Friday, August 18, 2017
Jodi D. Taylor, a shareholder at the law firm Baker Donelson and a former classmate of mine, recently won the firm’s Work-Life Warrior Award. “Baker Donelson established the Work-Life Warrior Award to honor an attorney in the Firm who demonstrates an ongoing commitment to excellence in maintaining a healthy work-life balance or has advocated on behalf of work-life balance issues for the benefit of others.” Jodi graciously accepted my request to answer a few questions for this post, as part of the series I am doing on law and wellness.
The interview is below the break.
HM: Jodi, congratulations on the award. Let me start with an obvious question: How have you achieved a healthy work-life balance at a large, prestigious law firm? [Note: I don’t love the term “work-life balance,” but am using it as shorthand, as the award did, for achieving excellence in the office and at home.]
JT: Thanks, Haskell! Balancing the legal profession's demands with personal commitments is tough, but I think lawyers can sustain a fulfilling law practice and enjoy the ability to manage personal commitments when several components are in place. First, and probably most important, is having a supportive workplace. Baker obviously fits that bill - the creation of the Work-Life Warrior Award evidences the commitment to and importance the firm puts on supporting its attorneys. I also have excellent internal role models: our firm leadership and shareholders with large practices make time for things beyond work like serving the community, caring for ailing parents or sick kids, and managing their busy lives. For me personally, there are also a lot of other women here balancing robust practices with family responsibilities from whom to learn.
Second, I have a strong support network outside of the office. My husband, who also has a demanding job, shares in our household responsibilities. We are blessed with a wonderful nanny and local family to help out. In some cases, my parents and children have traveled with me (on our own dime) for out-of-state conferences, depositions or hearings.
Third, making sure the professional and personal commitments are met often requires creative problem-solving, juggling multiple balls at all times, and anticipating problems -- skills that we use daily during our law practice. I think lawyers are especially well-equipped to handle the juggle of a rich personal life with the demands of a law practice because the necessary skills to do both transfer quite well. After the first two steps are met, it is a natural progression that lawyers can be masters at running their home and practice effectively and efficiently.
Also, it must be stated, not everything runs perfectly 100% of the time. Letting go of some of that control and perfectionism is also a requirement for making the balance work.
HM: Achieving a healthy work-life balance is difficult during normal times, but this article says that you had your second child months before going up for shareholder, your daughter had a number of eye surgeries, and you had to move out of your house for three months due to a fire. This must have taken tremendous dedication on your part and assistance from others. Can you elaborate on the support you received from your firm and fellow attorneys during this time?
JT: Baker's parental leave policy was critically important. The policy allows 16 weeks of paid leave that both male and female full-time and regular part-time attorneys are eligible to take as primary caregivers surrounding the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child under the age of six. My daughter had three surgeries from the time she was five weeks old to twelve weeks old, and multiple doctor appointments each week even beyond the surgeries, so receiving 16 weeks of leave was so helpful for our family. The parental leave policy also provided leave hours and "dollars" to capture what my year in billable hours and collections would have looked like but for my leave. During shareholder considerations, the leave numbers were used to compare me fairly against other candidates so that my leave was not counted against me.
Following the house fire, the outpouring of support from my colleagues was tremendous. We received meals, grocery assistance, gift cards for baby items, and so many offers of assistance and encouragement from people in our Atlanta office and across the firm footprint. I even received gift cards from people in other offices I had never met! A group of women in the Atlanta office gave me a spa gift card for the hotel that is conveniently attached to our office building so that I could take some time for myself … the list goes on. It is a testament to Baker's culture, and what has helped put Baker on Fortune's Best Places to work for the past eight consecutive years.
HM: From your experience, and from talking to your friends in the law, which practice areas seem the most and the least conducive to a healthy work-life balance and why? Or do you think practice area isn’t a major factor in this area?
JT: I think there are some practice areas that may better lend themselves to a healthier work-life balance, but do not think work-life balance cannot be achieved if you practice outside of those areas. I think the better litmus is the firm and client expectations, and whether you can tailor your practice/life to meet them.
HM: This article says that on your typical day you get to the office around 8:30 a.m. or 9:00 a.m., alternate with your husband to pick your children up around 5:00 p.m. or 5:30 p.m., and then log back online after the children go to bed. Are you able to carve out any time just for you, and, if so, how?
JT: I admit that is the area I am struggling with most, e.g. I still have not used the spa gift card I mentioned above! Reflecting on the times I have taken some time for myself, I think it is when I have been most efficient with work requirements, there is a lull in work responsibilities, and my husband is available to take primary care of our daughters. Or I just got by on fewer hours of sleep that night … This is certainly something I want to improve, because I do not want to burnout, from work or my family, because I failed to take care of myself. One of my favorite books on this topic, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, by Brigid Shulte, discusses the fact that American employees, particularly women, do not allow time for leisure. Her book discusses the "Ideal Worker" paradigm, and how the American workforce needs to shift to allow for more flexibility, and reward working smarter more than working harder. I feel fortunate that Baker is one of the innovators in this movement, and hope to do better now that my youngest is moving from the baby to the toddler phase. I also give myself a break because I do have two small children, who will not always be small and will not always want me around. I will have lots of "me" time when they go to college, so I am soaking up the time they still want to be with me!
HM: Do you feel that you have more or less flexibility as a shareholder than you did as an associate?
JT: In some ways yes, and others no. There is certainly more autonomy as far as managing my schedule, and when I am in the office. The most important thing is making sure my clients are taken care of. The flip side is there is far more pressure to be responsible for business development, which places additional demands on my time.
HM: What do you think law students should look for when considering law firms, if the law students want to make sure the firms care about both their work and family lives?
JT: Look at the parental leave policies - I think that will give great insight into how the firm values its attorneys' family commitments. Also, listen carefully to other attorneys when they discuss how they spend their time. Are they always discussing work or do they mention participating in hobbies, time with family, or other non-work activities? Those are covert ways to discover whether the firm supports an attorney's whole-self without directly asking the question.
HM: Finally, any closing advise to junior associates struggling to balance various responsibilities?
JT: Learning to balance competing responsibilities is an important part of professional development. It is a learned skill, and can definitely be honed as you advance in your career. The good news is, it is a work-in-progress, so don't beat yourself up if you stumble. However, it is a constant and is always evolving based on your level of seniority, work load, and personal commitments. I am currently using a bullet journal (https://bulletjournal.com/) to help manage my tasks, which is working well. If my situation changes so that I need a new system, I will research and find another one that better fits those circumstances.
HM: Congratulations again, and thank you for providing these thoughts for our readers.