By instituting newer concepts prioritizing work-life balance like flexible hours and an in-house, certified childcare center, one firm has found a way to attract (and keep) great talent that’s often overlooked: new moms who would prefer not to work full time. ALPS Underwriting Manager Leah Gooley and Brooke Barney, a founding member of Barney & Graham in Sheridan, Wyoming, go over some tips and practical advice for firms interested in supporting their employees’ commitment to their families.

 

Transcript:

LEAH GOOLEY:                

Okay. Welcome to another episode of ALPS In Brief, coming to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula. My name is Leah Gooley, and I’m the underwriting manager here at ALPS. On the personal side, I’m also a new mom to a now four month old daughter. And every day is really a learning experience in the delicate balance between work and family. There are two things that I passionately love, but that creates some very challenging days and prompt some very challenging decisions. So to explore one of this part of this topic, today we have Brooke Barney, a founding member at Barney & Graham in Sheridan, Wyoming. So welcome Brooke. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today.

BROOKE BARNEY:            

Thank you for having me, Leah.

LEAH:                

Brooke has an impressive track record in her practice in bankruptcy and family law, helping her community and positioning herself as a leader in the profession. But today she’s here to talk about those impressive work accomplishments and how she blended those with personal ambitions. So Brooke, to get us started, would you tell us a little bit about your own journey into law?

BROOKE:            

Sure. I think my journey probably began just as long ago as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an attorney. My father is an attorney and so I just grew up with that. Obviously I wasn’t discouraged to go into the legal profession by my dad. I don’t know that he pushed it on me at all. That’s just as long as I can remember it’s been in my head that I wanted to be an attorney. So that was always a goal of mine. I grew up in a law office. I remember my dad meeting with clients and I’d be in his other conference room. And so it’s just probably something subconsciously that rubbed off on me. But no, I always had the goal of becoming an attorney, not necessarily what particular type of attorney. I kind of found through law school what things I was interested in. And of course, you really don’t know what you enjoy until you’re actually practicing, actually taking on real clients. And so, kind of found my field that way once I actually began practicing.

LEAH:                 

Did you at the time entering into the profession, whether in law school or after starting your own practice, start to think about that in combination with a family?

BROOKE:          

So really I think that when I thought about having a legal career, I don’t know that I factored in how I would balance that with being a mom or to have a family because when you’re 19, I think you’re very focused on next step is getting my bachelor’s. Then the next step is getting into law school and then passing the bar. But of course, once you find your significant other, you get married, that definitely becomes more into focus. And I have two children, I have a four year old daughter and you just have your four month old daughter. I have a two month old son that I’ve just had.

LEAH:                 

Brand new, very good.

BROOKE:        

So I have two kiddos, both of which were very much planned and anticipated. And so I really tried to mold my practice and make that conducive to the time that I was going to be having kids.

BROOKE:          

And so I focused the majority of my early practice, probably 10, 11 years on primarily family law or domestic relations. I’ve always been a guardian ad litem, so I represented children in abuse, neglect cases and had a contract with the state for juvenile work. And then I’ve also practiced bankruptcies when I was anticipating that I was going to try for our first child. I really had to plan that about a year in advance because when you’re in litigation, trials around here in our docket, they get scheduled nine months a year out. So I didn’t want to have a trial, if possible, when I was also going to be having a baby. So I purposely started scaling back on taking consultations for cases that I didn’t want to accept and then be committed to having trials all stacked up right when I was going to be having a baby.

BROOKE:         

So that was how I did it, that was my planning to try to balance that litigation. And then of course resumed taking cases again once the baby was actually here. With my second child, I tended to kind of shift the type of practice that I’ve had because I’ve found that with family law, it’s just a different type of clientele. They’re more high maintenance. The clients just just need you to be more accessible. So I’ve really tried to shift in the last couple of years, my type of practice to more of bankruptcy because I found that that lends a little bit more to having a family. So again, anticipating having a second child, and it’s taken years to kind of shift and phase out. I, I still have domestic cases, but not primarily, which is what I had when I had my first child. So now with the bankruptcy work, it’s a little bit easier with two kids.

