Posts

Our 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.

July 2020 Spotlight on Flex

 

For July 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Samantha Lee, Partner, Wiley Rein (Washington, DC)

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule?

Samantha Lee: I’m a Wiley Rein lifer; I summered at the firm and have been here ever since. I was pregnant with my son while I was a senior associate, and I assumed I’d return full time post leave as if nothing had changed. But after I had my son, I realized that coming back full time and pretending nothing had changed was definitely not going to work for me! Luckily, there are models of flexible work at the firm to look up to; I knew I needed to take a flexible approach with my return to work in order to maintain my mental health and my personal life, to be able to thrive in a high pressure position, balancing my commitment to client needs, and be active in firm citizenship.

I spoke to the firm’s Professional Development and HR teams to discuss my options – I didn’t know what flexible work would look like for me. The firm was supportive from the very first person I spoke with in both departments, and that support carried through to my practice group leaders (PGL). I was nervous about speaking with my PGLs because they play such a huge role in my professional development at the firm. But their immediate response was unhesitating support. They never questioned my need for flex; it was amazing and so incredibly reassuring that I was making the right choice for my career and for me.

Our nanny was also a grad student at the time, and she had to leave early on certain days for class. This allowed me to become comfortable with saying “no” because I also needed to be respectful of her schedule. The bottom line is that a flexible schedule gave me breathing room and provided the options I needed to come back to the firm after leave. Without it, I would not have stayed and been able to address some of the post-partum issues I was experiencing at the time too.

My original plan in 2017 was to come into the office every day and bill at 80% reduced hours for a year. But I stayed on this schedule for two years until I made partner in January 2020. It’s important to note that my choice to reduce my hours did not delay my path to partnership; I was promoted at the same time as my peers from my summer associate class. Once I became partner, and now that my son is older, I returned to a 100% billable hours schedule.

Even though I’m not on a formal flex schedule anymore, I still rely on flexible work in different ways. Wiley is a firm that recognizes people as people. If there comes a point where I can’t or don’t want to bill at 100%, I know the firm will support me. I know I can (and did) deliver the best quality service and work to my internal and external clients while working reduced hours. I openly share my flexible work experiences with everyone; people need to know they’re supported and shouldn’t feel stigmatized for wanting or needing to work flexibly. I understand why some people in less supportive firms feel the need for secrecy, but I don’t believe in this approach. The more people talk about working flexibly, the more mainstream it becomes.

 

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

SL: I haven’t needed to address my schedule with clients; it’s just not something that comes up. I managed my reduced hours schedule by working on fewer matters, but I never gave less than 100% to every client. Because our group is so focused on building a talented and sustainable group, it’s easy to rely on a team and give younger associates the opportunity to learn and progress.

The firm has always given me what I needed; I have a great flex success story. I know the firm would support me again and any other attorney looking to incorporate a flex schedule in a heartbeat.

 

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

SL: By reducing my annual billable target, I was able to focus on firm citizenship and business development opportunities that were important in my career. I was part of the recruiting committee, traveled for on campus interviews, and was able to take the time to speak to law students interested in working at Wiley Rein. Had I been billing at 100%, I would not have been able to do these things.

 

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

SL: I would have spoken up sooner. Once I realized that flexible work was an option and what I needed, I waited too long to ask for it.

 

DFA: How do you recharge, and how do you pay it forward?

SL: Part of it’s maintaining a flexible schedule and the idea of being kind to yourself in all aspects. For me, that meant being OK with asking for childcare help one weekend a month so I could take time to recharge and focus on me. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. My biggest responsibility is to be transparent, advocate on behalf of flexible work as a resource, and be an example of how it’s a viable option for career success. It can work for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Our 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.

June 2020 Spotlight on Flex

 

For June 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Catie Romanchek, Partner, Squire Patton Boggs (Cleveland, OH)

 

 

 

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule?

Catie Romanchek: I started as a summer associate at Squire Patton Boggs (then Squire, Sanders & Dempsey) (“Squire”) during the summer of 2002, became a full-time associate in 2003, and I’ve been here ever since.

I had my first child in 2007, and as I was preparing to return to work after maternity leave, my husband and I decided it would be best for me to work a reduced hours schedule. He had just completed his MBA, was working full time, and was traveling a lot for his sales job. When we were discussing our priorities, we knew that my staying at 100%, full time work at Squire was not the best plan for us. I spoke with my then Practice Group Leader (PGL), Bruce Gabriel, and asked to work a 65% reduced hours schedule and come into the office three days a week. My PGL was very supportive of flex schedules, and he didn’t see a reason why we couldn’t try my schedule out.

