Remembering Maya Angelou

Today I depart from discussion of things related to young women lawyers to remember a remarkable and inspiring woman, Maya Angelou, who left us too early yesterday.  She was an inspiration to so many as she taught us how to fend off insult and assault and to go bravely forward to create a better and more understanding and forgiving world.  She embodied the resilience that the rest of us only can hope for.

I will never stop hearing her regal voice and her measured cadence as she recited her poetry in a style that was unique to her.  Hearing it was like listening to a favorite and comforting lullaby that lead to beautiful dreaming.

Maya Angelou was a national treasure, and she leaves a void that few will be able to fill. The best way for me to remember this remarkable woman is to share with you some of her words and thoughts.   Here, from Maya Angelou, poet, dancer, actress, producer, playwright, director, teacher and so much more:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.

The happy heart runs with the river, floats on the air, lifts to the music, soars with the eagle, hopes with the prayer.

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

God bless Maya Angelou.  May she rest in peace, as she brought peace of mind to so many along the remarkable journey of her life.

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Thought For The Day

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.

Karim Seddiki

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Women Lawyers Get the Official Green Light to Wear Dresses to Work

Women in business, and that includes women lawyers, are now free to wear dresses to the office.  So sayeth the Washington Post.  Thank goodness.  We all know how much fun little dresses are, as compared to the standard fare pantsuits of prior decades, and, according to a leading news source, we are now free to wear them on the job and enjoy the experience.

Even though most of us already knew this — because we watch TV shows like The Good Wife and Scandal — it is good to know that the Washington Post is on our side.  After all, Washington, DC is a city of lawyers and Washington, DC institutions are touted as having some considerable authority on all things lawyerish.  However, DC trends toward conservative in many respects, and those women in the halls of Congress and the lobbyist law firms are not necessarily the first to “get the memo” on the new styles of dress for professional women.  More often, the dress of choice for powerful women in Congress is the designer skirt suit or pants suit a la Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.  Nice, but a little boring — even with those fantastic Tahitian pearls she wears so well!

Power dressing has come a long way.  I loved seeing a little blue dress (with what appears to be black leather seam details) on the cover of the Sunday, May 25th, Washington Post Magazine.  The cover photo and the article inside definitely resonated with me.  Recently I delivered a keynote address at a law school Women’s Bar Association banquet, and I was the only woman in the room in pants.  Nice pants, but, still, pants.  That’s when I knew that my professional wardrobe needed rethinking.  Although I have been enjoying little dresses for business casual events for some time, it is now time to bring them on the road for speaking engagements as well.  What an exciting and liberating notion.  The advent of dress dressing in the corridors of law schools and law firms puts a new spring in my step, especially as endorsed by the venerable Washington Post!

However, let’s not get carried away.  As the Washington Post article points out, what is good for the office is not necessarily good for the courtroom.  For the judge and the jury, you should continue to err on the side of caution and conservatism — and keep those arms covered.  And for everyone’s sake, at all times —- both in and out of the courtroom and everywhere in between — reign in the cleavage and cover up the thighs.  Neither look belongs in the office.  If you need to know why, read Chapter 5 of my book, Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2009).

Speaking of arms, ladies, there is nothing that can ruin the little sheath dress and pumps look faster than bad arms.  Learn to love those weights that are hiding in your closet.  Pump some iron.  Get buff.  The little black — or blue — or even red dress is waiting —- and you want to be ready and in good form to thoroughly enjoy and celebrate how far women have come. 

No more dressing like the men.  Today, women are setting the agenda, and they are following that by dressing to please themselves.  And having a lot of fun doing it!

Bravo for that!

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Thought For The Day

These endured all and gave all that justice among nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace.

From the inscription on the Memorial at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, site of the D-Day Invasion of German-Occupied France by Allied Forces in June 1944.

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Thought For The Day

What first we find impossible, we later deem unlikely, and eventually accept as inevitable.

Bill Bennett

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Pay Equity is Serious Business for Women Lawyers — Make Sure You Have the Facts

Pay equity between men and women is a big issue, and there is a lot in the news these days leading us to believe that women lawyers are paid less than their male counterparts.  If that is true, it is something to make a big deal about — and I will be a person to lead that charge.  But, let’s make sure that we understand the statistics before we rev up our engines.

In a recent article from a progressive think tank, the premise discussed was that women lawyers continue to work longer hours than male lawyers but the women are paid less.  While it probably is true that women lawyers make on average less than male lawyers, there are some additional questions which must be asked.

For instance, are the women working full time or something less?  What are the relative positions in the firms between the male lawyers and the female lawyers whose salaries are being compared?  In other words, are the salaries being compared those of female associates and those of more senior male lawyers, including partners?

