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Street Talk: K Street Firms Adjust to Keep Moms

Tom Williams/Roll Call

Lobbyist Sara van Geertruyden, a mom of two sons, wanted out of the billable-hours confines of the law firm world.

Andy Rosenberg, who had recently started a boutique K Street shop, needed additional personnel, particularly to help his clients navigate executive branch agencies. But he didn’t think he could afford to hire a job candidate with van Geertruyden’s résumé.

It turned out, she wanted something more than money.

So in January, van Geertruyden joined Rosenberg’s firm, Thorn Run Partners, as a senior vice president with two enormous perks: schedule flexibility and zero requirement to bill clients for her time.

“To the clients she works on, she is fully accessible,” Rosenberg explained. “But she tries to have a schedule where she doesn’t have to work before 9:30, so she can drop her kids off at school. Most evenings she likes to be done by 3:30 so she can pick her kids up from school.”

That is definitely not the typical K Street daybook.

Between breakfast and dinner fundraisers, client conference calls and Hill meetings, most lobbyists say some days it can be impossible to squeeze in any personal time. But some mom lobbyists like van Geertruyden have negotiated deals, or even started their own ventures, in an attempt to find more time to spend with their kids while still staying on a high-level career track.

It’s the smaller startup firms that have adapted to these desires the most.

“These smaller shops can get a lot more bang for their buck by bringing in some of the folks who are looking for a little more work-life balance,” said Jennifer Folsom, who started her mom-focused staffing firm, Momentum Resources, in 2007. Since then, she has placed lobbyists at many Washington, D.C., firms. “Flexibility is priceless to the candidates and free to the employers.”

That’s exactly what Rosenberg and his five-person firm found.

And van Geertruyden, who last year left the city’s largest lobbying practice, Patton Boggs, said the new job works better for her clients and her kids, who are 3 and 5.

“I find small is definitely better,” she said.

Ditto for one former top GOP Hill aide who negotiated a four-day workweek at the startup lobby shop that she joined more than two years ago. She would only speak about her arrangement on background because, she said, there’s still a certain “stigma” of being mommy-tracked, even though her clients and colleagues seem to have no problem with her schedule.

This lobbyist interviewed with several different types of employers: big law firms, trade associations and smaller shops.

“What I found was basically the law firms and associations, they have the structure and rigidity of a firm. They have an HR department, and if you let one person do one thing, then you have to let everybody do it,” she said. “The smaller firms are able to be more flexible.”

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