At first, returning from leave was difficult because I knew I couldn’t take on as much work as I had before, and my biggest struggle was learning how to step back. The firm and my colleagues were very accepting as I figured out how to manage my new schedule. I didn’t know a lot of people on flex at the time, so it took some trial and error to figure out how to make my new flex schedule work.

Fast forward to present day, and I’m still working reduced hours (and have had two more children since 2007), but now I’m in the office four days a week and telework on Fridays. As my career evolved, my roles within the firm changed too. I was promoted to principal in 2016 and to partner in 2018. My husband still travels extensively for his job so my flex schedule gives me the control I need to be there for my children and balance our crazy schedules while still meeting the demands of my clients as a partner.

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

CR: Some of my clients are aware of my schedule and are supportive of it too; if they’re able to, they’ll schedule calls and meetings around Fridays because they know that’s my telework day. But I also don’t want my flexibility to weigh on my clients; I’m flexible with them too. I make it clear that I can always rearrange my schedule for their needs. That may mean I switch my telework day for the week, and that’s fine.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

CR: I’m very appreciative that Squire has never let my flex schedule inhibit my ability to take advantage of business development opportunities and advance my career. In 2013, I was part of the team that responded to an RFP for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (“MWAA”) that oversees the Dulles and Reagan airports in the DC area. I was included in the RFP based on my experience from working with the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport since 2004. Being part of that RFP team was a huge turning point in my career. Now I work on airport financings all over the country and have developed an expertise on these matters. I really enjoy it, and I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to be part of the team that responded to MWAA. My flexible schedule didn’t exclude my involvement, and more importantly, from being considered to be part of the team. That opportunity really transformed my career and my skills set. I think it’s very important to find ways to continue to grow and evolve in your practice while maintaining your flex schedule.

My flexibility has also provided opportunities for me to develop leadership roles within the firm. I oversee, with another colleague, associate and paralegal evaluations in my practice group in the Cleveland office. I also co-chair the local government team here in Ohio and was asked to be part of a Cleveland office’s business development task force. The latter really opened up opportunities to meet and work with other people outside of my practice group. I really enjoy these roles within the firm, and I feel that working reduced hours has given me the opportunity to take them on.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

CR: Have confidence that this can be done, and don’t feel like you have to apologize for making decisions that are necessary to make your flex schedule work. When I first started working flexibly, I felt, at times, like I always had to try and “make it work” and would apologize if I couldn’t accept a new matter. I’ve learned that people aren’t looking for apologies; they understand, want to work with you, and with communication, you can make a lot of things work out. It also took me awhile to feel comfortable sharing my schedule with clients. I had to be confident and know I wasn’t giving them any less quality work or service by reducing my hours. I give every client 110% of my focus and service; I just work with fewer of them.

The advances in telecommuting now have made flex arrangements so much easier too. You can work with your colleagues and clients to ensure they’re always receiving high quality service while respecting your flex schedule.

DFA: How do you recharge, and how do you pay it forward?

CR: I recharge by being with my family and being fully present with my kids. My two girls take piano lessons and helping them practice has given me the opportunity to start playing again myself – this has always been a wonderful outlet for me. They’re also very involved in horseback riding, so we spend a lot of time together outdoors with the horses. We have a lot of fun and learn so much during our weekly time at the stables. I absolutely love watching them become wonderful riders.

Externally, I pay it forward by being active in my church and at my kids’ school. Within the firm, I’m often the point person for interviews to talk about flex options or when younger associates ask about it. I am always happy when I can help Squire incorporate flexibility as a cultural norm. The firm has worked with and supported me throughout my career. I want to help Squire continue to grow in this area and continue to be a leader in the industry on fully accepting and supporting holistic flex.

 

Our 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.

May 2020 Spotlight on Flex

For May 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Heather Wenzel, Partner, Morgan Lewis (Hartford, CT)

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule?

Heather Wenzel: After graduating from law school in 2005, I started working at a large Connecticut based law firm. But a year in, I realized it was not a good fit. A recruiter called me to interview at what was at the time Bingham McCutchen. The interview process went well, and I started working there in 2007. Since then, Bingham McCutchen combined with Morgan Lewis, and that combined firm is where I have worked ever since – 13 years! I made partner in 2019, and looking back, without flexible work, I would not have had the same success and career trajectory, especially after having kids.

I had premature twins in 2014 (a boy and a girl), and they spent the first months of their lives in the NICU. My leave time was not traditional; I wasn’t at home with my newborns, and I knew I needed more time to spend with them. I was already planning to take six months of leave before they arrived early, and my partners were extremely supportive when I needed to extend that time to account for the unforeseen NICU stay. They knew with twins, I was going to be jumping head first into the fire. Flexible work was not only on my mind, it was essential for me in order to stay at the firm.

