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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.

2020 Spotlights

For March 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Kate Saracene, Partner, Katten Muchin Rosenman (Chicago, IL & New York, NY). 

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

Kate Saracene: My career path has alternated between human resources (HR) and legal practice. I started out in HR at Xerox and continued to work there part time while I attended law school in Connecticut. Once I graduated, I started working for Nixon Peabody on a traditional legal career path. I had my first child, and when I came back from maternity leave, I tried to work a part-time schedule. However, during my first week back, I was working full time hours and asked to come in on the weekend. By pure luck, a few days later, Xerox called me out of the blue and offered me a managerial position. They said I could name my terms, and the timing could not have been more perfect. I went back to work for Xerox for more money and working four days a week at an 80% reduced hours schedule.

I remained at Xerox for a few years, but I returned to Nixon Peabody in a non-partner track counsel position (first on an 85% then to an 80% reduced hours schedule). By this point, my kids were older, and I came into the office five days a week. But I was able to use my 20% of non- billable hours to focus on what I needed to do outside of the office – business development opportunities, activities at my kids’ schools, doctor’s appointments, etc. Nixon subsequently changed its policy to allow reduced hours attorneys to make partner. I switched my track, was promoted to partner shortly thereafter, and I kept my reduced hours schedule the entire time!

I had built a reputation as a national expert in health and welfare benefits, especially the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obama Care”). Katten’s Chicago office was in the midst of succession planning, and they were looking for someone with my particular areas of expertise. They asked me to join the firm in November 2017 as a partner in the employee benefits group.

When I started at Katten, my youngest was already 11 years old; I didn’t need flexibility in terms of reduced hours anymore so I switched back to full time. My flexibility with the firm, however, stems from the fact that even though I have dual residency in the Chicago and New York City offices, I live full time in Rochester, NY! I go between the two offices – typically twice a month to Chicago and once a month to New York City. And in September 2019, I became the employee benefits Practice Group Leader (PGL). There are 10 people in the group spread throughout the firm’s offices (Chicago, New York City, and DC). Even though I’m working full time, I have my own client base and still control my schedule – I can pick up the kids from school, work on my laptop while waiting in the carpool line, or while waiting for their sports practice to be over. I’ve done work waiting in coffee shops, ice rinks… you name it!

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

KC: You don’t need to be as client-facing in my practice area as you do in other areas. It’s more counseling by phone or email. I’m in an industry where several of my client contacts are women (HR tends to skew more female), and they’re very supportive. Corporations are coming around to flexible work options faster than law firms, so to them, my arrangement is normal. Becoming a partner was really a key factor to my flex success because I mostly work for my own clients, and I can schedule my meetings to work with my flexibility.

When I first started talking with Katten, I asked the recruiter to test the waters with a telecommuting arrangement because I wasn’t willing to relocate from Rochester, NY. We agreed I would come to a Katten office as much as possible – about half the week for three weeks of the month. Over time, the office schedule has become less rigid, but the amount of time I spend in a physical office has worked out because of client needs, meetings, and things I want to attend in the office.

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

KC: It’s enabled me to return to the practice of law. I left the law after having my first child because I didn’t think this industry could successfully incorporate flexible work. I was originally in employment litigation, but I switched to employee benefits counseling when I came back to Nixon. I had to change my focus in order to find a way to continue practicing law with flexible work options. I probably wouldn’t have returned to law after being at Xerox if flexible work was not an option.

Even though my schedule changed over the years, I’ve been able to use flexible work to focus on writing articles, giving speeches, and traveling to conferences to enhance my personal and professional development.

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

KC: I would tell my younger self to slow down and wait for the right opportunity to present itself. When I was first out of law school, my goal was to be the youngest income partner at a major law firm; I was in such a hurry to reach my next destination.

One Nixon partner said I was ruining my career when I decided to leave the firm to go back to Xerox. But I made the right decisions that worked for me at the time. I remember once during a succession planning meeting at Xerox, a senior manager was talking about the life cycle of a career – there are points in your life when you focus on school, on your job, or on your family. We need to recognize that; when people are at a point where they need to switch their focus away from their career, you wait and support them because you want that employee back. If you just cut people off during those times, you’ll lose the best talent.

I’ve been trying to coach myself through my career with this philosophy. There are going to be years where your career isn’t your focus, and that’s OK. You have to do what’s best for you.

