It's Working Project

A Lawyer Opts out of Big Firm Life and Helps Create a New Legal Marketplace, Achieving Better Work/Life Balance for Herself and Over 100 Attorneys Along the Way.

Erin Giglia is the co-founder of Montage Legal Group, a company that provides freelance/contract legal services for law firms nationwide through a curated network of over 100 independent attorneys.

How do you think your childhood has informed the decisions you make about work and family?

I am a first generation college graduate, and watching my family struggle financially had a big impact on my choice to prioritize my education and to become an attorney.  It was critical that I be fully self-sufficient, and that has always been a significant part of my identity, my career, and my family choices.

Struggle is a powerful motivator. And how do you hope that your decisions will affect your children?

I hope that my children will understand that a woman can be a mother and have a career, and can be successful with both.  I hope my children will choose to surround themselves with people who prioritize education, and who make positive contributions to their communities.

Tell us a little about what life was like before kids.

Before children, I was a full-time attorney at a large law firm.  I worked all the time!  As newlyweds, my husband and I had similar schedules.  We took breaks when we could, but worked very hard.

And after the kids came along?

After children, my work hours shifted.  I was very fortunate to have a work environment that allowed me to shift some of my time to off-hours.  I worked a lot of late nights in order to accommodate my choice to leave early to be present every possible night for dinner and bedtime.  The downside was significantly reduced sleep.  Home life was hectic trying to balance my career and figuring out how to be a parent.  It was definitely not easy.

Sleep deprivation is the worst. Did your employer make any changes to accommodate you as you transitioned back to work?

My law firm partners shifted me to work that I could do from anywhere – my desk, or my couch.  They also accommodated the part-time schedule I requested after I had my second baby.

Clearly flexibility–both physical and temporal–was important for your return. What do you think would most benefit parents transitioning back to work after starting or expanding their family?

Flexible and virtual options, without stigma, are key to retaining top talent.  If a company can keep an open mind, nontraditional arrangements can work, and can dramatically increase employee performance, satisfaction, and retention.

What inspired you to leave your job after you started your family?

After I had my second baby, maintaining any kind of personal life became almost impossible.  My husband’s career had taken off, as had his travel schedule.  Even though I had a lot of help with my children, I wanted to be home more.  My business partner, Laurie Rowen, had already left the firm where we were working to do contract projects for other lawyers, and asked me to join her.

That balance issue is so common and so taxing. So, what convinced you to become partners with Laurie?

 A combination of Laurie’s determination, my desire for a change, innovation, and luck.

How do you think that decision has changed your life?

Everything is different now, and life is much more interesting.  Building this business means that Laurie and I have been able to learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship, business ownership, and everything that goes along with it.  We have been fortunate to be on the cutting edge of a new legal marketplace.  We get to fill an important need for lawyers, law firms, and their clients, and make life better for everyone.  We love to be helpful to as many people as possible.  I love my job!

What advice do you have for working parents who are straining to make it work?

Think carefully and honestly about your ideal work schedule and your finances.  If you need to stay full-time, then think about possible adjustments you can make to alleviate stress.  Can you work from home a few days each week?  Or adjust your hours to accommodate time with children after school and/or in the evening?  Once you assess your ideal schedule, ask for it.  Companies are starting to understand that employees can be just as productive, or even more productive, working from a child’s after school activity as they are sitting at their desk.  I get some of my most efficient work done while I’m waiting in the parent gallery at my kids’ Taekwondo studio!

What advice do you have for employers on how to make it work better for working parents returning to the workplace?

Flexibility is key.  If you create a solid, family-friendly environment, people will give their best work in order to stay.  If a company makes life difficult for parents, then anyone with better options (your best people) will certainly leave.  Allow people to make time for their families with virtual work and flexible hours as a normal part of company culture.  If you establish yourself as a family-friendly employer, prospective employees will flood to you, and you get to keep your best people.

Can you reflect on one moment of family life that was made possible or enhanced by your decision to make your career change?

My son was ill last winter for 1.5 weeks.  I sat with him while he slept, watched movies with him, and read to him every single day for 1.5 weeks without stress.  I work from home, so I could take care of my son without any of the typical stress and fears that come with that kind of situation.

How do you (or will you) accommodate working parents as they transition back to work?

We created the Montage Legal Group business model with working parents in mind.  Talented, trained, and experienced attorneys leave traditional law firms every day because of the hours required.  With Montage, they do project-based work according to their own schedules, and can accept or decline any project for any reason.  They are able to keep their legal skills sharp while maintaining ultimate flexibility. Laurie and I are here to support them and help them with any issues that arise.  When you run a business with being helpful in mind, people know it, and appreciate that you actually care about their happiness.  It is a good feeling!