Alison Heinze, Corporate Berlin, has two kids and works part-time as Senior Associate managing transactions. Here she gives insights into how she started as a US Attorney in a German law firm, graduated to fully qualified Associate on the normal career track and successfully combines career with family life.
Thanks to the flexibility of Noerr, I have achieved what I considered impossible in the U.S.: a challenging career as an attorney and free time with my two children. Here are some insights into my life as a U.S. attorney working part-time with the Corporate/M&A and Capital Markets teams of Noerr in Berlin:
My biggest concern when starting a family was that the life of an attorney, particularly one active in the demanding world of corporate law, would conflict with family life. My desire to continue my career even after having children was one of the main factors influencing my decision to move to Germany with my husband, a native of Berlin, in 2013. The U.S. offers very little support for families and neither of us wanted to abandon our respective careers or leave a 6 month-old baby at daycare for 12 hours.
I joined Noerr in 2014 and worked full-time as a project lawyer for about 1.5 years before leaving for my daughter’s birth in 2016. After one year of parental leave, I returned on a part-time basis in 2017. In 2018, I successfully applied for recognition of my law licenses and joined the Berlin Chamber of Lawyers as an Attorney at Law, at which point I became a Foreign Associate and officially authorized to practice New York and New Jersey law in Germany. I left again for the birth of my son in 2019, and returned again on a part-time basis in 2020. Though I was of course grateful to be able to spend many months (at times in lockdown) with my very small children, words cannot describe how much I enjoyed that first cup of hot coffee in my quiet office.
Of course, there were inevitably times when I was expected to be in two places at once, for example when the signing date of the $200 million deal I had been working on for months landed on my daughter’s 2nd birthday. However, even in that case, another colleague was happy to take over and my experience has been that most conflicts could be avoided through open communication and effective project management. COVID-19 has been a game-changer. When day-care is closed, my husband and I have to juggle work, a chatty child and an ornery toddler whose favorite button to press on the computer keyboard is the “power” key. Even when day-care is open, the possibility of a sudden closure because of a single positive COVID-19 case looms large.
The upside is that we have learned that office presence is not always essential and that Noerr is equipped with the technology to allow colleagues to work remotely when necessary. When I recently left the office due to daycare closure mere hours before a critical deadline, my colleague and I were still able to complete a final "four-eyes" check of a due diligence report together using screen sharing. Noerr offers other benefits to support life outside of the office which are especially catered to families. We utilized the pme Familienservice to arrange a cleaning service so that time on the weekends is dedicated to our children and not housecleaning. Also, although COVID-19 has prevented Noerr from hosting families for the annual Christmas party for the last two years, my daughter still asks when she can come to my office and eat waffles again.
In my case, the opportunity to continue my career as a U.S.-qualified attorney at Noerr in Germany while also having time with my children in the afternoons allows me to experience the best of both worlds. I would not presume to say that I have mastered the art of the work-life balance, but can confirm that Noerr both welcomes and encourages those on a less traditional career path, whether that is a foreign legal qualification or part-time hours.