Ben’s Story

Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community. This month we are putting a spotlight on Ben Applegate – founding partner of Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen.

Ben’s Story

Ben founded his firm on the “counter cultural decision” that instead of requiring excessive work hours in order to meet an inflated bottom line, their firm would value time for life alongside earning “enough money.”

Ben Applegate: “We founded our firm in 1998 after leaving a larger firm. It’s a boutique practice providing housing and community development work funded primarily through tax credits and the government.

“Our mission statement has always been to be the best at what we do on a nationwide basis while balancing profitability and lifestyle for all of our employees. Anytime we bring someone into the firm we talk about our shared vision – to make a good living, but not necessarily the greatest of livings. That filter has served us very well. If we get a sense that someone who we are interviewing is only negotiating hard on salary, we know it’s not going to be a good fit.

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“When we started we had 4 lawyers, now we have 29 lawyers. I’m not sure if all of our success is do with our shared vision, or if it’s also to do with being a mission driven law firm doing community development work. But I do know that we never have to recruit, and we have a waiting list of people who are willing to abandon the “golden handcuffs” at their big firm positions to work with us.

“At many big firms the target is now 2,000 billable hours in order for you to get your bonus, and you may not even get your base salary if you don’t hit that target. We have been able to build our firm on a 1700 target. It’s a good trade-off. The discount on their salary is made up with more time for life.

“It doesn’t always work that way. We go through periods of ‘episodic overwork’ – when things pick up. But when this becomes ‘chronic overwork’ we know it’s time to go hire more people.

“There have been times when someone bills over 2,000 hours, and what we do is counsel them to see how we can help them get their lives more in balance. Obviously this was the opposite kind of conversation they were having at the large law firms that they came from.

“The benefits to our clients are clear. If you can operate within the 1700 billable hours model, that leaves capacity for the inevitable periods of episodic overwork, but you can meet these upticks in demands with greater efficiency and less burn out. If you are already at 2000 billable hours – if you are already running the factory at over capacity – then when you get another order in, something is going to break.

“The whole dollars trade off is something I’ve been preaching to Jessica and the other ThirdPath Pioneering Leaders forever. It’s really about making that counter cultural decision that enough money is enough, and that we don’t have to make it all about maximizing profits.”

To learn more about Ben Applegate and two other inspirational leaders who have created thriving law practices that support people to be successful at work AND successful in their lives outside of work, click the below SoundCloud icon. These three leaders are:

  • Ben Applegate – Founding partner of Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen – see below for more information
  • Tony Doniger, Senior partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen – read his commentary on this topic
  • Peter Lando – Founding partner of Lando & Anastasi – read more about their firm’s philosophy

Thank you Ben, Tony and Peter for leading the way to creating truly 21st century workplaces!

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Andrea’s Story

Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community . . .

Andrea’s Story
Andrea Knowles was clear early on that she wanted to live a life that included time for both work and family. To accomplish this, fresh out of law school, she began taking the steps she believed would most likely help her achieve this goal.

Andrea began her journey by securing a position at a large law firm. While there, her goals were to work hard, gain experience and respect, and to save as much money as possible so she would have more financial freedom later on.Andrea Twins

Unlike some of the other newly hired lawyers at the firm, Andrea lived well below what she earned as an attorney and put all her extra savings towards paying off her student loan. Once debt free, she then kept up this modest lifestyle in order to build a nest egg that would fund a year off and let her travel and see the world. After working long hours at the large firm, she needed this time to relax and breath. She also knew taking this time would play a crucial role in her ability to search for the ideal firm that would support her longer term goals.

During her year off Andrea traveled and spent time with friends and family. She even met her future husband. After about 6 months, she began looking for a new place to work. While being interviewed at each law firm she was very open about wanting an integrated life, and she looked for firms where people were already living this way. Did people have children? Was life outside of work important to them? Could people work reduced hours? To really understand the culture of the firm, she also looked very carefully at the leaders. Were some of them role models for the type of life she was looking for?

Ultimately, she turned down opportunities where an integrated approach was not encouraged or otherwise feasible, and eventually she found her current firm – a litigation boutique that felt very aligned with her vision.

When she began working at her new firm, Andrea worked full time. She also got engaged, married, and then began looking for a house with her husband. While doing this she saw it as another opportunity to think ahead about their future goals. For example, she advocated for a house that would support a short commute. She also knew the importance of finding an affordable house so they could cover other important expenses like the cost of day care and her goal to work reduced hours when they started a family. Soon after this was all put in place, they got pregnant. In fact, they learned they were going to have two children not just one!

After the birth of the twins, Andrea began experimenting with working flexibly and reduced hours. The benefits of a reduced schedule allowed Andrea to take off most Fridays for almost 2 years. She then had a year where one of her twins required numerous doctor’s appointments, so instead of taking Fridays off, she used the company’s flexibility to work half days to attend the appointments. When the twins were in preschool, she continued with an 80% schedule and flexed her hours for different family responsibilities, including helping out at their children’s co-operative pre-school. When the twins entered first grade, Andrea went back to full time hours, though she continues to flex her hours as needed for family responsibilities.

