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Varnum Receives Prestigious Pillar Award

March 22, 2010

Varnum LLP has received the prestigious 2010 Pillar Award from Women's Resource Center, in recognition of "noteworthy efforts to support women in our community." Varnum was honored at the 21st annual Pillar Awards luncheon on March 17 in front of 500 business and community leaders.

Marilyn Lankfer, right, Varnum's first woman partner and first to use an alternative work schedule, accepted the Pillar Award on behalf of the firm.

Varnum received the award in large part due to its groundbreaking Alternative Work Schedule policy for attorneys, believed to be one of the most generous at local and regional law firms.

"Women attorneys are especially prone to the struggle of balancing the needs of growing families at precisely the same time they are expected to progress in a demanding partnership system," said Varnum Senior Partner Marilyn Lankfer, who serves as coordinator of the AWS policy. Lankfer, the first female partner at Varnum, was also the first to experience an alternative work schedule upon the birth of her second child.

"In 1983, I was a partner at the firm when my first child was born. I worked full time until my second child was born and realized I couldn't do it all. The rigor of a partnership schedule combined with my desire and obligation to spend a meaningful amount of time with my children was almost overwhelming. I still recall the relief I felt when then-managing partner Don Johnson said, 'We'll do whatever it takes, Marilyn, to keep you.'

"That was over 20 years ago. Since then, Varnum has consistently improved our policies and practices that promote work/life balance and inclusion," Lankfer said "But it is that underlying attitude of support and "doing whatever it takes" that has progressed the family-friendly culture at Varnum."

Highlights of Varnum's current AWS policy, established in 2007, include:

  • Associate attorneys may work on a reduced hours basis while staying on a partnership track.
  • Lawyers may propose a schedule that satisfies their personal and family needs, including working a minimum 60 percent schedule.
  • A reduced schedule may be requested on an indefinite basis; there is no time limitation except for certain partners who may request a reduced schedule for up to three years.
  • Following a 12-week maternity absence, lawyers may opt to take an additional 12 weeks working an 80 percent schedule with 100 percent pay.
  • Attorneys working an alternative schedule are eligible for consideration for partnership without needing to return to work on a full time basis.

All aspects of the policy are currently being utilized by various attorneys at the firm.

"It is tremendously gratifying to be honored for our efforts to support work/life balance," said Managing Partner Larry Murphy. "The Alternative Work Schedule is one aspect of the firm's long-term goal to be a leader in diversity and inclusion matters through innovative policies."

The Pillar Award is West Michigan's only business award that showcases local employers who empower women at work. The award was created by Women's Resource Center to further its mission "to improve women's workplace and economic opportunities."

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