If I had embraced that early on, I would have had less angst along the way. I wish I had known how well everything would work out. I would have never imagined being a PGL while working remotely and commuting to a Chicago based firm. It just wasn’t even in my line of sight.

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

KC: The yoga studio is my happy place. I went through a rough patch after my second divorce – that really knocked the wind out of me. Just like I never thought I’d be a remote PGL at a major law firm, I never thought I’d be twice-divorced at 41. I found solace through meditation and by practicing yoga. Instead of sitting home alone on a Friday night, I went to the yoga studio. You always belong to a community there, and I developed an amazing circle of friends. I also met really great business contacts through the yoga community.

I loved it so much that I became a certified yoga instructor and was able to teach a few classes a week. Now my teaching is more on a voluntary basis for the local bar association; I lead meditation CLE programs, and I’ve ended up incorporating these practices at the firm too. At Katten, I worked with HR to establish a national wellness committee and start a firm-wide wellness initiative. I’ll be one of the quarterly speakers for the firm’s wellness webcast talking about how meditation can enhance the practice of law.

It’s interesting because my chain of command both at Nixon and Katten are both big proponents of yoga and meditation. Because of this, I’ve always felt very much at home at Katten. It also affirms that when management supports implementing these practices, it succeeds because they recognize the benefits for mental health (especially in our profession). I use this to pay it forward – figuring out the best way to bring these practices to the legal community. I led a meditation session at the firm’s practice group leader training a few months ago – so many people spoke to me afterwards to learn more and talk about it. I know we had an impact that day. Sometimes you just have to expose people to something new to get them interested. I also led a meditation session at the new partner orientation and for the mid-level associates’ academy.

You have to be open to sharing your experiences in order to really see change and help others. When I spoke at the new partner orientation, I candidly shared my career and life experiences, and other women partners have asked me to mentor them as a result. I’m a huge advocate for flex; people need to know they don’t have to follow a traditional path in order to “make it” anymore.

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.

2020 Spotlights

For February 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Meg Kedrowski Managing Director & Partner, Boston Consulting Group (Los Angeles, CA)

DFA: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule?

MK: Boston Consulting Group (“BCG”) is a dream job for me. I love the impact and variety of our projects and the caliber of our talent. I started as an associate, then consultant to project leader, was promoted to principal, and then again to my current role as a managing director and partner in 2018. BCG has been so supportive every step of my career – between transferring offices twice because of my husband’s career and working at a reduced [hours] capacity. A year into my role as a project leader in 2012, I switched to a flex schedule – this was even before I had kids. I had been at BCG for five years, was traveling extensively, and working a lot of hours. I was at the point where I was jealous of my friends at other jobs who had time during the week (not just the weekends) to do the things they enjoyed. I wanted that option too. But I struggled with how to achieve that work/life control when my colleagues were working more than that. I didn’t think it was fair to change my schedule when the rest of the team was counting on me. I have a background in economics, and after looking at the amount of hours/week I was putting in, I realized the marginal cost to me personally, of each additional hour past 40 hours/week, was a lot higher than the marginal cost of the first 10 hours I worked. I wanted to optimize on the margins; I was willing to give up 20% of my pay in order to shed 20% of the hours that had the highest personal cost to me. In other words, I wanted to work at an 80% capacity by being in the office five days a week, leaving early to be home and have dinner with my husband, and not worry about opening my laptop in the late evening hours. Of course, there were times I had to stay late or meet with clients, but it was an absolute step change in my relationship with managing work and life. I’ll be honest; I didn’t think a reduced schedule was going to work at first. But I needed to make a change. My partners were extremely supportive, clients knew about my schedule change, and BCG put extra resources on my teams so coverage was always in place. I was able to turn down certain projects with confidence that it wouldn’t impede my advancement. In 2013, I had my first child, and I probably would not have come back to work at BCG if I didn’t have flex options in place. I’ve made flex work for me as needed during different stages in my career and life. I was a principal when I had my second child, and I started dividing my time between multiple client projects. But it wasn’t feasible to work five shorter days a week with this arrangement. Instead, I switched to taking one day a week off (either Wednesdays or Thursdays). After my third maternity leave, I went to a 60% reduced capacity schedule and ramped back up to 80% with one day a week off. However in 2018, I took a medical leave of absence; when I returned to work, I went back to 60% reduced capacity, with two days off per week. I’ve been on this schedule ever since. Nothing is set in stone – some weeks I need to switch which days I’m out of the office or some weeks I have to bank my time off for another week. The most important thing is that I work with my team to make sure there’s coverage for our clients. It’s flexible flexibility.

