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The Wixii™ Project: Jessica Brown

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Jessica BrownName:  Jessica Brown

Location:  Colorado

Companies: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP

Professional Industry:  Legal

Job Title:  Partner

WIXII-ISM™ FROM JESSICA BROWN: 

I took a rather extraordinary step last fall in response to one of these extremely demanding periods…I “delegated up” on [a] matter…Politically this might not have been a wise decision (not sure yet what impact it will have) – but personally, it’s the best decision I ever made.  I was to a point where I really might have left my job if I had not been able to get senior-level assistance; it just would have been too hard on my family for me to continue in these roles.  Now I’m back to being busy, but not too busy, and thus being able to make time for my family, Board positions, pro bono work, and even myself.  I’m about as happy as I’ve been in more than 19 years with the firm – just a few months after I was as miserable as I’d ever been.  I’m grateful I was able to get the help I needed.  And glad that I decided to ask for it rather than just throw in the towel.

JESSICA’S STORY:

Meet our featured Wixii™, Jessica Brown.  She is 45 and mother to 2 daughters, ages 3 and 7.  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder and her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.  She is currently a partner at the international law firm Gibson Dunn and practices in the firm’s Labor and Employment and Class Action Practice Groups.  Her husband Chris makes video games for Backflip Studios in Boulder.  Chris and Jessica enjoy date nights and playing cards with friends – especially Texas Hold ‘Em.

JESSICA’S CAREER PATH:

I thought I wanted to be a lawyer (or an actress!) from a young age, and went straight from college to law school.  I graduated at the top of my class with High Honors; then had the privilege of clerking for federal district court judge (and amazing human being) Jim R. Carrigan.  I joined Gibson Dunn’s Denver office immediately following my judicial clerkship in January 1995.  By late 2001, I was named an equity partner, effective January 2002.  I have been with Gibson Dunn for more than 19 years – my entire career.  In that time, I have served as Co-Chair of the firm-wide Associates Committee, Denver-office Hiring Partner, co-chair of the office Diversity Committee, Denver Litigation Training Partner, and our office representative of the firm-wide Professional Development Committee.  I have surprised myself by continuing to stay with the firm and always just take it one year at a time.  Several of my female colleagues and close friends have “opted out”; I thought about doing so last fall when the stress and workload became almost unbearable – but then it got better and I was happy again (more on this below).  I am open to doing something else, but when I research other options, I end up concluding I have the best gig possible, for me.

JESSICA’S MINDSET AND WORK-LIFE MIX:

In the past, I always described myself as a “positive realist,” but I’ve become more of a worrier since having children (comes with the territory, doesn’t it?).  I think my job contributes as well you have to be a bit of a worrier to do this job successfully.  Today my attitude is one of gratitude and never taking anything for granted; sort of the flip side of worry.  I have a wonderful husband, two darling little girls, a demanding job that I genuinely enjoy – plus my extended family, community activities, and Pilates.  I do not have time for a lot of TV, or as much free reading as I would like; my husband and I are not super social; and I have never managed to get into meditation, which I think would be really worthwhile.  I worry about my health when things get crazy at work and I’m not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.  But generally it’s not that bad.  My work load ebbs and flows, and I’m happy with my current work-life mix.  At the moment, and in the longer-term, bigger picture, my personal mix is working for me and my family.

Work:  how do you “think outside the box” with respect to your work-life potential and opportunities? 

I have really embraced the notion of a corporate jungle gym rather than a corporate ladder.  There have been times in my career when I have reached for the top bars and moved up as rapidly as I could, seizing every opportunity that came along and making the most of them all; and times when I have stepped back and even said, “No, this is too much; I can’t take this on right now.”  As my life circumstances have changed, so has my ideal work-life mix.  I just can’t work all the time and travel constantly anymore, like I could and sometimes did before I had children.

In Womenomics, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman urge women to realize the value they bring to the workplace and to stay in the game at the level of intensity that works for them at various stages of their lives.  Their message resonates with me.  There are a lot of advantages and opportunities that come simply from doing something for a long time.  The key (for me) is to look at “balance” or “having a life” not on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis, but over the course of a year.  If I am happy with my “mix” in a given a year, then I stick it out and try it again for another year.  And again, the precise mix that makes me happy has varied over time; I expect it will continue to do so.

Community:  how do you contribute and add value to the larger world around you?

