Flexibility important for balancing careers, kids: Local partners say developing support system, staying organized helps at work and at home

September 12, 2005

Managing partner and mother of two Pat McCrory wishes she had invented the simple, no-frills storage shelves and baskets that Pottery Barn Kids sells that make her life easier and more organized at home.

For McCrory, a partner at the Indianapolis law firm of Harrison & Moberly, being organized is a vital part of balancing her work schedule and responsibilities as a mother of a 5-yearold son and 2-year-old daughter.

But as a female partner, McCrory isn't exactly among familiar company.

According to the American Bar Association in 2004, 47.5 percent of first-year law school students were women. But that number drops significantly when it comes to female partners. Nationwide, only 17 percent of partners are women, and in Indianapolis women comprise only 16 percent.

Like McCrory, Julia Gelinas, managing partner at Locke Reynolds, and Laura Reed, partner at Riley, Bennett & Egloff LLP, have also risen through the ranks.

So what's their secret for balancing challenging careers and parenthood?

McCrory said it's important to develop relationships with co-workers who can cover for you in case of an at-home emergency. For McCrory it's a close bond she has developed with her paralegal and secretary who would know what to do if she needed to take care of a family responsibility.

"Most people will work with you-that's why it's so important to develop those relationships," she said.

McCrory also emphasized the importance of building a support network of babysitters, relatives and other reliable people to call on if needed.

"When [Hillary Rodham] Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child, she's right," McCrory said. "You can't do everything by yourself."

Reed, mother to 14-year-old Ian and 11-year-old Jacob, said it helps to have a supportive spouse. Reed's husband, a self-employed remodeler, is able to adjust his time to accommodate their children's schedules, something Reed may not always be able to do.

"It would have been a lot harder to balance if my husband was in a similar career," she admitted.

Prioritizing is the key for Gelinas, mother of 11-year-old Alex.

"There are times in life when things have to give," she said. "You have to decide what is most important at a time and adjust accordingly. Figure out what feels best and what works best."

All three women said working at firms that understand employees' personal lives is important to maintaining balance.

"[Riley Bennett Egloff has] been flex ible in accommodating families," Reed said. "That's one reason I've stayed here so long."

Victoria Accardi, director of human resources for Locke Reynolds, said the firm is flexible in how attorneys can choose to fulfill their obligations.

"We have a very strong work-life balance in that attorneys are expected to meet requirements but [in a way] they see fit," she said. Attorneys are expected to achieve a certain level of billable hours but how they achieve that is flexible," Accardi explained.

If employees choose to work from home, Locke Reynolds can give them laptops, along with the necessary hardware and software to do their job remotely, Accardi said. And after childbirth, employees are given an average of six to eight weeks of paid time off, something Accardi said is atypical of law firms.

But for working mothers, sacrifice-either in their work or personal lives-is inevitable.

Gelinas said that when she became managing partner, she felt she had less control over her schedule and less time to do things for herself.

Soon after Reed became a partner, she spent a lot of time away from home, traveling to northern Indiana helping a co-worker with a case. But she took comfort in knowing the hectic pace wouldn't last.

"You can deal with it, realizing there are ebbs and flows in your work," she said. "You know it's not going to be like that forever and ever."

By contrast, if she were a stay-at-home mom, she'd get to participate more in her sons' school activities, Reed said.

McCrory found the most difficult time was when her children were born.

"You have to clear off your schedule to accommodate the little guys," she said. "I recall walking around like a sleepdeprived zombie. It's tough to maintain your schedule and get back to work."

With the children, McCrory found herself doing a lot of juggling in her daily life, including not being able to work late at the firm.

"Pre-kids, it didn't matter when you got home," she said. "If you had to stay until eight, you could. With kids, you can't do that. You are responsible for someone else."

McCrory, Reed and Gelinas have all managed to balance successful legal careers and little children, but they admit that they're fortunate to work for firms that are supportive and flexible.

"It's hard to find firms that are flexible with women and men who have families and want to raise kids," Reed said. "We've had women here who decide they want to do one thing and want to do it excellently. They've opted to go be great moms. That's a tough choice."

Law careers are notorious for their strict deadlines and large workloads that may dissuade women from choosing a law career if they're planning to have children. And although 90 percent of law firms surveyed by the American Bar Association allow part-time schedules, only 4 percent of lawyers take advantage of them.

"We should support women's choices," Gelinas said. "I hope more women want to stay in practice and become partners. But I also want to support them in their choices not to."

McCrory encourages women who want to become a partner while raising a family to focus on their goals, both personal and professional, as well learn good organizational skills.

"A woman who is organized can go the extra mile," she said. "Follow through and be detailed. That's what clients like. That's what they're paying for."

Gelinas stressed the importance of evaluating your situation, but once a decision is made, stick with it.

"Don't second-guess yourself, and don't let people second-guess you," she said. "Don't feel guilty about the fact you like to work. [But] if you feel it's more important to step out, focus on your family and then come back, do it."
* Julie Gelinas, a managing partner at Locke Reynolds and mother of an 11-year-old son, says setting priorities is critical to maintaining work and home life. Reed
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