LEAH:                      

That’s so interesting. And just something you don’t consider, certainly outside of the law profession, I don’t think folks realize the amount of planning and strategy that then goes into to starting your family.

BROOKE:          

I don’t know if everybody’s like that, but that’s how I did it. I’m very much a planner and so I knew that I couldn’t have that type of caseload or litigation practice at the same time that I was trying to have… At least I wanted to be able to focus on myself, my health. I didn’t want that extra stress at the time that I was trying to conceive or trying to have a healthy baby.

LEAH:                     

Right.

Brooke Barney:            

So that’s how I did.

LEAH:                   

Yeah. Well, and one of the other interesting things, so tell me I guess how Barney & Graham got started and kind of your approach to work life in that aspect as well.

BROOKE:          

Sure. So I moved to Sheridan and because I accepted an associate position out of law school and I practiced with an attorney here for probably about four years. And then my husband was working for a title attorney in town doing oil and gas work. We actually ended up practicing in the same office with my former employer.

BROOKE:          

And so we actually decided to start our own firm. So we’ve been in business I think seven or eight years now. So we decided to start it. So I’m the Barney and my husband’s the Graham of the Barney & Graham. We’ve now been in business, yeah, I think probably going on eight years. And since that time we’ve opened up a satellite office. So we are located primarily in Sheridan. There’s another office that we have about an hour and a half away in Gillette, Wyoming. And we’ve hired two associates and we just actually hired two more associates. So we’re going to have six total attorneys in our firm.

BROOKE:          

And so we’ve kind of grown from just Weston and I, my husband and I, to to now having four other employees. So we’re excited about our new hires. They actually are new moms as well. One just had a baby in September. Yeah, one had a baby in September, the other had a baby in October. So we’re going to have two new babies come in with my two month old. And I think part of the [inaudible 00:10:19] suppose to our firm is we have a childcare center in our firm. So these new associates are new moms and they are kind of looking to work part-time and still be moms. And I don’t think that a lot of firms looking for new associates are interested in part-time, new moms.

BROOKE:          

So we are extremely flexible in our firm. We really highly value the balance of home life, prioritizing your family and being able to work. This is what we do, it’s not who we are, it doesn’t define us. I very much enjoy my practice and really value working with my clients. But I also understand that really what is important is family and my kids. And so I don’t know if anyone ever achieves the perfect balance. I feel like it’s more juggling most of the time than balancing anything.

BROOKE:            

I once heard someone say, really there is no way to balance it all. Being a mom and being a practice, you feel like your failing on one end and so you overcompensate and you’re going heavy that end. Then you overcompensate on [crosstalk 00:11:39] and that’s why I see more of kind of the juggle then than really a balance. But yeah, so that’s something that we’re excited about.

BROOKE:          

We’re having two new associates here starting and what we have in place in our firm is an infinite work program. And so employees can bring their children to work, essentially their babies and they can be in their office with them up until six months. And so that’s kind of a step below of the childcare center. So new moms might not want to put their baby with someone full time and so they can bring their baby to work, have them in the office as long as they’re not a disruption to the office or to other people working. And how it works with the infinite work program is they can designate an alternate care provider and the alternate care provider, as long as they agree, can watch baby while maybe they need to take a phone call or need to go down and meet with clients. They just need to have baby free time so they can work. But really mom is the designated primary caregiver when they’re at work under this program. So I, for example, have a little momaRoo rocker set up in my office and so I can bring in baby and he rocks while I get my work done at the office and we’re going to have swings and things available for new associates, for them to have their babies. We’re starting.

LEAH:                        

What an awesome concept. Then past that six months, do you then have an actual childcare facility?