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

MK: I did think about leaving at one point, but after talking with other colleagues who were working reduced hours, I knew I had to try a flexible model. Once I decided on my schedule, BCG was on board. It takes some clients a little longer to understand flexible work, but once they see that their deliverables are unaffected and they’re receiving the trusted support they need, any concerns are gone. In our line of work, we bill by deliverables – not by the hour. I know there are partners who are skeptics about reduced hours. In their minds, they don’t see the need to take a pay cut in order to leave early once in a while to see their kids’ games or meet personal commitments. But the trade-offs are worth it to me. The difference between a flex schedule and occasionally leaving early to watch your kids’ games (which everyone should feel empowered to do), is the additional support and resources you have and the consistency to keep those personal commitments during the week. BCG has always focused on supporting me, making sure I’m meeting my personal goals, and that I’m fairly compensated along the way. Since my own switch to a flexible model, BCG has taken steps to formalize and simplify the process for team members. We now offer standard “Flex60” and “Flex80” programs with clear policies around how to ensure fair work schedules, pay, and promotion for individuals seeking a reduced-hours model. We also offer “Time for You,” an opportunity to take eight weeks of unpaid leave with full benefits. I hope this will make flexible models easier for others at BCG to adopt.

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

MK: I wouldn’t be at BCG if we didn’t offer flexible work options. Working reduced hours allows me to be the kind of wife, mother, and friend that I want to be while still delivering outstanding value to clients. Many of my clients are trying to figure out their work/life balance situation too. I’ve found that when I open up to them about my schedule, it tends to be a relationship builder, not a relationship limiter. Ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve while working flexibly. If you’re shooting for something that’s unrealistic for you, your organization, or your clients, then it won’t work. Be clear on what your top priorities are, and set standards that will make you happy.

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

MK: You don’t have to solve for what you need 10 years from now, because you don’t know what you’ll need 10 years from now. Things change. Solve for what you need for the next 6-12 months, and don’t close any doors that would keep you from solving for a different set of needs in a year’s time. There was a period earlier in my career (for about two to three months) where I was trying to build a new set of capabilities and working more than my agreed upon hours. In retrospect, I should have been clearer about I was trying to accomplish and engaged my mentors and partners more. I should have officially changed my hours during that time and been more deliberate and transparent with my goals. Instead, I viewed this as “a great opportunity and I can’t turn it down,” even if I wasn’t sleeping! Had I been more transparent, I would have delivered better value and been more successful at building the skill sets and relationships I wanted at the time.

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

MK: Lots of different ways! I’m an avid reader and just finished the book Light from Other Stars, a science fiction novel that’s a fascinating thought-starter on women’s career options and how the trade-offs women have had to make have changed dramatically over the last few decades. My family has annual passes to Disneyland, and we go at least once a month – it’s one of the best ways to use my day off. I’m also fortunate to live in a very walkable neighborhood; I like to walk my kids to and from school, stopping by the park and the local coffee shop. I do my best to mentor other women and men who are trying to solve their own work/life challenges. I’ve seen a significant uptick in men looking for advice too. A year ago BCG kicked off our ”Women in MedTech” initiative, and I’ve been helping lead that program. Internally, we focus on mentorship, affiliation, and ensuring diverse voices are reflected in our leadership. We team with our clients to advance women in MedTech and participate in external forums. It’s been fun to give back and be part of something that triggers thoughtprovoking discussions on diversity and gender, both inside BCG and beyond.

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.

2020 Spotlights

For January 2020, we are pleased to share insights from Allison Binkley Partner, Squire Patton Boggs (Columbus, OH)

DFA: How have you made flexibility a priority and a success with your schedule?

AB: Before joining Squire Patton Boggs (“Squire”) in 2014, I worked at another large regional law firm and focused my practice on public finance. After my daughter was born, I changed my schedule to telecommute one day a week, but after a year, I wanted more flexibility in my schedule and more time to spend with her. That firm already had several attorneys working reduced hours, and it was clear our practice group’s partners were supportive of flexible work arrangements. I switched to an 80% reduced hours schedule and was in the office four days a week.

By the end of my tenure at my previous firm, the practice group consisted of just myself and a senior partner. The firm was great, but I knew I wanted to expand my practice expertise. Over the years, I developed great working relationships with several of the attorneys here at Squire, and they approached me to make a lateral move. I was worried, however, that I wouldn’t find the same type of flex support at Squire that I had at my current firm.

