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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.

For May 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Teresa Reuter, AssociateSidley Austin LLP (Chicago, IL)

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your career? How has the firm supported this?

TR: After graduating from law school in 2009, I clerked for a year in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and then joined a large law firm in Atlanta. In 2013 my husband’s job took us to the Midwest at which point I joined Sidley as a lateral in its Chicago office. I worked full time until I came back from maternity leave in April 2017. Since then, I’ve been working a 90% reduced hours schedule.

With the addition to our family, I knew I needed to make adjustments to my schedule. I wanted to be fully engaged with work and also have some “give” with my hours to adjust to life with our newborn and a husband who travels for work. My reduced hours gives me that balance. Sidley guaranteed me the option to work a reduced hours schedule upon returning from leave, but I still was nervous to ask for it. Without any hesitation, my practice group leader and Sidley fully supported my request, and I’ve been working reduced hours ever since. I come into the office every day, and I have the flexibility to take care of work and personal matters as they’re scheduled or occur. With my reduced hours, I adjust my schedule to the changing demands of life. For instance, ever since transitioning my son to a daycare, I leave at 5 pm a few days a week to pick him up.

The 10% reduction in billable hours may not seem like a lot, but it has been tremendously helpful in allowing me to meet work and life demands as they arise. I have less pressure to bill and more time to spend with my family and on business development matters. Flex will continue to be a priority for my career, especially starting this summer as we are relocated to Munich, Germany for one year. I’ll be working out of the firm’s Munich office and will further reduce my schedule to 60% – 70% of billable hours.

Sidley has been incredibly supportive of my career and personal development, and that support has manifested in different ways over the years. I transitioned from having more flexibility at home with an in-home caretaker to a more regulated schedule once my son started day care – it was a harder transition than I thought it would be. When discussing some of these issues with a senior partner in my group, she encouraged me to take the time I needed and to let people know I had to leave the office by a certain time to make the transition work. We all have different commitments outside of work, and I have come to learn that it’s important to communicate openly about these matters. The idea is: you’re a professional, we trust your judgment to stand by your clients, the firm, and your family, and you can make your own decisions. That’s not to say that when there’s an emergency you’re not available; you adjust accordingly, and the firm trusts that you are capable of managing this effectively.

DFA: How has working flexibly made your career more sustainable and contributed to your overall internal and external development? How have clients supported your flex journey?

TR: Becoming a parent changes your life in so many ways. I wouldn’t be a good parent and a good attorney without flex, especially with a partner who travels often for work. Flex is a necessity, and it’s helped to make my career sustainable. The 10% fewer billable hours not only gives me the breathing room I need to take care of my family life, it also gives me the room to attend work events and be more present in the legal community. It’s easy to tell people they have to “be out there and get to know people” for development purposes, but it’s a lot harder to do when you’re thinking about it on top of meeting your billable hours.

I see more clients and attorneys talking openly about flexibility and alternative schedules. I work with several women lawyers, and our use of flex is a bonding point. It’s a great feeling to know you can meet your work and personal demands by being open and effective communicators. Clients and opposing counsel will say, “I’m not in the office this day,” or “I have to leave by 3:00 p.m. to pick up my kids,” – the more we talk about flexibility, the more it will become part of the norm.

DFA: Looking back, what would you tell your first year associate self?

TR: Before I started working reduced hours, I was too hesitant in communicating openly about deadlines and expectations; instead, I assumed everything was urgent. I also would let everyone know I was still available and reachable when I was out of the office, even if that wasn’t feasible. If I could talk to my former self, I would say that it’s OK to be on vacation; my co-workers could cover for me, and it is OK to take time to recoup and recover. It’s better for me and for the firm. Now I try to take my own advice and untether on vacation and be respectful of others who are out of the office. I want more junior associates to know it’s OK to set boundaries and to stick to them!

I would do less assuming and more communicating – not everything needs a response right away. Be more forthright with asking, “When do you need this by?” I see more junior associates doing this (and doing it well), and I wish I had done that too.

DFA: What do you do to recharge? How do you pay it forward?