For me, community involvement is to my career what extracurricular activities were to my high school experience; they make it richer.  I am currently Chair of the Legal Aid Foundation, which raises money for Colorado Legal Services, a statewide provider of civil legal services to the poor.  I have also done a lot of work with the Children’s Law Center over the years, representing young children and even babies in domestic violence disputes and helping to develop a long-term relationship between the Law Center and Gibson Dunn.  I am also on the Executive Committee of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association and a member of the Colorado Bar Association Committee for Balanced Legal Careers.  Through these roles and my role on the diversity committee at my firm, I have organized and hosted numerous “Mom’s Luncheons” and spoken at a number of different women’s programs, including “Women, Leadership and the Law” for University of Denver law students, a work-life balance program with Dean Weiser of the University of Colorado School of Law, and a program on reduced hours policies with Cynthia Calvert, formerly with the Project for Attorney Retention.  I would not enjoy my work nearly as much if I did not do these other things as well.

Describe a “day in your life” from waketime to bedtime:

Of course it varies, but when I’m really busy at work, my day (too) often begins very early.  I know sleep is important and I really value it – but I am actually really efficient when I work between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m.  I can get so much done in what my husband calls my “night office” (our closet).  At a little past 6:00 a.m., I start getting ready for work so I can be mostly finished by the time my kids are up.  My 3-year old rarely sleeps past 6:40, but she’s a morning person, too, and I always enjoy our alone time.  My 7-year old gets up at about 7:00; I get the girls breakfast and hang out with them until our nanny arrives at 7:30 to help my daughter finish getting ready for school.  Most days, I leave for work between 7:30 and 8:00 – sometimes earlier, but I really try to avoid calls and meetings before 8:30 a.m.

I am on the phone a lot during the day; I frequently have lunch meetings; and I try to go to Pilates (my only exercise) three days per week, which I schedule just like I would schedule a call or meeting.  I usually work in the office until about 6:15, then go home to relieve our nanny; unless I have an evening meeting (in which case Chris can hopefully be home by 6:30, which can be challenging since he works in Boulder), but I try to avoid a lot of those.  So most evenings I’m with the kids from 6:30 or 6:45 until they go to bed at about 8:15.  Then Chris and I have a late dinner (we have weekday meals delivered, and Chris prepares them while I’m getting the girls to bed – I don’t know how to cook!) and I usually am back on my laptop (but with Chris, TV on) until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer by about 11:00 p.m.

What do you currently find most challenging/concerning about your work-life mix?  What areas do you most needs support?

When things get very busy at work, or I’m traveling a lot, especially internationally, it gets really hard.  I always tell Chris during those periods that I need a personal assistant, on top of our nanny, housekeeper, and meal delivery service – which seems so ridiculous (and presents its own challenges – e.g., will it really save me time to instruct someone who is not currently in my life and most of the time isn’t needed how to do x versus just doing x myself?).  What I’m really saying is that I need more help from him – but he does a lot already and has a full time job as well, and just isn’t inclined to take on “my” tasks, including paying bills (Chris pays certain bills on line, but I handle any bills we pay by check) and especially kid stuff (making and attending doctor’s appointments, organizing play dates, attending school programs and classroom cleanups, managing ballet, gymnastics, acting, and voice lessons, texting with our nanny, registering for after-school programs and summer camps, returning scholastic book order forms, preparing for holidays, making travel plans, etc.).  I get really exhausted and stressed during these super-busy periods – am much shorter with Chris and the girls than I normally would be; it’s not good for anyone.  As long as things are “normal” busy at work, we’re fine; but we have a hard time dealing with really extraordinary demands.

Are there changes your workplace or you could make to better manage your work-life mix?

I took a rather extraordinary step last fall in response to one of these extremely demanding periods.  I had been pulled into a major matter for a client I had worked for previously and been given a promotion of sorts.  It was an honor; but I didn’t want it:  I knew it would mean far too much international travel and no time for my family (as was the case in the second half of 2011).  It would really upset my work-life mix.  From mid-September into November, I was busier and more stressed than I had been in almost 19 years with the firm, and hardly sleeping at all.  I did not see any light at the end of the tunnel if things continued as they were.  I had a whole team of associates that I was responsible for managing – it wasn’t that I needed to delegate in the usual sense; I needed someone senior to share my workload and responsibility.  So I “delegated up” on that matter and one other, pulling into them more senior partners from our New York office, who could be more “in charge” than me.

Politically this might not have been a wise decision (not sure yet what impact it will have) – but personally, it’s the best decision I ever made.  I was to a point where I really might have left my job if I had not been able to get senior-level assistance; it just would have been too hard on my family for me to continue in these roles.  Now I’m back to being busy, but not too busy, and thus being able to make time for my family, Board positions, pro bono work, and even myself.  I’m about as happy as I’ve been in more than 19 years with the firm – just a few months after I was as miserable as I’d ever been.  I’m grateful I was able to get the help I needed.  And glad that I decided to ask for it rather than just throw in the towel.

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