Those fears quickly went out the window. Squire’s managing partner didn’t hesitate to agree to my request to join the firm on a reduced hours schedule; he said we hire good people, and we give our people what they need. That was almost six years ago, and even though the structure of my flex schedule may have changed, the support from the firm has not.

I lateraled as a senior associate to Squire in 2014, was promoted to principal in 2016, and promoted again to partner in 2018 – all while working reduced hours and one day a week from home. Now that my daughter is school age, I work an 80% reduced hours schedule and telecommute one day a week (usually Fridays). I leave at an earlier time so I can be home to pick her up and participate in her activities.

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

AB: I have a lot of latitude and independence because the firm has several other attorneys working some type of flex schedule. I came to the firm with a book of business, and since joining Squire, have continued to grow that book of business. Some of my clients know about my schedule, and others don’t. At the end of the day, it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter as long as I’m responsive and meeting their needs.

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

AB: My time in the office translates to time spent on business and professional development too. I’m very active in the Ohio Government Finance Officers Association (“GFOA”) – a trade group of finance officers from local governments as well as public finance professionals. It’s a great group of professionals, and I’m currently serving a three year term on the Board of Trustees. We also host an annual conference with 500 – 600 attendees, and I’m part of the planning committee. Without flexibility at work, I wouldn’t be able to be as involved in Ohio GFOA. I’d be missing the opportunity to collaborate and network with so many of my peers outside of the law firm.

I’m also an adjunct professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. It’s my third year of teaching, and it’s such a rewarding experience. Again, without my flex schedule, I would never be able to partake in all these wonderful professional/business development opportunities and spend the amount of time that I’d like with my family.

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

AB: I would tell myself not to sweat it. Flexible work arrangements were not on the top of my mind when I started practicing. But they became very important to me once I was a parent, and I knew my schedule was going to change drastically. I knew it would work out because the support structures at the firm were in place.

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

AB: I’ve been fortunate to have amazing and supportive partners over the years who’ve also been my mentors. I didn’t have to be a trailblazer for flexible work at the firm, but I do want to make sure I’m paying it forward. I try to use my experiences to help younger associates as they figure out what works best for them now – or five years from now.

I plan to continue to be active with my outside organizations, support my local community, and support my daughter’s school. These are ways that I’m able to recharge. But I’m also able to reset by spending time with my family, traveling, and taking advantage of the outdoors and outdoor activities during the warm weather months here in Ohio.

 

 

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.

2019 Spotlights

November 2019 Spotlight on Flex & 2019 Flex Leader Honoree

For November 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Jennifer M. Flynn, Managing Vice President, Head of Small Business Bank Division, Capital One.

Diversity & Flexibility Alliance: In what ways has creating a culture where flexibility is the norm provided a competitive advantage for Capital One’s Small Business Bank Division?

Jennifer Flynn: When I joined as the Head of Capital One’s Small Business Bank (SBB) division in June 2018, the team was on an incredible cultural journey with a huge focus on inclusivity and creating a sense of belonging across all of our sites. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this transformation. Together, with my leadership team, we declared “reimagining our associate experience” as one of our top goals for 2019. This includes investing in our leaders, promoting flexibility, and embracing differences across our teams. We actively encourage each associate to bring their authentic selves to work each day, and I love watching this transform our division’s culture. Our SBB team is always raising the bar; our business is better because of how we work, and as a result, so are our customers.

DFA: How have you modeled flexible work at Capital One? Why do you think it’s important to lead from the top on this issue?

JMF: I took a leadership development course at GE’s Crotonville facility in 2007 and learned the importance of priority setting. When I had my daughter in 2010, I realized she needed me more than anyone else could; my priorities had to shift. This is when the term “flexibility” became real for me. I wanted to continue progressing in my career and loved being a mom … I just had to find the “and” and make it work my way. This meant making decisions around my priorities, being OK with the consequences of those decisions, and giving myself permission to try and fail. It meant using my voice, and in some ways, over-communicating with my managers, team members, and family when I introduced flexibility into my work week. It also meant soliciting sponsors to support me on my journey. As I grew in my career, I developed a sense of responsibility to model this behavior for other associates looking for balance in their work and home lives. I’m a big believer in the “I see you, I want to be you” phenomenon. If we surround ourselves with leaders who model the behaviors we value, it builds a culture where people feel engaged and empowered to find their “and.” This is what fuels me in promoting and modeling a flexible culture for my team at Capital One.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for leaders to role model the behaviors they want to promote. I find that asking your employees one simple question – “What is important to you?” – goes a long way when empowering associates and helping them achieve success in their personal and professional lives. I’ve also learned there is no script – everyone is different, and flexibility means different things to people at different times in their lives. The willingness to remain open and try new things to make it work for both your organization and employees separate good leaders from great leaders.