BROOKE:         

Yes, yes we do. So we have a licensed and certified childcare center. So we have that available. I mean that’s available as well. Really the state doesn’t allow infants younger than six weeks to come in and be part of the childcare centers. So anytime after six weeks up until kindergarten we can have kiddos down and it’s actually located onsite in our building. Clients don’t know that we have this going on and we don’t advertise it. But you know, well right now below me in my conference room is our childcare center and so we can have kiddos below us and moms and parents because my husband’s here too. So dad’s too, can go down and check on their kids and be able to see them during the day, which has been really nice.

BROOKE:           

We really kind of ventured into that when we moved into this building about four years ago and I was having my first child, we checked in with staff and other attorneys that we had at that time about what would be the best benefit to them, because we’re still a younger firm and identifying what people would like, retirement or health care. And really resoundingly everybody responded childcare. We had two staff with one or two year olds at that time. We had another associate attorney who also had a young child, and then we had our new child coming. So we decided to, we had the space, and it was a need of both staff and attorneys in our firms, so we decided to create the childcare center.

LEAH:                     

That is such a unique and differentiating way to attract great talent and take advantage of those folks who want some more balance as we like to call it or juggling, but not want to be full-time, 60, 80 hour a week attorneys. Which kind of leads me into my next question. We’ve talked about in the past that law school classes are roughly 50:50 male:female these days, but overall there’s just a large excess of women leaving the legal profession. Do you have any thoughts on to what’s playing into that specifically?

BROOKE:           

Yes, I mean I [inaudible 00:15:37] for women. And I know that society is very different. The fathers, I think of our dads, their contribution I suppose to childcare was very different than I think our husbands these days. Dads are very involved in helping, but I think it still falls to women to be the default primary caretaker. What I’ve observed is even with my female attorneys, they have a better paying job than their spouses. They have probably more flexibility. But if the child is sick, it’s them who’s going to be taking work off. It’s not husband. That personally what I’ve observed as an employer. I’ve seen that with my staff. I’ve seen that with my attorney associates. It just always seems to fall to mom to take care of kid and that’s regardless of their status or their job position.

BROOKE:            

So that’s very difficult. So when we’re talking about balancing or prioritizing, you have two roles, you have two responsibilities. You’re an attorney, you need to service your clients, but you also have the responsibility of being a parent. And when you’re trying to run your practice and service your clients, but your kid gets sick or daycare ends at five o’clock or 5:30, you have to check out. You have to go take care of your second job, your next responsibility because there’s no one else who’s going to cover for you. And so what I found again was talking about planning for what type of practice I would have that would lend to having a family. What I’ve found is your time is so much more limited when you have children. When you don’t have a kid, you can put in as many hours as you want, and I did. I would work late, I would come in early, I would come in on the weekends. And it’s just because that’s what it took to keep up with the practice.

BROOKE:           

When you have children, unless you’re going to completely put your kid on the couch and ignore them all night. But infants, they need more time, they need all of the attention.

LEAH:                    

They do.

BROOKE:            

It’s so much more difficult. So it can still be done, but you have to find the hours elsewhere. You’re up all night with the baby, but then you’re going to have to keep staying up to get in those four or five hours in the morning to work on your laptop or stay up late after the baby goes down, or your kids go down. So you can find the hours, but they’re going to be cutting into maybe sleep time or whatever.

BROOKE:        

I’ve responded to emails with this new baby at 1:45 in the morning and clients think that’s odd, or I’m very dedicated to their case because I’m up 1:45 responding to emails. But I’m up anyway and that’s when I found a few extra hours and the extra time to work. So when we’re talking about, to get back to your question, we’re talking about why we see that. I think that it’s a challenge I think for women, especially with the expectation for billable hours.

BROOKE:            

Like I say, I think our firm is very unique in that we’re extremely flexible. We prioritize the work-life balance. I mean we still expect everybody to get their work done and to provide quality work for our clients. But I think for the traditional law firm, that model is very hard. Especially for women with pre-K kids. Once they’re in school, I think that kind of changes a little bit. But childcare is a huge obstacle I think. And I’ve heard stories from classmates of mine who, and this is applies to dads too. I hear about dads in bigger cities, right? We’re in Wyoming and you’re in Montana. We don’t experience the commuting issue, right? The extra hour or two it takes to get home. But you hear stories about people working late at night and then they drive their hour or two to get home just in time maybe to catch reading a book before bed? And that’s all the time that they really get with their kids.

