Editor’s Note: MSJDN asked its members to nominate employers going above and beyond for military spouse attorneys. During past month, we have put the Employer Spotlight on each of the nominees to tell the stories of those supporting military spouses in the legal profession. We are now excited to announce the recipient of the 2016 MSJDN Members’ Choice Award!

The nominations for the 2016 Members’ Choice Award tell the stories of the challenges faced by military spouse attorneys and how support from the legal community has helped reduce barriers to meaningful careers for these attorneys. MSJDN members nominated large firms and solo practitioners; Coloradoans and Californians; district attorneys and law schools – all deserving of recognition for the impact they have made in the lives of military spouses in the legal profession. Yet only one can be recognized with the award. At the MSJDN Annual Reception on May 12th, Vinson & Elkins LLP will be presented with the 2016 Members’ Choice Award. Nominated by MSJDN member Crystal Y’Barbo Stapley, Vinson & Elkins has demonstrated a meaningful commitment to supporting military spouse attorney careers through flexible policies designed to retain quality legal talent, regardless of where the military sends that talent!

Vinson & Elkins is a law firm of 600+ lawyers practicing in 8 U.S. offices and 7 overseas. Organizations of this size, especially law firms, often have a reputation for strictpolicies when it comes to hiring. Fortunately for Crystal, Vinson & Elkins broke the mold.

Vinson & Elkins LLP

Crystal clerked for Vinson & Elkins during her 2L summer and was offered a full-time position at its Houston headquarters. At the time, she was engaged to a fellow law student who had applied to the Army JAG Corps, thinking he was unlikely to be selected given the highly competitive selection process. Despite the odds they thought were in favor of remaining in Houston, Crystal’s fiancé was selected and the Army guaranteed Washington, DC as his first assignment, a request from Crystal made because of Vinson & Elkins’ presence in the city.

Following her fiancé’s decision to pursue an Army career, Crystal regretfully informed Vinson & Elkins that she had to decline the offer to work at the Houston office. Hoping for both some flexibility and luck, she inquired if they might consider her for the DC office. Crystal said, “The big law hiring process is so calculated and intricate: I cannot image any other firm in the country giving a second thought to trying to find room for a new associate like me in another office. But Vinson & Elkins did. And they made it look effortless.” Within a few weeks, Crystal received a phone call from Vinson & Elkins confirming that she would start at in the DC office in the fall of 2010, just as she had previously planned to start in the Houston office.

The support from Vinson & Elkins did not end with their flexibility surrounding Crystal’s hiring. The firm continued to support Crystal while her husband completed an unaccompanied tour to Korea in 2012-2013. The firm, and particularly her supervising partner, strongly encouraged Crystal to take an extended trip to Korea to visit her husband, during which she was able to work remotely on a part-time basis.

Then in 2015, just as Crystal returned to work after maternity leave (using the firm’s phase-in/flexible work arrangement), her husband received orders to Ft. Hood. Although Vinson & Elkins has a strong presence in Texas, the closest office in Austin is still a substantial commute from Ft. Hood. In this season of the family’s life, geo-baching (living apart) was not an option. Crystal approached the partners she worked with in the DC office to brainstorm a solution. With their unwavering support, she proposed to continue as an associate of the DC office while working remotely from her home in Ft. Hood.  Despite being a global firm, this was an unusual arrangement for Vinson & Elkins. But the firm’s leadership agreed, and Crystal has been working remotely from Texas for the last 8 months. Crystal said, “I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to support my husband and the Army, while keeping my family together and also prioritizing my career.”

In addition to Crystal, Vinson & Elkins employs other military spouse attorneys and veterans. One of these attorneys, Adrianne Goins, the spouse of a retired Army officer, took Crystal under her wing from her first day at the firm and remains one of her most valued mentors. Recently, Vinson & Elkins used MSJDN’s network and hired another military spouse who holds her JD, but is not yet licensed, to fill a paralegal position, where she has earned a reputation as a valued team member. According to Crystal, Vinson & Elkins considers MSJDN’s network a valuable resource to fill future vacancies as well.

Vinson & Elkins’ support for the military community doesn’t end with their hiring practices. Crystal shares that the firm also has an extensive list of military-related pro bono matters. In 2007, several Vinson & Elkins lawyers began seeking opportunities to help veterans and active-duty personnel with their legal problems. It quickly became evident that need was great. Vinson & Elkins took an innovative approach by launching the Veteran’s Initiative as a standing pro bono practice. Since 2007, the firm has helped more than 50 veterans and servicemembers, with matters ranging from improper denial of benefits and unfair financial dealings with deployed personnel, to defending military men and women in custody battles, evictions, and even in military proceedings. In 2008, a partner defended a Marine Corps officer in a 17-day trial in front of the first Marine Court of Inquiry in more than 50 years.

Vinson & Elkins has also launched a special project to help veterans expunge their prior criminal records, clearing the path for better housing, educational and employment opportunities. This project already boasts 8 cleared records for veterans in the Dallas, Texas area. Vinson & Elkins lawyers also often attend clinics specially designed to help veterans. At one clinic at the VA Hospital in Houston, Vinson & Elkins lawyers have helped staff the clinic for over five years. Crystal says the firm “looks at this work as both a privilege and an obligation of our profession.”

In light of all this, it’s no wonder that Crystal wanted to recognize Vinson & Elkins for going above and beyond to support military families despite the spontaneous twists and turns of the military lifestyle. Vinson & Elkins’ commitment to hiring and retaining military spouse attorneys is especially commendable in an industry known for its traditionally rigid hiring practices. Crystal’s story demonstrates the ways modern legal employers can leverage technology and enact policies and procedures to retain quality employees, even when service to our great nation draws them to different corners of the globe. Please join us in thanking Vinson & Elkins for their continuing support and congratulating them as recipient of the 2016 MSJDN Members’ Choice Award!

Join us as we present the award to Vinson & Elkins during the MSJDN Annual Reception on May 12th at the Association of the U.S. Army in Arlington, VA. Don’t miss this evening of celebration for military spouse attorneys and their supporters! Tickets and more information are available on the event page.