DFA: How has incorporating holistic flexibility (ie. telecommuting, reduced hours, job-sharing, flexible start/end times, etc.) changed your office?

JMF: Developing high-performing teams is a big priority of ours. I believe as leaders, it’s our job to create and foster an inclusive and flexible work environment that allows us to attract, retain and develop talent. This results in a happier workforce and better work product. Technology has made this easier for us as well – with a computer, a smart phone, and a strong work ethic, we can do our jobs from anywhere!

DFA: How has flexibility impacted your life?

JMF: Flexibility has allowed me to achieve both my personal and professional goals. Having the freedom to make choices and do things my way has allowed me to have an extremely rewarding career and still keep my daughter as my top priority.

DFA: What was the most meaningful piece of leadership advice you have received? Who has had the most influence on your career?

JMF: Set your priorities; make decisions around those priorities, and if you don’t like the consequences of those decisions, make another choice. This advice has served me well and has also helped me remove guilt from my vocabulary! When you’re confident in your priorities, everything else falls into place.

I also learned the power of using my voice and encouraging others to do the same. Sharing my priorities with others really helped me find the “and” – the flexibility I need to make things work for both my family and my organization. Don’t underestimate the power of letting someone in. I am where I am today largely because of the leaders who took a chance on me, pushed me, and supported me on both my personal and professional journey. My goal is to be that person for my team.

DFA: How do you pay it forward?

JMF: I make it a point to surround myself with leaders who model the behaviors I value, and I have become a champion for those just starting out on their journey. I’m committed to working with my teams to create a culture where everyone feels a sense of belonging, an obligation to share a dissenting opinion, and can bring their whole selves to work feeling inspired and respected. It’s important for everyone to work for leaders who bring out the best in you, who embrace varying perspectives, and see differences as an opportunity to grow. I made a promise to remain true to my authentic self, and I want others to feel the freedom to do the same.

I’m actively engaged on the Executive Steering Committee for Capital One’s Women’s Business Resource Group and the Capital One Greater Washington Market President Network, both located in McLean, VA. I’m an advisor for 1863 Ventures and passionate about helping small businesses succeed.

 

 

 

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.

2019 Spotlights

For September 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Sarah Rodriguez, Partner at Shutts & Bowen (Orlando, FL).

September 2019 Spotlight on Flex

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

Sarah Rodriguez: In undergrad, I originally pursued a degree in engineering, but approximately half way through college, I switched to a double-major in business administration and political science. This naturally parlayed into law school, and after graduating in 2009, I had offers to work at several large law firms. But I chose to start working at a boutique construction law firm doing defense work. I spent three-and-a-half years there until a good friend approached me about joining Shutts & Bowen as a lateral associate. As much as I enjoyed working at the boutique law firm, I knew I wanted the exposure to other areas beyond construction law. I joined Shutts in 2013, and I haven’t looked back!

While on maternity leave after having my first daughter at the end of 2013, I started to think about flexible schedules. As a young associate, I was billing close to 2500 hours per year, and my husband was also an attorney. I knew our schedules weren’t sustainable with a newborn at home. I wanted to be present for her and attend all the doctor’s appointments, playdates, and see all her major milestones. I spoke with the Managing Partner and Practice Group Leader, and we agreed that I would come back at a 60% reduced hours schedule; I’ve been working reduced hours ever since I came back from my first leave in 2014. The firm has been incredibly supportive and respectful of my schedule. I’m typically in the office every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, although I occasionally work from home on Wednesdays and Fridays. I’ve never been pressured to ramp back up to full time, and in fact, I was promoted to partner in January 2019. I was also humbled to be recognized as a Super Lawyer, Rising Star this past year.

To be clear, I am a full time attorney with a reduced billable hours requirement – I’m committed full-time to my clients and cases. To me, there’s no such thing as a “part-time attorney.” But my flexibility allows me to dedicate the time I want to my family and to professional development opportunities such as lunch with clients, client pitches, and networking events – all things needed to advance any legal career.