We know that many women leave law firms or cut back on their hours in the early years of their practice and long before they reach partnership, mainly because of the work-life challenges that seem overwhelming in those years, and that fact can make a very big difference in compiling the statistics.  If the women lawyers are not partners, comparing their salaries to male law partners is like comparing apples and oranges.

Be careful about what you believe from what you read.  Check the underlying facts to make sure that you understand the issues.  Treat your situation just like you would treat a client’s case.  Do thorough research and analysis before you decide that you are not being treated fairly.

I am sure that there are some pretty egregious pay equity violations in law firms today, and those need to be exposed and remedied.  But, not every pay difference amounts to gender inequality.  Know the facts!  Then decide whether there is a problem, and, if there is a problem, attack it.

This is no time to jump on board the discrimination band wagon without proof.  Facts count.  Lawyers are trained as fact finders, and you need to be one.  If you do not, you will lose credibility, and women in our profession have fought too hard for that credibility to have you play fast and loose with it.

Consider the recent firing of Jill Abramson as Executive Editor of the NY Times, which has created a lot of controversy and debate in the last week.  Many commenters want to make this a gender issue.  However, the facts, as described in a New Yorker article, disclose a conflict between Ms. Abramson and the publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., which had little to do with gender and seems to have driven the result. 

The fact that Ms. Abramson had recently made allegations that she was paid less and had fewer pension benefits than her male predecessor is interesting, but there appears to be much more to the story.  In fact, although spokespersons for the Times have stated that the allegations were not true, the publisher, known in the industry for his attention to diversity and gender issues, made some adjustment to Ms. Abramson’s compensation package after he became aware of her discontent.

For me, the real gender issue surrounding the firing of Jill Abramson is something very different and very positive — and it is about her becoming the first woman executive editor of the NY Times and about the success she enjoyed there for a matter of years and the improvements to the newsroom and to the news industry that have been attributed to her.  For me, that is the important story for women in this case.  That is what women should be remembering about Jill Abramson — that she was so accomplished and such a force in the industry that she positioned herself to break one of the classic glass ceilings in America.  That she made it.  Not that it did not work out.  Lots of jobs do not work out.

So, I repeat what I have said many times before.  Be a discriminating listener, but do not listen for discrimination. And, make sure you are comparing apples and apples.

It is just that simple.

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Thought For The Day

Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

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The Mayor’s Wife: Open Season on Motherhood

Women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  I know this.  I lived it when I decided to give up partnership at a law firm to work part-time after my first child was born.  I lived it a second time when I had my practice taken from me because I was a part-time lawyer, and the firm did not want that kind of “lack of commitment” for their most valued clients.  I lived it yet again when, after my second child was born and private practice became too difficult for me with two toddlers and a litigator husband, I chose to give up practice altogether for awhile.

The critics were on both sides.  There were the men who criticized me for not being home with my children, and there were the women who criticized me for not forging ahead full-time and breaking the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman partner in my firm.  It felt bad then, and it still feels bad now when I force myself to think about it.  But, I made peace with it along the way.  Choices.  That is what it is all about.  Personal choices, and I do not owe allegiance to anyone on either side of that debate.  I owe allegiance to myself and my family, and my situation is uniquely mine.  Not anyone else’s.

So the current controversy over remarks in a profile of NYC mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, for the New York magazine has really captured my attention.  Although I do not identify with many aspects of Ms. McCray’s life, I certainly identify with her conflicting feelings as a first-time mother, as described below in the profile:

“McCray had always imagined a life with children, but as with so many women the reality of motherhood—the loss of independence, the relentlessness of the responsibility—was difficult. ‘I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara (her first-born child)—will we feel guilt forever more? Of course, yes. But the truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn’t want to do that. I looked for all kinds of reason not to do it. I love her. I have thousands of photos of her—every 1-month birthday, 2-month birthday. But I’ve been working since I was 14, and that part of me is me. It took a long time for me to get into ‘I’m taking care of kids,’ and what that means.’ ”

And for that, a candid and honest description of her feelings and her difficulty adjusting to her new role as mother, she is being vilified in private conversations — by both women and men alike — and made an example (of what?) in the media, which always is in search of a salacious story.

What Ms. McCrary says is about as “right on” as I can describe.  Bravo to her for saying it.  What looks easy is hard, and what looks hard is hard when you are a new mother, and that is especially true when you are an older new mother with a working woman past.  It fits me like a glove, and I am glad that she has the courage to address it and not sugarcoat her experiences.

Learn from this.  You are likely to experience some of these same feelings, and you should not be ashamed of them.  Motherhood is hard, no matter how you cut it.  But, it also is beautiful, rewarding and completely worth it — warts and all.  It is what makes our hearts sing — but those melodies surely are interrupted by harsh chords and atonal moments.  That is just the way it is.

No one ever said it would be easy.  Most things worth having are not.

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