Andrea’s determination to live out her dream of having an integrated work life informed her decisions early on. She made financial decisions that allowed her to live debt free and save up the funds necessary to hunt for a firm that embodied her vision of work life balance. Many of her fellow employees and leaders have families and work flexibly themselves. She also sought out a life partner whose goals for work and family were similar. And she took time to interview prospective employers until she found a good fit.

What are your goals for an integrated work life? What steps have you taken, or do you need to take, in order to get closer to your dreams? Listen to our full interview with Andrea and be inspired by a story that will help you think about how all the different pieces – work, money, partner and family – can fit together to support an integrated whole.


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Roger and Doug’s Stories

Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community . . .

This month we are putting a spotlight on two Shared Care couples who explore why sharing in the joys and challenges of earning an income and caring for their families has positively impacted their lives as individuals and as a couple. Read on to learn about these pioneering couples, or click the SoundCloud icon at the end to listen to them share their inspiring stories.

Roger’s Story
Roger and his wife are both engineers.  When their son was born, they both decided to work reduced hours so they could share in the care of their new baby.  To begin with – even though they both worked for the same employer and had the same benefits – Roger’s wife assumed she would be the one who worked reduced hours.  It was actually Roger who suggested they both could work part time.  Now both parents have regular “alone” time with their child.  Roger can see how this has helped the couple build a high level of trust.  Both parents feel comfortable in the other’s ability to take on any responsibility in their absence. This feeling of trust has also helped the couple feel closer in their relationship.

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Doug and Maggie’s Story
Doug and Maggie have shared in the care of their son since he was born – now he’s in high school! They also both run their own businesses and work from home offices. For Doug and Maggie, time spent together as a family has always been a top priority. They have also always been very intentional to create this time together.  Although the reasons may have changed over the years, like the recent celebration with their son when he got his drivers permit, the priority of creating family time hasn’t changed. The couple says the key to their success has been their ability to work together as a team and to set boundaries around the time they spend working.

Working as a “team at home” has also left the couple with a sense of balance that no one person is doing more than the other, and as a result, the couple feels “friendlier towards each other”. These feelings of friendliness have allowed the couple to easily adjust to changing circumstances. When their son started high school, the family’s day suddenly began two hours earlier. Without missing a beat, the couple made the commitment to get up together and have breakfast, and then see their son off to school. They also discovered the new arrangement allowed time for a workout in the morning.

Shared Care Helps Couples Develop Multi-Dimensional Lives

Through team work and setting boundaries around work time, these families have created lives that are supportive, trusting and enriching not only for their family as a whole, but also for their own lives and their relationships as a couple.  Here are a few more unexpected benefits we learned about from our conversation with these Shared Care parents:

  • Shared care means both parents can continue to create time for “guilt free recreation” – since they’ve had time for work and for family, both feel free to create time for their own personal interests
  • Both parents become an additional resource around work problems.  One dad shared a story of how his partner’s area of expertise at work helped him “think outside the box” to solve a recent work problem
  • Shared Care becomes a powerful way to role model how both men and women can do things differently – at work and at home!

In each story, the couples found a unique solution that met their family, work and individual needs. Through communication and teamwork, these families created work/family solutions that were able to continue to evolve with their changing lives. They also discovered, by sharing their involvement with both work and family, they were able to further solidify the levels of trust, support and love in their relationships.

To learn more about Roger, Doug and Maggie, listen to the recording of our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar by clicking the SoundCloud link at the end of this post. The recording also includes the stories of a few additional couples, including the authors of two Shared Care books, Lisa Levy (The Libra Solution) and Marc Vachon (Equally Shared Parenting).

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Jennifer and Ken’s Story

Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community . . .

This month we are putting a spotlight on Jennifer Johnson, co-founder of Current Designs, and Ken Stern, founding partner of Stern & Curray.

Jennifer and Ken’s Story

Progressive employers have learned a commitment to a flexible workplace is key to finding and keeping excellent workers. They’ve also learned when employees have time and energy to live full lives, it improves the work they do. Jennifer Johnson, co-founder of Current Designs, and Ken Stern, founding partner of Stern & Curray, are both leaders who have put these ideas into practice.

Not surprisingly, both of these leaders started off by wanting balance in their own lives. Today they have created unique organizations that support everyone to flex work in ways that are good for the business and good for employees. Read on to learn about these pioneering, or click the SoundCloud icon at the end to listen to them share their inspiring stories.

Ken Stern, founding partner Stern & Curray

Ken started off his career in litigation in a firm that offered very little time for life outside of work. When Ken had children, he wanted to create a more balanced life that would include time for family and other life interests. To do this, Ken decided to launch his own firm built around his work/life balance philosophies. But to do this well, Ken was also quick to learn that different jobs required different types of flexibility. For example, although his administrative staff couldn’t work remotely, he was happy to have them flex in other ways. In contrast, the paralegals have a lot of flexibility around when and where they work, so long as they get their expected hours completed within the 2 week pay period. He also encourages everyone to turn off work while on vacation, which came as a big surprise to a lawyer who had spent her career working in a less supportive workplace.