When I returned from leave, my babies were eight months old. Morgan Lewis never hesitated to show their support for me and for flexible work. I came back at an 80% reduced hours schedule with five days in the office. I left at 5 pm and signed back on at night as necessary. It was such a relief to be able to leave at 5 pm without feeling guilty. I’ve been on this schedule for the past six years, and it’s what’s allowed me to stay in big law. Morgan Lewis also instituted a remote work program which gave me more flexibility to work one-two days a week at home. As a working mother with twins, or any working professional for that matter, this extra layer of flexibility is huge. My standard schedule now allows me to work one day a week at home in addition to my reduced hours. It’s been perfect and also prepared me for our current complete remote-work situation due to COVID-19.

A lot of firms say they support flexibility and that choosing this type of schedule won’t affect your career advancement. But I think there aren’t as many firms that actually support that mentality. Fortunately for me, Morgan Lewis isn’t that type of firm; I was working 80% reduced hours and one day a week at home when I made partner. The firm really stands behind what it says. If I had to be full time, I would not have been able to stay in big law. Nothing takes precedence over my family, and I will always choose them over my job. But at the same time, I love what I do, and flexible work lets me not have to choose between the two.

I’m doing what I want to do as a working mother, and I can still be present for my family when I’m home. It’s not about being in the office from 9-5; it’s about being there for your family when I want and need to be there. Deals are finished, clients are ecstatic, and they never know that I’m working outside of the traditional 9-5 work day.

DFA: How have the firm and/or clients contributed to your Flex Success®?

HW: When I started at the firm in 2007, I was a member of the American College of Investment Counsel (ACIC). Twice a year, all the outside and in house counsel came together for their annual meetings. The demographic was quite different at the time; I was one of the few, younger female attorney members in a room full of partners and in house counsel who were mostly men. Now the demographics in finance have changed. I see more women in the room and more working moms. All this to say that the demographics of my clientele have changed over the years too. My clients are dealing with the same work-life control issues that I am. The depth of understanding and shared experiences have evolved and made my client relationships stronger.

With more clients experiencing the same issues I am, it alleviates some of the pressure I feel as a partner to be “on” 24/7. I can still provide excellent client service but in an environment and methodology that’s outside of the normal 9-5 work day.

When I first started at the firm, I worked for five male partners, and I established certain boundaries when it came to being present for my family. They realized my work was getting done, clients trusted me, and I was always responsive. I proved myself so it was easier for them to be flexible with me too. I won’t claim that it was always easy, but I give a huge amount of recognition to my team and partners for progressing with me over the years.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to business/professional development opportunities?

HW: I’ve always said I’m 80% in hours, but 100% in firm citizenship. The days are gone where you can sit in your office and bank on the phone ringing from your client of 30 years. Ever since I was a mid-level associate, I made marketing a huge part of my professional development. It’s extremely important, and you have to constantly remind your clients that you’re there for them. There are so many other law firms and attorneys out there – we’re easily replaced. Working 80% reduced hours has allowed me to be with my family but also do the client meet and greets, lunches, and presentations.

I personally feel that flexibility is a benefit for the firm on so many levels too; clients want to know that the firms they engage with are diverse, inclusive, and good to working parents. It’s a win for the firm, and it’s a win for me. Morgan Lewis can walk the walk and talk the talk. This in turn benefits the profession as a whole because people hear my success story, and it shows them they can do it too.

DFA: Looking back, would you do anything differently, or what would you tell your younger self?

HW: I would tell myself not to stress so much about it. That’s the biggest thing. I try to tell others that you have to decide what your personal boundaries are going to be. Are you going to be on call 24/7 and that’s your working style? Fine. Or are you going to be someone where Fridays are sacred but you’ll work on Saturdays? Fine too. Set those boundaries. I should have thought about and set my boundaries earlier. Things work out, but I wish I had spent less time worrying about the future.

DFA: How do you recharge, and how do you pay it forward?

I try to recharge through vacation or working out. When I’m active, even if it’s for 30 minutes, I feel more energized for the rest of the day. It’s so hard to be a working parent with young kids; I look back and don’t even know how I did it. I’m trying to be more conscious on paying it forward and understanding that everyone has something going on in their lives. We’re in a high pressure profession, and I know how much flexible work has helped me. We get lost in the mindset that the world will stop moving if we’re not constantly working. But we all know that’s clearly not the case. I’ve never had a deal fall through because I took an hour for myself or put my family first.