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.
Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made work-life control a priority and a success with your schedule? How have clients contributed to this?
Marci Rose Levine: As a parent of three small children, flexibility both in my professional and personal life is essential. I’ve been with Dentons for almost 17 years, and for the past 12 years, I’ve been on a flexible/reduced hours schedule. I’m currently at 80 percent, but over the years, I’ve alternated between 80-90 percent. I’ve spent a lot of time on my education and career development, so when I was pregnant with my first child, I chose to go on a reduced hours schedule because I knew the flexibility would allow me to be a better mother and better attorney.
Not all my clients know that I’m on a reduced hours schedule; however, I have several, such as Walmart, that do – Walmart has really put a spotlight on flexibility in the legal profession. I was upfront with them about my schedule, and in return, they have always made it a point to be realistic about which projects require immediate attention and which can wait. Being open about my schedule with clients like Walmart has been empowering – there’s a feeling of mutual respect around balancing my work with my other responsibilities.
There really is no such thing as a “part-time lawyer;” clients’ needs don’t always fit “neatly” into my schedule. But technology has made working flexibly so much easier – how and when I work doesn’t typically matter as long as my clients’ needs are met. And when my professional demands run high, outside support for my personal demands helps me meet all of my obligations. If we can be open and transparent about flexibility in the legal profession, it can push the issue forward and provide younger attorneys with examples of a sustainable career path.
DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable?
MRL: I couldn’t do what I do without a flexible/reduced hours schedule. But I’m realistic about my career goals and what leadership positions I can take within the firm. There are only so many hours in the day, and I ask myself what’s going to give me the biggest return even though it may be to the exclusion of other activities I’m interested in. I’ve had several leadership roles in the past, but now I focus on bolstering the firm’s health care practice. At the end of the day, I have to direct my energy towards activities that are best for me, my family, and my clients.
One focus of every law firm evaluating flexible/reduced hours arrangements is always the economics – how can the firm retain the best legal talent while ensuring financial sustainability. As long as you can make the economics work for the firm, there are a host of permutations of flexible schedules that can work. People need flexibility at work for any number of reasons – trials, vacations, and meetings – being out of the office in order to balance family obligations is just as legitimate a reason.
DFA: What would you do differently or tell your first year associate self?
MRL: While it may be easier to work a flexible/reduced hours schedule as a senior associate/ partner, it can be done as a junior associate too (not easily, but it can be done)! You have to think strategically from the beginning of your career; what type of practice do you want and what will allow you to balance your career with your competing priorities the most effectively? I encourage junior associates to come up with a business plan — how will you convince your clients (the firm’s partners) that a flexible schedule will meet their needs? Also, you must always remember that a flexible schedule requires not only the firm’s flexibility, but yours as well. Be creative and realistic, and develop a plan to achieve a certain level of autonomy that will work towards your desired schedule.
DFA: How do you recharge, and how do you pay it forward?
MRL: I don’t have a lot of quiet time in my life, so I’m grateful for the few moments that I get, typically at the end of the day! I’m also very involved in the community. I have served for five years on the Board of Directors of Wonders Child Care, a nonprofit child care provider where my children were previously enrolled. This type of work recharges me because it’s so different from my work at the law firm. I’m able to choose organizations with missions that resonate with me, and I can contribute in a way that makes a tangible difference to my community.
The bottom line, though, is that you have to do what makes you happy. With so many demands from clients and family, if I didn’t want to be actively engaged as a private practice attorney, then all the flexibility in the world wouldn’t make my career sustainable. I’m grateful for the many wonderful opportunities I’ve had with Dentons to serve the needs of our clients while also being able to raise my family.
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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.