Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Musing and Reflections on My Alternative Work Schedule (Mostly For My Fellow MILPs*)

First, the random. Last night, I had a hair appointment - highlights and a cut, but all me-me-me time. I actually left work thinking there’d be tons of traffic, but there wasn’t, so I made it to the ‘hood where my hair salon is with 45 minutes to spare. In that amount of time, I managed to make a mad dash through two of my favorite stores -- Anthropologie and H&M. The line in Anthropologie was so long that I left, but not without falling in love with a certain purple jacket. I’m going to check after Christmas and see if it is on sale. So, then, with only 20 minutes to spare, I ran into H&M. That store is sort of a new one for me, but I’ve started going there for cute, cheap, trendy pieces that I know I won’t wear that often. I didn’t have time to try anything on, so I bought two sizes in a few things, hoping to wear something new to the office today. Yeah, well, they could learn a few things about vanity sizing. Even though I bought my size AND a size bigger, skin tight. Not office appropriate. Not even leave-the-house appropriate for a thirty-something year old, dignified lady such as myself. So, I’ll have to return all of that stuff. (Trust me, it is H&M, not me . . . I’m actually at my tiniest right now . . . as B JOKINGLY says, “anxiety looks good on [me].”). I read a deposition transcript while getting my hair done, and am finally finally feeling like I have a good grasp on the technology at issue in my case. So, all in all a good night. I’m not wearing anything new today (damn you H&M and your terrible sizing), but my hair looks good, and I’m taking my liberties with business casual (since there’s NO ONE in the office today) -- leggings, a sweater tunic, and ballet flats, a slightly younger, and more casual look than I'd usually do for the office. I think I look so good it is almost a shame there is no one to see ;o) With this upbeat attitude, I’m hoping to knock out some good work before heading home to do our holiday festivities/gift-exchange with our nanny tonight and gear up for the Disneyland festivities tomorrow.

Second, the reflections. As most of my MILP readers know, I’m on a “reduced” or “alternative” work schedule and have been for just over a year. I’m not THAT reduced. Basically, I just took a small percentage paycut to be responsible for a small percentage less of billables at year end.

We all hear stories of BigLaw attorneys who try the alternative work schedules, feel like they are getting reduced pay for full-time hours, and end up disenchanted with the whole thing. I won’t lie . . . there HAVE been times I’ve felt like that. I’ve billed 200+ hour months. But that was in trial, or leading up to trial. For the most part, I’ve managed my schedule well, and at the end of the year . . . billed less than I would have as a full-time, regular-schedule associate. Did I bill over my part-time commitment? Yes. Did I bill less than I would have had I not gone on the alternative/reduced schedule? YES. Has it been worth it to take the pay cut? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY.

I think the reason it has worked so well (besides a supportive firm and supportive partners) is that I’ve been flexible, and never lost sight of the fact that reduced-schedule or not, I’m part of a team. When we had deadlines that required working on my “off” day, I’ve tried to not let my reduced schedule lead to MY work being dumped on others, but I’ve also been careful to set clear boundaries when there weren’t deadlines requiring me to do something sooner rather than later, and taken advantage of the opportunity to work from home many days. With partners who never seemed to remember my schedule (and there are a few), I gave frequent reminders, like “sure, I’ll get that done, but remember, Tuesdays are my out-of-office day, so is Wednesday okay?” Yes, I have worked some Tuesdays, but I’ve also taken lots of Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, etc. off when needed. I’ve never had to miss a doctor’s appointment for Sam that I wanted to be at (and if you follow my blog, you know there have been lots of those). I billed over 250 hours in two weeks at trial, but I came home and took a MONTH off. So, while from week to week, my schedule hasn’t always been "reduced," over the course of the year, it most definitely has. And, I just think it would be hard to make a more rigid “reduced” schedule work in the world of litigation, without being demoted to some lesser part of the case team, which I knew I wouldn’t want. One of the greatest challenges to me has been adjusting to the ebb and flow, but that's true for ALL litigators. I fall into a groove where work is at a pretty steady, normal rate, where I feel like I truly am balancing my two worlds, and then BOOM!, a case gets insanely busy, and I have to readjust everything to figure out a new balance.

I have been sure to let the partners who have supported me in this KNOW how much I appreciate it. KNOW that my loyalty to this firm has been increased TEN-FOLD by the fact that they’ve helped me/allowed me to make this schedule work. To make it so that I don't have to be one of the women that "opt-out" of BigLaw to get reduced hours. I'm lucky that my "reduced" schedule hasn’t affected the quality of work I’ve been given, or the opportunities to join new cases. To be truthful, I HAVE turned down some of the opportunities I've been offered, and it hasn't been easy . . . when given the choice between traveling to a hearing or staying back to draft a motion, I chose the motion. In the moment, I worried I was making a silly career move, but at the time, we had a lot going on with Sammie B and so, it was just the right thing for our family. I know as a mom trying to balance it all . . . those moments will happen. I also believe I'll remember those moments far longer than the partners I work with (hope so). I believe that the partner that led that case probably remembers that the motion I stayed back and wrote was a winner, not that I didn't go to the hearing.

I’ve worked hard to make sure that the work that I have done has been my best. Sure, I’ve turned in things at times that weren’t my best (don't we all do that occasionally?) . . . but for the most part, I’ve really tried to make sure the quality of my work made up for the reduced quantity they had to evaluate me on. I’ve worked hard. Very hard, but the flexibility this schedule has allowed me . . . the psychological freedom actually more than anything . . . the amount that it’s allowed me to “let myself off the hook” so to speak in terms of feeling like I have to bill a million hours (both because that's what BigLaw associates do and because that’s who I am) . . . has been priceless. If I’d been a full-time regular schedule associate this last year, I still would have billed MORE than the minimum. It’s who I am. I don’t like to just “slide by.” I like to overachieve. So, I did. I came in above my minimum, which felt do-able to me, while still enjoying life and still being mom. And I feel good about it. Great actually. And most importantly, I feel like my firm has supported me in this, and that is a great relief.

(*MILP = "Moms in the legal profession")


Anonymous said...

I think it's awesome that you have found a law firm that is so flexible. I have two children - a three year old and a two month old - and work for a public defender office that has let me take four months off - one unpaid and three paid - for maternity leave both times and will let me leave early or at 5 if I have all my work done...

Butterflyfish said...

Gives me hope!