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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.

March 2021 Spotlight on Flex

For our March Spotlight on Flex, we’re pleased to highlight Rachel Janger, Senior Counsel, O’Melveny.

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule? How has the firm and/or clients contributed to this?

Rachel Janger: I began working at O’Melveny in 1999 after my post-law school clerkship. I was full-time until 2007 when I had my second child and then transitioned to a 75% reduced hour schedule. A few years later in 2010, I requested a leave of absence to stay home with my kids. The firm agreed to my request. Once my older child was in elementary school, I asked if I could return to O’Melveny at an even further reduced-hours schedule. At that time, I believe this type of request was very rare in the industry, but it was helpful that I have a particular expertise in my area of law. O’Melveny was very accommodating and has always supported my reduced-hour schedule.

My reduced-hour arrangement works because I don’t take on more work than I am capable of fitting into my schedule but I also make sure that I’m available for our clients and colleagues when they need me. So, I work every day but I have more flexibility during my day.   My guess is that some of my clients may not know that I’m on a reduced-hour schedule because I make my schedule work for them.

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.

February 2021 Spotlight on Flex

For our February Spotlight on Flex, we’re pleased to highlight Chelsea Witte-Garcia, PhD, Associate, Wolf Greenfield. 

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule? How has the firm and/or clients contributed to this?

Chelsea Witte-Garcia: I joined Wolf Greenfield seven and a half years ago in the firm’s Technology Specialist Training Program. As part of this program, I went to evening law school and was working an 80% schedule. I had done a full PhD program prior to joining the firm and had my first child during law school, so I had been extremely busy and was dealing with being a new parent. Once I took the bar exam and became an Associate, I knew I needed some flexibility. Instead of transitioning to a full-time Associate schedule, I moved to a 90% reduced hour schedule. While a 10% reduction in billable hours may not seem like a lot, to me it alleviated a lot of billing pressure and allowed time for other non-billable activities. Having that slight reduction in my annual billable hours frees up time for a personal break as well as other work-related activities such as business development, writing, or presenting at firm training sessions.

Wolf Greenfield, and in particular the Biotechnology Practice Group, has been at the forefront of appreciating flexibility. We had the opportunity to set up a home office long before COVID 19. The leadership really understood that not everyone wants the traditional career path. I’ve really appreciated that they’ve put a lot of time and investment in training individuals and they see your value, even if the day-to-day looks a bit different.

In a client-driven industry, there are always times when our jobs are unpredictable. I’m committed to being accessible and adaptable, particularly when there’s an urgent client need. I think clients appreciate that. We also leverage a very talented team of people that can pull together to meet clients’ needs. This can also be a valuable training opportunity for junior group members.

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.

January 2021 Spotlight on Flex

For our January Spotlight on Flex, we’re pleased to highlight Gracie Mills, Associate at Finnegan.

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule? How has the firm and/or clients contributed to this?

Gracie Mills: I officially began working an 80% reduced hours schedule after the birth of my second son in December of 2019. When he was born I tried to maintain 100% billable hours but I found that I kept coming up short. Something was always cropping up and I felt like I was slipping further behind from my billable goal and getting stressed about it. It’s been wonderful since I officially went to 80% because now I am able to bill slightly fewer hours each day and it gives me a little more breathing room.

Finnegan has an excellent free-market system that allows me to select projects where I feel I can be successful on an 80% schedule. Each time a new project comes before me I can realistically look at it through a new lens and decide if it’s a good match for me. The firm has a very supportive culture and provides two types of reduced hour opportunities – 60% and 80% – to meet everyone’s needs. By not requiring fixed hours, Finnegan allows me to be more flexible and work when it fits my schedule. Flexibility is encouraged at Finnegan and there is no stigma associated with working a reduced hours schedule. There are also a great variety of projects to choose from which allows me to develop a diverse practice even within the confines of part time.

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

GM: When I was full-time, I felt like I was a B- attorney and a B- mom. I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted to do at the office or at home. Now that I am at 80% I can meet my billable hours and be an A+ Attorney, while also being the mom I want to be. When I was 100% I didn’t have an extra minute in my day beyond meeting my billable hours. Now I have the breathing room in my day and can devote much more time to new business development.