TR: To recharge I try to meditate every day for at least 10 minutes; it helps me reset and keep focus. My husband and I also are avid travelers; in the past year we’ve gone scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands, on safari to see lowland gorillas, and forest elephants in Gabon. These trips require us to unplug and enjoy the world’s natural wonders.

Paying it forward, I try to be more cognizant that not everyone is working when I work. When I log in at night and send emails, I try to put them on auto-delay so people don’t feel the pressure to respond if it’s not a true emergency. It’s small things like this that encourage and train us to be better communicators and relieve some of the pressure we feel from our jobs.

 

This is the fifth in a series of seven blog posts featuring advice on our Seven Strategies for Flex Success®. We’ve covered Defining Your SuccessOwning Your Value, Activating your Mindset and Grit, Creating Your Brand and now it’s time to build your network. To learn more about successfully navigating your flexible schedule and maximizing your career potential, register for our virtual Flex Success® Institute.

Most successful corporations are led by a CEO who is advised and counseled by an experienced Board of Directors. As a professional working a flexible schedule, you should view yourself as the CEO of your own corporation, and you undoubtedly need a “Board of Directors” to support you. No matter how effective you are on your own, it’s critical that you surround yourself with a group of experienced people who can advise you, guide you, mentor you, and open doors for you.

Our fifth strategy for Flex Success® is “Build Your Networks and Personal Board of Advisors.” This personal board of advisors should consist of individuals from inside and outside of your organization. It should include both mentors who can give you advice, and sponsors who invest in and advocate for you. The internal perspectives can assist you in your career advancement and help you to address blind spots in your career path, especially those related to your flex schedule. Your external advisors can provide you with outside perspectives from an industry point of view and can help open doors to new opportunities, if necessary.
As you build your network and personal board of advisors, it’s important to keep in mind that you want to find people who you trust, who you respect, and who will be candid with you. These individuals should be open to constructive conversations about your career as well as the challenges and opportunities your flexible schedule might bring. It’s important to value and maintain your relationships with these mentors and advisors and make sure to meet with them on a regular basis.

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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.

 

For July 2018, we are pleased to share insights from Kelsey Morris, Associate, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (Irvine, CA)

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

Kelsey Morris: Right after law school, I started at Akin Gump’s LA office, and I was there from 2011-2015. I left to complete a one year, federal clerkship with the US District Court for the Central District of California. My daughter was born right at the end of my clerkship in 2016. At this point, I was at a crossroads in my career – I knew I wanted to continue practicing and spend the most time I could with my daughter while she was young. I just didn’t see a path forward at big law that would meet those needs at the time. I decided to start teaching legal writing at USC law school and took on projects as an independent contractor to keep up my legal practice. I was doing this for about five months when a former colleague from Akin Gump called and asked if I would join the litigation practice in the firm’s Irvine, CA office. My daughter was almost a year old, and I had a clearer vision of how I wanted to practice law and how much time I wanted to be available for my family versus work. I knew I wanted to come back and how I wanted to come back.

Akin Gump, and particularly the partners in Irvine, graciously worked with me to find the right arrangement. This year, I am working at a 60% reduced hours schedule and come into the office at least three days a week. It may not be a traditional schedule, but I make sure I’m fully present when I’m here, and I’m logged in and available remotely the rest of the week.

My flex success doesn’t just originate with me – without the practical support and understanding of my colleagues in Irvine, this wouldn’t work. For my part, though, I think success comes from mentally committing to my schedule. I was fortunate to have worked for senior women who were on flex schedules when I first started at the firm, and they were open with me about what flex looked like for them. I learned that for the sake of yourself and your work, you have to commit to your flex schedule – whatever that may look like. Someone on a 60% reduced hours schedule can’t take on the same case load as someone working at 100% and then still only work 60%. It doesn’t work that way. You have to communicate your schedule from the beginning and mentally note that you took a pay cut for the reduced hours. When you take on too much, you’re doing a disservice to yourself, the firm, and your clients. You also confuse your colleagues because they won’t know how much work they can and should be giving you. When you make a commitment to flex, you make it fairer for everybody.

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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.

For June 2018, we are pleased to share insights from Michelle Humes, Partner, Shutts & Bowen (Orlando, FL). 