DFA: How has the firm and/or clients contributed to this?

SR: The firm has been overwhelmingly supportive, and technology makes it easy to respond to clients (both internally and externally) no matter where I am. I still litigate cases, and I make sure I’m as flexible with the firm as it’s been with me. If a matter requires week-long travel, then I adjust my schedule accordingly; if a client needs to meet on a day I’m not in the office, then I adjust my schedule accordingly. The firm has stood behind me and its promise to promote flexible work. In fact, the firm asked me to be part of the Attorney Development Committee, which includes the firm’s mentoring initiative. I was honored to be asked because it’s another testament to how the firm and my colleagues value me and view me as an asset to help guide younger attorneys.

My clients don’t necessarily know I work reduced hours because there’s no need. I have the same work quality, commitment, and responsiveness as if I were billing at 100% and in the office every day. I’ve learned to be more efficient over the past five years of working flex; I have a better understanding of what constitutes a real emergency, what needs an immediate answer, and what can wait with a realistic response time. My work speaks for itself, and clients are happy if they see the results they hoped for.

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

SR: Flex plays a big part in making my career sustainable. Being able to leave the office at 5 pm to attend a networking event and meet clients – these types of things have always been important to me. Strong, soft skills are what help you develop professionally and thrive. I don’t have to worry about billing enough hours; my focus has always been on the quality of work and client satisfaction. I just think this is a healthier way to practice law.

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

SR: I would tell my younger self to focus on building your brand, your work product, your efficiency, and your work relationships. It’s a learning process, but by developing these skills and habits, you’ll have so much more control over your career.

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

SR: I have a five year old, a three year old, and twins on the way, so there’s not a lot of free time to “recharge!” But being with my family does recharge me, and I try to make the most of the time I spend with them. We try to take time to read together, play together, and take as many mini-vacations as possible.

I “pay it forward” by providing mentorship, something I’ve valued so much in my career to date. I’m part of the firm’s mentoring program and have served as a mentor through various local bar associations. I enjoy sharing my experiences on how important it is to know your goals and how to achieve them. It’s not always easy to do, but I’m always willing to help others navigate a complicated career path.

 

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.

2019 Spotlights

For August 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Stephanie Smithey, Shareholder, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart (Indianapolis, IN)

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

Stephanie Smithey: While I was in law school, I worked as a legal assistant for Amoco Corp (which is now BP) doing legal research; I’d work whatever hours I could schedule around my classes. The large corporate legal department exposed me to many different areas of the law, including ERISA work (my practice specialty for the past 28 years). After I graduated, I moved back home to Indianapolis and started working at a law firm as a full-time associate. There weren’t many part-time or flex lawyers at the time, but a few years later when my daughter turned two, I knew I needed to make a change. I went to dinner with my supervising partners, and we designed a plan that would provide me the balance I was looking for. The technology for remote work was not in place yet in 1996, but we agreed I would come into the office four days a week from 9 am – 4:30 pm. All this to say that I started working flex early on in my career, and I stayed on this schedule until I lateraled to Ogletree Deakins as Of Counsel in 2007.

Coming to Ogletree as a lateral, reduced hours attorney could not have been easier. The firm’s CEO at the time, Kim Ebert, knew I was already working reduced hours, and he put the option on the table. He made it clear that reduced hours would not hinder my path to partnership and that flex was part of the firm’s culture. There were several flex Shareholders at the firm already, and I was very comfortable with my choice to start at Ogletree.

As my children grew older, I gradually ramped up my hours, and I was elected Shareholder in 2011 while working reduced hours. I later resumed full-time work, and in 2016, I was elected to be an equity Shareholder. I recently became Chair of Ogletree’s Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Practice Group.

Like most attorneys, I use holistic flex options like telecommuting as needed. Sometimes I’m in the office five days. Other times I’m in the office for two or three days, depending on my travel schedule and personal and work commitments outside the office. Even though I work full-time, several of my colleagues work flexibly to better manage their work-life demands. I understand that experience and support them 100 percent.

I joke that I had the longest path to partnership in history because of the choices I made, but I’m grateful I had those options and don’t regret making them. In the late 90s, we didn’t have email or smart phones, so the hardest thing to give up was accessibility while working reduced hours. I always worried I would miss an opportunity if a partner walked by my office with a new project, and I wasn’t there. Or would I miss the next meeting with the client? Now technology alleviates those concerns. Someone may be out of the office, but they’re always accessible. Today’s technology allows for more successful flex arrangements.