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

GM: I would tell first year associates to focus on making a good first impression with everyone you meet while you have the bandwidth to do so. Build relationships during your first year and you will be known as someone who is responsive and reliable. Your reputation will continue to pay dividends throughout your career. Use your earlier years, when you may not yet have a family, to get all the opportunities and experiences you can under your belt, especially those that might require travel and longer hours.

I intend to spend my whole career at Finnegan and this is just a small chunk of my life, and I know I will go back to 100% at some point.

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

GM: I recharge by relaxing with my kids. I am now on maternity leave after recently having my third baby boy! I love to spend time with my family and enjoy just hanging out with my kids. A perfect Saturday for me is walking to the park and getting a sandwich as a family.

I feel very blessed to be working at a firm that allows me so much flexibility. I am also grateful to have the world’s most wonderful nanny. Our nanny makes it possible for me to have the career I love without feeling like I’m short-changing my children. My nanny also recently went on maternity leave and now she brings her daughter to work with her. Sometimes I am able to watch her daughter now that I’m home on maternity leave. We have a wonderful symbiotic relationship where we’re all working together to make it work. We call it “tandem families” – but we get a lot more back from her!

DFA: Has the pandemic impacted your flexible working schedule? 

GM: The pandemic has actually been really good for my flexible working schedule and family life. With everyone working remotely, there is now no stigma associated with being at home. Not having to commute has also been incredible for me as now I’m able to have breakfast with my kids and drop them off at pre-school. The pandemic has also made many more opportunities more feasible for me. Whereas a deposition would have required three days away from my family, now there is no travel and I can take a deposition from home.

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If you are a professional working a flexible schedule and would like to share your story in an upcoming Spotlight on Flex, contact Jane Caldeira.

 

 

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.

 

October 2020 Spotlight on Flex

For our October Spotlight on Flex, we’re pleased to highlight Tessa Mielke Partner, Dorsey & Whitney (Minneapolis, MN)

 

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

Tessa Mielke: I graduated from law school in 2010 when the legal world seemed to be upside down (though it was certainly less crazy than now!). Because of the Great Recession, I had the opportunity to spend a year working at Harvard Law School’s transactional law clinic before transitioning to a full time associate role in the tax group in the Boston office of Ropes & Gray. In 2013, my husband started his medical residency in Minneapolis; I left Ropes and started at Dorsey & Whitney in their tax, trusts and estates group. I was working a typical full time associate schedule, but reevaluated my work schedule in 2015 after my first child was born. She had a few health concerns, including needing major surgery on her skull (she’s fine now!). I decided to reduce my hours so I could take my daughter to her numerous medical appointments without worrying about the hours I was missing at work.

I switched to an 80% reduced hours schedule with the intention of ramping back up to full time once we were done with my daughter’s medical appointments. But once that time came and things settled a bit more, I realized that I really appreciated the flexibility of a reduced hours schedule. I still came into the office every day, but I worked shorter hours and could take more vacation days (or sick days to care for my daughter or myself when we inevitably got sick the first few years) while still meeting my work obligations. The result was that both work and my family life were more sustainable.

After about a year and half of working a reduced hours schedule, I decided to increase my hours to 85% to match the hours I’d been putting in while maintain a schedule that worked for me and my family. I’ve been on this schedule ever since. It’s been wonderful, and working a flex schedule has not impeded my career trajectory at all. While working reduced hours, I was promoted to income partner in January 2018 and then to equity partner a year later (even though the typical progression is three to five years from income to equity).

Now with everyone working from home almost exclusively, “coming into the office” is quite different. I’ve still been working shorter hours to meet my family obligations, but I’ve also started using my flex schedule to take one day a month off for self-care and personal projects. This new way of incorporating flexible work has really helped continue to keep my work schedule sustainable.

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

TM: The firm has clearly been on board with my flex success journey – the biggest example has been with my partnership progression. My practice is really conducive to flex; I work with several clients and on several projects at any given time, which makes it easier to work on fewer matters and still give clients the highest level of service.

