Talented Military Spouses Find Flexibility, Support at V&E

Crystal Y’Barbo Stapley has weathered several moves in recent years, all thanks to the U.S. Army. Her husband is a member of the U.S. JAG Corps and his assignments have sent the couple — and later, their children — zig-zagging across the country, from Houston to Washington, D.C., to Fort Hood, Texas, to Charlottesville, Virginia.

But while her home has changed several times, Stapley’s career has stayed on track. Stapley has been an associate at V&E, working in Complex Commercial Litigation, since 2009, assisting clients in high-stakes business and financial disputes, and is also pursuing an LL.M. in taxation.  The firm has found ways to accommodate her moves, first by transferring her to its D.C. office after she worked as a summer associate in Houston, and then arranging for remote work accommodations when Stapley moved to Fort Hood and later, Charlottesville.

“If the spouse of a service member is talented, then we ought to do everything we can to work with them so they can be with their spouse and remain with the firm.”

Stapley said her story illustrates V&E’s commitment to supporting spouses of active duty service members. “The firm has been wonderful,” Stapley said. “I don’t envision telecommuting forever, but I’m very grateful to be able to do it for now.”

A Commitment to Retaining

Stapley may have been the first military spouse to pursue a remote-work arrangement with V&E, but she’s not the only one. More recently, Houston-based associate Kathryn Hastings spent eight months working remotely from Virginia, where her husband was stationed with the Navy. After her husband was deployed abroad, Hastings, a member of the Capital Markets and Mergers & Acquisitions team, returned to Houston.

“The firm has been really flexible and supportive,” Hastings said. “I really appreciate that.”

Stapley and Adrianne Goins, a counsel in International Dispute Resolution & Arbitration, have helped V&E become even more proactive in helping military spouses by forging a relationship between the firm and the advocacy group Military Spouse J.D. Network (MSJDN). The support group helps military spouses combat state-by-state licensing barriers and also encourages firms and the public sector to hire military spouses. In recent years, Goins, whose husband is a retired Army officer, has served in MSJDN’s mentoring program while the firm has hosted one of the organization’s conferences. V&E has also advertised job openings with the network, resulting in one hire so far.

In 2016, Stapley nominated V&E for MSJDN’s annual Members’ Choice Award, and the firm won. “Vinson & Elkins’ commitment to hiring and retaining military spouse attorneys is especially commendable in an industry known for its traditionally rigid hiring practices,” the group said in a statement announcing the award. “Crystal’s story demonstrates the ways modern legal employers can leverage technology and enact policies and procedures to retain quality employees.”

Alden Atkins, a partner in Commercial & Business Litigation in V&E’s D.C. office, played a key part in helping Stapley secure her remote work arrangement, advocating on her behalf to the firm’s management committee. He said V&E’s appreciation of talent drives the firm’s commitment to supporting military spouses.

“If the spouse of a service member is talented, then we ought to do everything we can to work with them so they can be with their spouse and remain with the firm,” he said. “I worked hard to arrange for Crystal to work remotely so we would keep her.”

What Military Spouses Contribute

Advocates for military spouses note that they have a great deal to contribute to the legal industry.

“In general, we are loyal, resourceful, and self-reliant. We also have all the qualities of great client service: creative thinking, flexibility and a global perspective,” said Goins.

In Goins’ case, her legal practice was shaped by the time she spent working at law firms in Germany, where her husband was assigned. “Living in Germany gave me a great opportunity to practice international arbitration, and I continue that work today, twenty years later,” she said.

The trying circumstances that military spouses must manage in their personal lives — frequent moves, concerns over their spouses’ safety and so on — also makes them especially deft at handling challenging situations in the workplace, Stapley added.

“We personally have extensive experience navigating stressful experiences that are entirely out of our control. With this comes patience and judgment,” she said. “You learn how to influence what is within your control and minimize the energy put toward something that is entirely out of your control. It serves you well in the practice of law.”

Military spouses are also, many would say, a dedicated and conscientious bunch. Stapley and Hastings both said that the success of their remote-working arrangements were based in part on the strong working relationships they formed before leaving their respective offices, as well as their commitments to maintaining frequent contact with colleagues and clients, no matter where they lived.

“People know that they can count on me,” Stapley said. And military spouses, in turn, know that they can count on V&E.