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 Laura Walther, Counsel in the Washington, DC office of Crowell & Moring LLP.
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has flexibility made your career more sustainable?
Laura Walther: I lateraled to the Product Liability & Tort Group at Crowell & Moring in the Spring of 2007 and went on a flex schedule at 80 percent in the Fall/early Winter of 2010 after I came back from maternity leave. I was made Counsel while I was on leave. Currently, I am a Counsel in what is now the Advertising & Product Risk Management Group and continue to work closely with the product liability litigation team members. My flex time is a reduced hours yearly target – I’m in the office almost every day but have no hard start and end time. I’m practical with the realities of child-care; I’m usually in the office early so I can leave early but still maintain as much of the “full time experience” as possible. If I need to make time in my schedule for personal reasons, then I do it. I have the flexibility (and the firm has been fully supportive) to make my own schedule to meet my yearly hours.
When I proposed my schedule to the firm, there were already several other attorneys on a flex schedule. I did my homework and talked with them to see how their schedules were working – what they liked and what they didn’t. Having people that were willing to share their experience and knowing what would work made the decision easy. I also made it a point to have my practice group and partners’ buy-in first before I spoke with human resources. This was extremely helpful to create and approve a schedule that worked.
I’m a planner and have set goals. I wanted to be heavily engaged with the firm and stay on track – this schedule made the most sense to merge my personal and professional goals. Communication is also a huge factor to making my schedule work. I made it a point to remind people I was fully available and ready to attend client meetings and business development opportunities. My mantra has been “I’m fully engaged – let me worry about my schedule.”
DFA: How has working flexibly enhanced your business development?
LW: Because I do a significant amount of regulatory work (along with litigation work), I’m fortunate to have a lot of direct client contact. Clients like DuPont have made women and flexibility a priority, and as one of the firm’s major clients, they’ve helped create an environment that supports my arrangement. Crowell has been wonderful with fostering acceptance and overcoming misperceptions about flexibility.
Flexibility allows me to enjoy my professional experience and makes me want to keep doing what I do. The firm has a very generous maternity leave and sponsors a local day care; knowing these options were available made my return to work so much easier. I can literally walk next door from my office if there are any day care emergencies and handle them in an hour versus having to take a day off. Another unexpected benefit from firm-sponsored day care is the opportunity to meet so many people in the firm I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet or work with, men and women alike. We connect as parents, and our shared experience with kids provides a networking aspect that supports flexibility, parenting, and business development.
DFA: Would you do anything different or what would you tell your first year associate self?
LW: I would remember to lean in for as long as I can and not pull back too early. In other words, don’t hold yourself back from experiences that fit your life as it is now because they may not fit into the life you anticipate or may have in the future. Worrying about the what ifs without being “there” won’t help. Even though I’m a planner, I know I can’t plan for everything; you have to adjust as necessary. My flex schedule was not something I thought about when I first started in legal practice, but it’s been so rewarding. I was able to maintain my strong, professional reputation when I came back from leave and not be viewed just as “Laura the new mom/parent.”
DFA: How do you recharge your batteries and pay it forward?
LW: I co-chair the firm’s Regulatory Department Marketing Committee and am part of the Public Service Committee. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the local non-profit Round House Theater.
Exercise, regular date nights, and getting together with friends are all ways I recharge. I make sure there’s time in my schedule for just me. It’s important to have friends who understand your situation and with whom you can speak openly about shared experiences. Sometimes just being able to have open conversations about flexibility and variable paths with more junior associates is a great way to pay it forward too.
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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.