Ogletree made sure I was positioned to succeed. My colleagues introduced me to their clients and included me on important client development opportunities. I was always part of the team. When you offer people flexibility, it’s important to look at the person’s experience and expertise, and hold them in the same regard/position no matter what their billable hour requirements are. It is important to evaluate and value the quality of their time worked, not just the quantity of time worked. There’s always going to be a project where you have to say “no” because of other commitments – it’s a judgement call. It’s important to be in a place where you can say “no” because you shouldn’t have to fear losing the opportunity the second time around. You build trust between you, the firm, your colleagues, and your clients when you learn to be honest rather than saying “yes” and then not being able to meet expectations. I try to remember this philosophy and apply it in my role today by always asking my team whether they have time to take something on. We want to set people up to succeed – not to fail.

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?

SS: On a community level, when my daughter was in elementary school, I left the office at 2 pm twice a month to be a co-leader of her Girl Scout troop. That started when she was in first grade and continued for several years. My flex schedule allowed me to take part in this activity and develop a real love for the organization. Currently, I’m on the Board of Directors for the Girls Scouts of Central Indiana and serve as the Vice Chair. A few years ago, I traveled with a troop of high school girls to Europe, went hiking in the Swiss Alps, and I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences through the organization. Without flex, I would not have been able to be nearly as involved in my daughter’s Girl Scout troop or the organization as a whole. In this way, my flexible work schedule gave me the opportunity to be more connected to my community.

On a personal level, flex helped me when my mother was in kidney failure. She had to go to dialysis three times a week, and my siblings and I split caregiver responsibilities. My schedule allowed me to leave early to take her to her medical appointments and pick her up from dialysis. We all have temporary family obligations that go beyond childcare, and it was a blessing to have that time with my mom. You always want to be able to spend time with your family while you still can.

On a professional level, I recall how a flexible work schedule helped me manage work for my first large, Fortune 100 client. I worked closely with their in-house ERISA counsel, and we had weekly, if not daily, phone calls. My client was going through a period of rapid divestitures and corporate restructuring, and our calls would happen during all hours of the day, weekends, and sometimes well into the evening.   I was still working reduced hours at the time.   I balanced my day to be available for the calls regardless of when they occurred. When this hectic period was over, I asked the client for a reference that included their experiences with me working as a reduced hours attorney. The client confessed that she had no idea I worked reduced hours. That speaks volumes to not only how technology has made flex easier, but also to how flexibility is seamless – done right, an attorney can work reduced hours without diminishing client service or the quality of their work.

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

SS: It was very much a “figure things out as I went along” type of thing. Now that I’ve reached this stage of my career, I’m grateful that I didn’t walk away from my law practice to find balance. Now, even as an empty nester, some days it’s hard to find the right balance, but I really enjoy my practice. I enjoy working with my clients and colleagues to solve problems, and I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a job well done.

I would tell my first-year self to be patient and give myself time to learn the practice of law; stop expecting perfection from day one. You really have to learn how to practice law, and that takes time for everyone. In my area, the law is constantly developing, and I’m always learning. To me, that’s the best part of this job!

Starting in January 2020, I’ll be teaching an employee benefits class at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. I anticipate incorporating flex back into my schedule to leave early in the afternoons once a week on the days I teach. I want to expose the next generation of law students to this area of law and let them know there are great career opportunities out there for them.

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

SS: In the summer time I love to be outdoors – hiking, swimming, spending time at the lake, and being in the water. But I also have my Netflix addiction! I also love to cook, collect cookbooks, travel, and spend time with my kids.

I believe in paying it forward, no matter how informal it may seem. I try to maintain a team approach – we all have different jobs to do, but we also work better together. Whether you’re an attorney, paralegal, or administrative assistant, we all have things that are important to us, and we should all be able to use flex in the ways we need it. I strive to create and foster a culture that encourages people to ask for help if they need it. If I see someone struggling to meet their obligations, I try to work with them to come up with solutions to help them find the balance they need. I’ve worked with attorneys who are on part-time, full-time, hourly, reduced hours, and even project-based schedules. I may be working with someone in the next office or someone across the country – there’s no need to be physically in the office at all times to get the job done and done well! When you realize and accept that, people can structure their practice as needed and be extremely successful. I encourage attorneys not give up, but to take control over their careers in the ways they want to move forward.

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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 April 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Ann Rives Associate, Crowell & Moring (Washington, DC).