My practice group has also been very supportive. We’ve coordinated to make sure my flex schedule works for everyone. For example, my husband is a frontline worker in the hospital, and when the pandemic started, I worried about potentially exposing my colleagues and clients. I stopped coming into the office before the firm mandated teleworking, but I still had matters that required in person signings. Without hesitation, my partners stepped in to oversee those meetings. The point is, pandemic or not, we all work together and support each other.

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

TM: I’m able to provide the same high caliber work and service to the firm and clients because of flexibility. I can work at a pace that doesn’t overshadow my personal goals and family commitments. My flexible schedule has also allowed me to participate in business development opportunities that I wouldn’t have had time for if I was billing at 100%. I’ve been able to expand my professional development with internal clients, too. For example, Dorsey’s Women Attorneys with Children affinity group has been a great source of connecting with other attorneys in the firm with shared experiences. We understand the need for flex and can mentor one another.

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

TM: I would tell myself to not be as nervous about expressing what I need. I worried that people would think I wasn’t as committed by working reduced hours at first. The mentality is quite the opposite though; it’s because I am so committed and want to excel, I knew I had to reduce my hours. I knew I wouldn’t be able to give 100% to the firm, my clients, and my family by working full time. I think it’s important to make it very clear with your colleagues from the beginning that you’re still just as committed to your work. People are understanding and receptive when you take the time to have a real discussion.

I would also be better about periodically reevaluating what my needs are. I used to look for the “answer” on how to balance work and life. But I’ve realized there is no answer that works for everyone or even an answer that works for one person for their entire career. That’s why you need to check-in with yourself on what’s working and what’s not on a regular basis. If it’s not working, then try something else. That’s been especially true for me during this pandemic.

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

TM: I’ve learned I need to spend time outside – walk, run, take bike rides – anything that gets me moving in the fresh air. It’s a mental break, and I can shift gears from focusing on work and parenting to focusing on being present. I like to knit too, and have been knitting since law school! I want to keep learning new things, and working on new, complicated knitting patterns helps me relax and refocus.

I pay it forward by informally and formally mentoring summer associates and other young attorneys. The sense of community I’ve found at Dorsey has been a great resource to me; I know that my generation of attorneys will play a major role in paving the way for flexible work and supporting those coming up after us.

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If you are a professional working a flexible schedule and would like to share your story in an upcoming Spotlight on Flex, contact Jane Caldeira.

 

 

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.

For our September Spotlight on Flex, we’re pleased to highlight Colleen Haas, Partner, Frost Brown Todd (Cincinnati, OH)

September 2020 Spotlight on Flex

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

Colleen Haas: It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been at the firm for over 20 years. I started here during my 2L summer internship and then as a first year associate right after graduation from Notre Dame Law School in 1997. After I had my first child, I reduced my hours to 90% of my original billable hour requirement but still came into the office five days a week. When I had my second child three years later, I reduced my billable goal a little more and changed my schedule slightly by coming into the office four days a week and working one day remotely.

My flexibility manifests in the form of a reduced hours schedule that is annualized to compliment my husband’s work schedule. He is a scout for a major league baseball team and his consistent “crunch time” each year, with extensive work and travel, is during the spring and summer. However, during the fall and winter months, he has much more flexibility. Knowing this, when I first approached the firm about reducing my hours, I asked for a schedule where I could work four days in the office and one day from home, but only for six months of the year. I would then go back to five days per week in the office for the other six months to ramp up my hours during my busy year end. As a transactional attorney, I knew I needed to maximize both mine and my husband’s schedules in a way that would work for our family and the changing seasons.

As you progress through your career, your goals and needs change. There was a short period of time when I took myself off the partner track and went to counsel because I thought that would fit my family needs better. I had three young kids at home and between juggling their activities, my work commitments, and my husband’s travel schedule, I didn’t want the extra pressure. My “aha” moment was, however, when other partners were telling me that I should be on the partner track because I was already doing everything they were. They believed in me and didn’t see reduced hours as a roadblock to partnership. With that encouragement from my peers, I switched back to the partner track and was promoted to the partner class very soon thereafter.