BROOKE:          

I’ve heard of that even in Montana, in some of these bigger firms with the expectations of how much they have to work, they’re really isn’t any time with their kids. And you’re essentially just paying for someone else to raise your children for you in childcare. And that’s hard. And I think that again, men and dads are much more involved I think with the raising of children. But it seems that it still, I think, falls to women and to mothers to be primary caretakers. And so that challenge is once they start having kids, how do they still practice? And for these two new associates that we have, it’s because we’re going to allow them to have a part-time position and to- And eventually they may go full time and they can phase that practice back more into their lives. But yeah, I think that childcare, having a family, and continuing to keep up with the expectations of the billable hour, that is probably a huge reason for lack of advancement for women in law firms. And also for women deciding to leave the profession.

LEAH:                       

Right. So that does lead also then into kind of my next question. In this experience, through your business model in blending it with a childcare center and a law firm practice. Acknowledging these challenges that women specifically, and you have mentioned absolutely there’s dads in the mix and it’s a family juggle, but specifically women do face a little bit more of that burden or what I’ve heard called the mental load. Making sure that people have the appointments on the calendar they need to have for shots, making sure there’s groceries in the fridge type of thing that typically falls to the females in the relationship. In looking at your business model and trying to solve that from the piece of childcare, what have you learned out of that experience?

BROOKE:          

Well, I found that us offering that benefit has definitely contributed to having employees stay longer. So I think it’s been a benefit to the firm to offer childcare because I think there’s more job satisfaction. Parents are able to focus on their work because they know their children are being cared for. They can personally go down and see their kids and check in on them, make sure they’re doing fine and get that gratification of seeing their kiddo. Maybe when they’re feeling burnt out, they could go down and get refreshed, give your kid a hug and then be able to come back up. So I think it helps the job performance. It’s helped with longevity, with keeping employees here. And I think that people are happier because again, they have that flexibility where they can bring in their infants, or infants can be with them in their office and then when they get old enough that they need a different type of care, we have an onsite care so they can go down and do that. So I think that’s the benefit that I’ve seen with implementing that benefit in our firm is it’s has helped the firm in our performance and with our employees. So it’s been a good thing for us to do.

LEAH:                        

Fantastic. Last and just kind of a closing thought here, it’s definitely clear that starting or growing a family comes with these challenges. So for those thinking about kind of the future balance and or those juggling their way through it now, any advice?

BROOKE:            

Well, I think if you’re planning on having a family and you want to stay actively in your practice, I think it does take some planning. I mean it will help the transition I suppose if you plan. You need to have a childcare plan, a solid childcare plan. So I know that there’s, at least in our community, and I’m reading about in other communities in the state of just the difficulty of even getting childcare, getting into a center. So get wait-listed as soon as you’re expecting to try to conceive. That way you can have the peace of mind of having childcare in place. Have a support system, have backups. If you can utilize family or friends so that you might have your child in childcare, but then they send them home because they’re sick. You still have courts and so you have to have a backup. You need to have someone lined up that’s going to help support you.

BROOKE:          

So when they say it takes a village to raise child, it really does. So some people are fortunate than others to have a family and a big support system, extended family. If you have that, then that’s wonderful to utilize. But if not, really try to facilitate and have those backups ready to go. So having a solid childcare plan is one.

BROOKE:           

But I think also really evaluate what type of practice that you want to have. Certain areas lend a little bit more to being able to have a little more flexibility, I suppose, with having a family. If you’re a transactional attorney, I think that’s a lot easier. Or I guess it will facilitate I guess a balance a little bit easier.