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

Ann Rives: I was a rising third year associate when I lateraled to the antitrust group at Crowell and Moring in 2008. I was working full time, but went on maternity leave with my first child in December 2009. Crowell has a Balanced Hours policy that allowed me to return on a reduced schedule, and when I returned to work, I came back at a 60% reduced hours schedule. This was still relatively uncommon at the time, but coupled with the leave policy, Crowell has always shown its support of flexible work and its people.

But life happens, and when my son turned one, my husband’s new job required him to travel four days a week. We knew one of us needed a more stable schedule to be present for our son, and it was going to be me. I left the firm, but the antitrust group leaders and the firm made it clear that the door would always be open if I wanted to come back – even just to work on special projects. As hard as it was to leave in 2010, it was a great feeling to know I had a place to come back to at this caliber of a firm with amazing colleagues.

I made it a point to stay in contact after I left, and once my second child entered pre-school in 2013, I reached out to see if I could work on special projects for the antitrust group. The partners and the firm were incredibly receptive; we discussed what type of work I wanted, how many hours I could give, and how we could make it all work together.

Our agreed upon arrangement (and current flex schedule) is I’m an associate and bill an hourly rate with no annual requirement – it’s bill as you go, and I work primarily from home. The work ebbs and flows, and I bill anywhere between 7 – 20 hours a week. As lawyers, we’re trained to work on tight deadlines. But if you plan ahead and think about the work in the pipeline, there are things that can be pulled out of the “need it now” lane and reassigned to “non-urgent, but essential” lane instead. I focus on the latter items – complex research with high attention to detail work – and I love it!

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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 March 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Jay Kugler DeYoung, Principal, Fish & Richardson (Boston, MA).

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

Jay Kugler DeYoung: Before I came to Fish & Richardson in 2002, I worked for two years at a general practice firm. I wanted to focus on biotechnology prosecution, and I was happy to move to Fish & Richardson when the opportunity presented itself. I joined Fish as a full time associate, and in 2008 I came up for partner – just as I had my first child. I made partner that year and came back on a reduced hours schedule after my daughter was born. I have an hour long commute each way, and I wanted to be home to see my child and eat dinner together as a family. I moved to an 80% reduced hours schedule that consisted of coming into the office each day from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm. I telecommuted as necessary too, and I’ve never looked back.

The firm has never pressured me to go back to full time, in fact, I believe the firm sees flexibility as a win/win for everyone. I chose to reduce my hours because I wanted be involved with firm activities around associate mentoring, training, evaluation, and advancement. Over the years, I’ve expanded my internal involvement to include partner evaluation and advancement too. Internal community building and professional development are both really important to me, and if I were working full time, I wouldn’t be able to give 100% to my substantive work, professional development activities, or being a mom. Flex has been a decision that’s really worked because I’m happier, have less pressure to bill hours, can devote the time I want to client development, and am able to spend quality time with my family.

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 February 2019, we are pleased to share insights from Andrea BrockwayCounsel, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr (Philadelphia, PA).

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

Andrea Brockway: I started at the firm as a full-time litigation associate in 2008 after graduating from Temple Law School. In late 2010, I switched to a reduced hours schedule after the birth of my first child. The firm had a formal flex policy in place when I asked to reduce my hours, and my request was approved. Since switching to flex eight years ago, I’m now the proud mother of four children and have maintained a successful litigation practice representing clients in higher education and white collar criminal defense. The firm and my colleagues have always been supportive of my flexible work arrangement because they trust I’m going to complete the work and do it well.As a litigator, my work and deadlines vary day to day, but I try to block off Fridays to focus on my family. Even though the nature of litigation doesn’t always fit that schedule, my flex hours enable me to decline non-essential meetings scheduled on Fridays. My coworkers understand because they know I’ll always attend to my work commitments on time.

When it comes to flex, it’s not just the reduced hours, but it’s also the flexible work environment that’s been helpful for me. The firm has been very supportive of me working remotely where feasible. This locational flexibility allows me to save on commute time and also affords me the ability to work before/after traditional office hours.

I make flex a priority through communication and organization. All of my commitments are calendared – whether it’s a court deadline or bringing Valentine’s Day treats to my pre-schooler’s classroom. Everything is scheduled, and I’m available via my cell phone or email. I recently started using an app called iTimeKeep to help me stay organized and on top of my commitments. It’s been extremely beneficial for my time management and prioritizing tasks throughout the day.

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