I would set my yearly billable hours and stick with that number no matter what reduced hours percentage I was working at the time. This is how I approached flexible work as an associate, and it’s how I approach it at the partner level now too. Once my third child entered kindergarten, I ramped back up to being in the office five days a week but leaving early when I needed to for any commitments. You get to a point where you’ve earned the respect and trust of your colleagues; they know your work ethic, your work quality, and that you’ll provide top notch client service.

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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.

August 2020 Spotlight on Flex

For August 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Yingli Wang PhD, Partner, Perkins Coie (Los Angeles, CA).

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

Yingli Wang, PhD: I was born in China and came to the US to attend grad school and study for my PhD with the intention of becoming a professor. I’ve always been fascinated by how things are made or work, and I knew I wanted to find a career path that could merge my training and other interests. I explored patent law because it’s so different from the other legal practice areas; I knew I could combine my analytical and scientific background with my creative interests.

While I was a law student at the University of Washington, I summered at the LA office of Perkins Coie, and after graduating in 2008, I started as an associate here. We were in the height of the recession, and the partners in my practice group were doing everything they could to make sure we had work. I realized early on in my career how important business development is – it gives you security and the ability to control your career. I wanted to see the impact of my work and the results of my efforts.

I focused on building a relationship with our Shanghai office. This meant a lot of international travel and made meeting my annual billable hours difficult. I started to look into a flex schedule because I wanted to show the firm and my partners my value add by cultivating our international relationships. I knew there would be a corresponding pay cut, but I was OK with that. In 2017, I switched to a 70% reduced hours schedule and continued to come to the office every day. Not only was I able to focus on developing key professional relationships, I was able to manage my stress levels and develop expertise in my field.

Perkins Coie considers flexible work as an investment in its professionals because billable hours aren’t the only indication of a person’s value. Supporting flexible work shows trust from the firm and the partners; they believe they’ll receive a return on their investment, and it establishes a foundation to build a long-term future together. And as a testament to that, I made partner in 2019 while working reduced hours.

Because I still travel so much, I don’t feel any different than my peers who bill at 100%. I also appreciate that my partners aren’t strict about face time. With LA traffic, they understand and are flexible too. We all try to be available and responsive when we’re not physically in the office.

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

YW: My flex schedule doesn’t affect my commitment to my work or my clients. Many of the clients are not local, some are in China and in a different time zone, so my flex schedule really doesn’t matter to them. In fact, flexible hours makes me more motivated to upkeep my international contacts.

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

YW: I’m less stressed because I don’t have as much pressure weighing on me. I’m not constantly worried about my billable hours; instead I’m able to focus on being a better lawyer, working on business development opportunities, and providing the best service to my clients. It’s also a beneficial way to invest in myself. I can attend conferences and participate in non-billable projects to enhance my skills and build a niche practice in China.

I’m also able to train, mentor, and communicate with our Chinese staff and clients. This is a huge benefit because many of our international clients don’t understand the logistics of the US legal system. It took lots of practice to have a better understanding of clients’ needs so I can provide meaningful information and counseling. With my extensive experience in working with clients from different backgrounds, I’m able to adjust my communication style so my answers are clearly conveyed.

My commitment and early focus on our China practice was recognized in 2018; while I was still Counsel, I took over as the leader for the China patent group in the Shanghai office.

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

YW: I would have considered incorporating a flex schedule sooner because it improves work-life balance.

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

I like training and talking to associates about their career aspirations. I really enjoy being a lawyer – many people with my background don’t think of it as an option, so I’m always more than happy to discuss my career path with others. I want people to know there are options and alternative careers out there, especially for women and scientists. Sometimes we just need a little encouragement and a broader perspective.

I’m happy with what I do and proud of my journey. I’m appreciative of the opportunities and support I’ve received from the firm. I hope my experiences can be a positive example for women in science and immigrants to this country. I want them to understand they can pursue a career in law. I want to speak up and show you can do it – be a trailblazer – you don’t have to wait for someone else to do it before you.

 

 

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.