BROOKE:            

You can still litigate. You can definitely still have a practice where you’re going to go to court but again, I think at least personally I’ve been able to find the balance a little bit more by transitioning and shifting the type of practice I’ve had. At least while I’m having younger children. I mean I see being able to phase back in when I can put in more hours because my children are older and can sustain themselves a little bit more. They’re not so dependent on me but so when you’re planning, I think, just how are you going to do it? What are logistically, how are you going to continue to practice, but when you have these other responsibilities? So having a solid childcare plan is key. And then thinking about also just what do you want? And does your current law firm facilitate that?

BROOKE:          

Do you still want to have the same level of practice that you have with as many clients and same case load and keep that plus having your kid? Or do you want to have a little more balance with more home time and so you just need to be honest with your employer so that they know what to expect of you after the fact. And hopefully that will [inaudible 00:26:45] in satisfaction on both ends so they’re not upset because you’re not having the same level of performance after you’ve come back from having baby. And having satisfaction with your job and still being able to factor in this new piece of your life and being able to have a family. So it’s not easy. That’s why they call it the balance, you know? No one has the the answer to really how do you do it. But at least personally how we’ve made that transition for myself, our staff and our other associate attorneys isto offer the flexibility and then to give them the peace of mind by having quality childcare onsite.

LEAH:                     

Well those are truly words of wisdom I think to ask yourself what you really want and then see what options are out there. Or in your case, create those options to meet the need and to support your firm. That’s fantastic. I again, thank you so much for spending your time with us this morning. We think you’re a rock star and we appreciate everything that you’ve provided for us today.

BROOKE:            

Well thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about it and if anyone’s interested in how to implement this similar program, you may be happy to visit with them. There are a lot of different ways you can do this. It doesn’t have to be a full-on, onsite childcare facility. Even other ways of maybe providing that as a benefit to your staff is working with other local childcare facilities, maybe subsidizing their own childcare. Helping them, helping staff by being able to afford child care. I know we had staff who have been with us a long time, she’s about to have her second child. And financially, it didn’t make sense for her to continue to work because she’s going to be paying for childcare with two children. And so we were looking at losing her again because we transitioned to having this on-site child care benefit, she was able to stay with us. But if we didn’t have that, like other employers, perhaps considering that as a benefit of helping contribute financially to their childcare as a benefit, a way to keep staff. So that’s an easier way maybe to implement that into someone’s firm.

LEAH:                     

Excellent.

BROOKE:            

All right, well thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.

LEAH:                       

Yes, great to have you. Thanks to everyone for listening and we will see you again next time for ALPS In Brief.

BROOKE BARNEY is a Partner with Barney & Graham, LLC. Brooke received a dual B.A. Degree in Political Science and International Studies from the University of Wyoming in 2004 and graduated from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 2007. Brooke has been assisting clients for over a decade through both her bankruptcy and family law practice. She has helped hundreds of families obtain relief from their overwhelming debt and get a fresh start through bankruptcy. Brooke has also represented clients in a vast array of family law matters including divorce, annulment, legal separation, child custody dispute, grandparent visitation, contested adoptions, child support establishment/modification as well as post-decree litigation. In addition to her bankruptcy and family law practice, Brooke has received 40 hours of formal mediation training and offers mediation services for family law disputes, employee/employer conflicts, private sector organizations, which include family businesses. Brooke also advocates for children’s best interests as a Guardian ad Litem in juvenile actions for the Wyoming Guardian Ad Litem Program.

Brooke is currently serving as President of the Bankruptcy & Creditors’ Rights Section of the Wyoming State Bar and is a past President of the Sheridan County Bar Association. She been recognized in her field by being awarded the 2007 Medal of Excellence in Bankruptcy by the American Bankruptcy Institute. Brooke is also actively involved in the Sheridan community including her service as the Past Chairman of the Sheridan Rotary Foundation, Inc. and as the 2016-2017 President of the Sheridan Rotary Club.  Brooke serves on the Board of Commissioners for Equal Justice of Wyoming, an organization which provides a statewide program for improving access to justice and providing civil legal services to Wyoming’s low-income citizens.  Brooke is licensed to practice in the State of Wyoming, the District of Columbia, and the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email