotionally. His support is a major contributing factor to my overall success with work-life control. And of course, dependable, committed colleagues are also essential. I’m fortunate to have a strong team around me.
DFA: Looking back, what would you do differently? Any advice for young attorneys?
JS: I recently found the business plan I wrote in 2004 for my firm review. I didn’t have kids at the time, but it’s interesting that even then one of my priorities was to have time to spend with friends and family. A Fenwick partner once told me I was going to be in this career for a very long time, and I needed to find what made me happy professionally. I would tell my junior associate self to find what I love and not to worry so much. I’ve learned over the years that it’s primarily up to me to assert how I want to work, set my own boundaries, and it’s OK to admit that there’s no perfect balance.
DFA: How do you recharge, and how do you pay it forward?
JS: There’s only so much time in the day, week, and year. My family is spread all over the world, and I want to make sure that I’m doing things that make me the best wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, and attorney that I can be. My family is proud of me, and that means a lot. I like to spend time with my family and friends, go hiking, cook, and watch movies – mainly I try to relax and be in the moment. Also, the world is a much nicer place for me and those around me when I’ve had enough sleep – 7-8 hours a night is my goal! I try hard to let go of the small stuff and focus on the big picture. Doing these things makes me a better person and a better lawyer – both of which make me happy.
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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.