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Ken could see how all of this fostered a team approach where people where happy to cover for each other as needed. They even learned the value of creating quiet focused work time for people working in the office, and they implemented a red/green flag system to signal when it was OK, or not OK, to be interrupted.

Jennifer Johnson, co-founder Current Designs

When Jennifer and her husband were raising their children, not only did they share in the care of their twin boys, they also launched a new business developing highly detailed optical research instruments. Fast-forward a few years, the couple decided to expand the business, move it outside their home and hire more people. While doing this they learned they still needed flexibility themselves, but they also learned their employees and business benefited from flexibility as well.

For instance, Jennifer was quick to realize hiring very creative people (artist and musicians), meant she also would be able to count on having employees who excelled at the extremely detailed work that was required. And by offering these artists a 4-day schedule with full benefits, the employees could then use the other 3 days to work on their own creative pursuits. This is a critical way Jennifer has been able to create an enjoyable work environment that fosters openness, flexibility and high quality work. Jennifer notes the low-stress workplace also translates to improved customer service.

Over the years both leaders have experienced some challenges – especially for Ken who works in an industry that too often holds very different values. Nevertheless, Ken and Jennifer have a long list of benefits and lessons learned.  These include:

  • Having the right mindset is key to creating and maintaining a flexible workplace
  • Not every solution is good for every job; creating flexibility for different jobs requires creativity and a willingness to listen
  • Flexible solutions are not stagnant; they evolve with the people, the work required, and outside influences
  • By being a flexible workplace, they have reduced turnover and created a friendly, mutually supportive workplace

In short, Ken and Jennifer both talked about enjoying a full life with diverse interests. Ken summarized it this way, “work is important, it needs to be done well and in service to the client, it also needs to be profitable, but it doesn’t need to be done at the expense of everything else in life.” Today, Jennifer and Ken are understandably proud to be able to offer the opportunities they wanted for themselves to their employees.

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The Tale of Two Julies – A Story of Successful Job Sharing

Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community . . .

This month we are putting a spotlight on Julie Levine. She and her colleague at work, Julie Rocco, have successfully job shared a management position at Ford Motor Company for more than 5 years. Read on to learn about these pioneering, or click the SoundCloud icon at the end to listen to them share their inspiring story.

Julie Levine’s Story

Job sharing a program manager position with Julie Rocco, Julie Levine soon discovered how “fully integrated” they had become – sometimes even asking the same questions at the exact same time.  In fact, the trust that has built up over the years leaves both parties with complete faith they will be well represented by the other during their absence. It has also provided the ease of mind the “two Julies” needed to be able to spend time with their families.

This collaborative partnership, Julie jokes, has almost been like a “marriage” at work. She also underscores how it did not come about by just placing two people in a job share arrangement. There were numerous factors that played into its success, the most critical being the selection of the right people to create the job share. Julie talks about how she and Rocco went on a “blind date” to figure out whether or not they would be compatible. During this “date” they both took time to assess whether they shared a similar sense of responsibility for getting the work done as well as attention to detail, energy levels and integrity.

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After finding each other, the next critical step was pitching the business case for moving ahead. They needed to show the company that “the sum of two Julies…” was really better than “…two Julies alone.” Julie describes how both of them having strong reputations within the organization helped make their case. But they also began to quickly see how their job sharing arrangement brought many advantages to their organization.

For example, having the network and experience of two people on any one task or problem offered a significant benefit to their employer; playing into the old cliché – two heads are better than one. Julie also talks about how refreshed she would be from her time away from work. Even vacations played out differently. When one of them took a vacation, the other was still available to work at half time, so projects were able to continue to move forward. At one point, they were even able to turn a maternity leave into an opportunity to have a junior employ gain exposure to a higher level position. The employee was even promoted after the leave was up!

While the benefits to the company were plentiful, the advantages to Julie and her family were immeasurable. Julie cites many tangible things such as being able to volunteer at her children’s school as well as have time for exercise and other activities. She also talks about some of the more intangible benefits such as having her children grow up in an environment where they see that Mommy’s career is just as important as Daddy’s; and that balancing work and family is possible.

Julie concluded with advice on what she learned through the years to be key attributes to her job sharing success:

· Being seamless: never having to ‘burden’ your fellow employees (i.e. by having them repeat information twice). It doesn’t matter which person you talk to, both would always be up-to-date on any and all matters.

· Being completely consistent: making sure that directions, and answers to questions, are handled in a similar manner.

· Being fully committed: committing to the necessary time and effort to ensure their success, such as the update process they use four times a week to be bring each other up to speed on what happened that day.

· Sharing the entire job – not just splitting tasks: This is critical for both being seamless and consistent, as both parties are then aware of everything relevant to their job.

Julie’s story is another great example of how we can “redesign leadership” in a way where everyone benefits – the leader, the leader’s family as well as the organization. To listen to more of Julie Levine’s story, click the SoundCloud link below.

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Assist individuals, families and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for family, community and other life priorities. Develop a growing community of individuals, leaders and organizations to influence wider change - both within organizations and at the public policy level. Support a new mind-set where everyone can follow a "third path" - an integrated approach to work and life.

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