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

Michelle Humes: Since I can remember (I think I was about seven years old), I always wanted to be a lawyer – my grandfather and uncle are both lawyers. But while in college, I started to have some doubts and wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue school for another three years. I was also worried about being able to balance working as an attorney and eventually having a family. So after college, I took a year off, and through a series of events, ended up working as an assistant at a law firm. I had wanted to be a lawyer, and here I was working at a law firm. I felt like it was fate’s way of telling me to go to law school. Since I was already working in the legal field, I decided to keep working while going to school. I started at Shutts & Bowen as the assistant to the Practice Group Leader (PGL) of the Construction Litigation Group in July 2006. In August 2006, I started in the evening law student program at Barry University; I continued to work full time and went to school at night for three years. In 2009, the firm created a summer associate position for me in the Orlando office. That fall I switched to the full-time program, graduated, and took the bar in July 2010. I started working at the firm in August that same year

At the time the economy was terrible, and the Orlando office didn’t have any summer associates or new hires. But right away, because of my history with the firm, and with the support of the Construction Litigation Group’s PGL, Shutts demonstrated its commitment to me and my career by hiring me as a contract associate. After a full year, they were able to switch me to a traditional associate position. I worked in the Construction Litigation Group for three years and then transitioned to the Real Estate Group at the end of 2013.

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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 Nerissa Coyle McGinn, Chief Diversity Partner, in the Chicago, IL Office of Loeb & Loeb.

Nerissa Coyle McGinnDiversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success through your career?

Nerissa Coyle McGinn:  When I was a sixth year associate, four partners left my law firm and started Loeb & Loeb’s Chicago office. They brought me with them as the only associate. At the time, I was in my early 30’s, married, and I knew I wanted to start a family very soon. The partners also knew this, and I asked for immediate vesting with my benefits to be eligible for Loeb’s maternity leave (now our parental leave policy).

Looking back, it’s amazing how supportive the firm has always been. Even from my first request regarding the vesting of my child care benefits, the partners who brought me to Loeb negotiated on my behalf, and the firm agreed to my vesting request. They worked with me to create a reduced hours schedule even before the firm had a reduced hours policy. I had my first child just after my one year anniversary with Loeb & Loeb in 2005. I returned from that leave at a 60 percent, reduced hours schedule, and I’ve been on this schedule ever since. Over the years, how my 60 percent looks has changed as my family’s needs and the firm’s expectations of me have changed. At first, I was in the office Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. I wanted to have two back-to-back days in the office for more consistency rather than work every other day and feel like I was always playing “catch up.” As my kids got older, I started coming into the office every day but working shorter hours. I made partner five years ago, and because I work shorter days, I’m also able to telecommute part of the workday. This arrangement has worked for as long as it has because the firm is flexible with me, and I’m flexible with the firm.

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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 Jessica Brown, Partner, in the Denver, CO Office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

Jessica BrownDiversity & Flexibility Alliance: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success through your career?

Jessica Brown: It’s almost surprising to me, but I’ve been at the firm for more than 22 years. I was a summer associate here, clerked for a judge after graduating from law school, and then started as an associate in January 1995.

I made partner effective 2002, had my first child in 2006, and started working a reduced hours schedule in 2007. There have been times when I’ve been working full time hours or traveling extensively, and I have to be able to roll with that. I never expect to work reduced hours on a daily or weekly basis but rather over the course of the year. Fortunately, I have an incredible support system through my husband, our nanny, and the firm.

I’m in the office every day, and I’m required to bill 1300 hours per year. I don’t adhere to a set schedule because I don’t know how that could work in a client services industry. You could have an “aspirational schedule,” where you choose to be off or work from home a certain day of the week, but it’s important to be flexible about your flexibility. Work priorities won’t always align with your schedule, and you have to adjust seamlessly.

For me, working every day makes sense because I’m always busy, though not always with billable work. I recently reviewed my hours for the past five years and was amazed to find that I worked almost the exact same number of total hours each year. The only thing that fluctuated was the ratio of my billable hours to my non-billable (e.g., community service and pro bono) hours.

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