Have Women Lawyers Lost Something on Their Way to Becoming Leaders?

This article from The Atlantic caught my eye on my news feed earlier this week.  It addresses what the writer thinks women have lost in advancing their opportunities in the workplace.  It is a historical perspective, but the message is meant to be very au courant.

Although I have my own thoughts on the downside for women as we struggled to take our places at the tables of power in law and business and some of the messages that worked against the causes we were trying to advance, I have not given much thought to the kind of loss that is addressed in The Atlantic article.  I think I should have, and, as a result, I think you should, too.

You all are familiar with the balance themes that I and others write about.  But this is different.  The question posited in this article is how much can women advance in the workplace without leaving other valuable contributions on the cutting board?  But it is not the typical contributions to home and family that is addressed in this piece.  Rather, it is contributions of a different, albeit related, nature like the benefits of community involvement and volunteerism?  The article compels the reader to ask how important those other things are, to both individuals and to society.  In other words, we know that it is almost impossible to be committed to careers in law and business and also have time for the Girl Scouts, the community board or the grass roots political cause, but should we care?  Should we strive to do something about it?

I am surprised that I had not focused on this before.  I have devoted a huge amount of time and effort to charities and community concerns over my career as a lawyer, and it has enriched my life.  I have volunteered at the lowest levels and also been on boards of directors for a music association, a women’s charity, a civic association and, now, a land and conservation trust.  Honestly, I do not know who I would be without this kind of involvement.  But, that does not make it easy, and that does not make it for you.

However, I think you would gain some valuable perspective just by reading the article.  It is lengthy, so I will share the last paragraph with you.  It is good food for thought.

As women have taken greater positions of leadership in the United States, they have also left a leadership vacuum behind them. In middle-class, highly educated communities, women may be busier and more tired than their mothers and grandmothers once were, but they mostly figure out ways to advocate for their kids at school-board meetings or volunteer to chaperone a class trip to the zoo. The people who have suffered most aren’t white and well-off; they’re lower income, poorly educated, and largely disconnected from the rich network of membership-based associations that used to provide both a local sense of community and a national voice in politics. Women in these positions have lost access to one of their only means of gaining leadership skills. And while many of their educated, wealthier peers now have alternatives to the suffocating housewife’s life that so enraged Betty Friedan seven decades ago, some experience it as an opposite kind of suffocation: a never-ending, ladder-climbing work life, the height of which is making money for someone else rather than building a world in which they’re invested.

Tell me what you think.  In October I will be speaking at a DirectHer Network event in Washington, DC.  The members of the DirectHer Network work tirelessly to place women on corporate boards of directors where the can utilize their invaluable leadership skills.  I will be happy to include your comments in my remarks there.

 

 

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Thought For The Day

“Firms don’t seem to be moving that fast to be flexible.  [Attorneys with young children could] make it known and illustrate by example that you can have a home life and a work life.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Thought For The Day

“Labels can be facile and can lead to non-think on the part of the public.”

Edward Albee, acclaimed playwright, who died on September 16, 2016

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Women Lawyers: Welcome to the Practice!

So many new law graduates started jobs in law firms within the last few weeks, and many of them are young women.  They are enthusiastic and energetic, but they know little about the jobs they are being asked to do.  Law school teaches a lot of substance, but most law schools are still very short on practical application and hands-on experience.  This can lead to a lot of insecurity within the throes of new lawyers who walked into the hallowed halls of law firms in the last few weeks.

That is to be expected.  If you are one of them, please know that you have lots of company.  Also know that people try to hide their insecurities in different ways.  Some of them overcompensate by being boastful and constantly calling attention to themselves.  You know them — you met many of them in law school.  You also will recall that, for the most part, they did not end up at the top of the class.

Others compensate for their insecurities by withdrawing into their offices and hoping that the waves of insecurity recede rapidly.  Although this is tempting and does not require much in terms of effort, you do not want to be one of them.  Unaddressed insecurity breeds more insecurity.  You need to get up and get going.  You only get one opportunity to make a positive first impression.

Here is some of my best advice to you in these early days of your chosen career.

You have been given a great opportunity. Yes, you earned it, but you also have been fortunate. Do not ruin it by expecting too much too quickly and over-analyzing the meaning of these early days within the context of what will be a long career. Be positive and take advantage of every opportunity to learn and to grow. You have no idea where it will take you, but you need to have faith in your decisions. Keep an open mind on the work that is given you and don’t prejudge. Use the power of your personality and personal skills to get out of your comfort zone to make friends and create alliances. It will take a conscious effort, but you can do it.

Game on!  Being happy in your work is important to your life.  Your first career choice is not necessarily your ultimate choice, and your trajectory in the law profession is likely to follow the current pattern of being somewhat dynamic.  Make every experience count.  Get the most out of where you are in the moment and consider everything as valuable to your next experience.  Regrets are a useless waste of time.  Avoid them by being strategic about the value of your experiences.

Also remember that your work is not your life.  That is why it is called “work.”  There is so much more to your life, and you have to protect your non-working life as well.  It is true that in your first years of practice you must toil especially hard to create value and set up options for your future.  But, do not put your non-working life so far on the back burner in terms of priorities that you will not be able to resurrect it.  You need both a satisfying working and non-working life to be happy.

You also may enjoy this article from The American Lawyer about what makes midlevel associates happy.  That is the next step for you.  Here are some of the things that were identified as adding to the happiness of associates in firms around the world:

  • Their average salaries, bonuses, and hourly rates increased faster than their billable hours;
  • Their firms have lockstep compensation systems for associates, which create collaborative environments;
  • Interesting work, effective mentoring, good relations with partners, support for pro bono work, expanded training programs (including presentations on law firm economics), emphasis on personal skills as well as technical ones, more in-office get-togethers with partners and associates, 360-degree associate performance review processes; and
  • Some also reported $1000 technology allowances to help associates work more easily from home.

That’s a lot to think about.  Good luck to all of you.

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Thought For The Day

“Nothing is ever lost by courtesy. It is the cheapest of pleasures, costs nothing, and conveys much.”

Erastus Wiman

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Thought For The Day

“You have reminded us that, together, there is nothing we Americans cannot overcome.”

President Barack Obama on September 11, 2016, paying tribute to 9/11 survivors and victims’ families on the 15th anniversary of the attacks.

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Thought For The Day

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Muriel Strode

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Women Lawyers In America: For Those Who Have Lost Perspective

Greetings!  I am back from my August hiatus, all refreshed from the crisp and clear Maine and Wisconsin air and ready to tackle again the issues affecting women lawyers.  And, there are so many!

To get the Fall started off right, let’s check our perspectives.  There is so much to be accomplished by women and for women in America, but there also is so much to celebrate.  Maybe it is my mindset as I reflected on Labor Day and how women fit into the workforce here.  Although, as women lawyers, we do not have all that we want and equity continues to be elusive on many issues, we have become serious contenders for some of the most important high-level jobs in our profession.

More women lawyers than ever are at the helms of law firms across the nation, and we are shining a light on issues of implicit biases that hold women back and keep them from reaching their full potentials in the law.  Those conversations are important and hopefully will result in an increase in partnership and judicial appointment figures for women lawyers and provide them the careers that they want and deserve.

Women lawyers also are demonstrating that they are not satisfied with the status quo.  There have been as many as four gender discrimination law suits filed against major law firms by women lawyers this year.  Although I have no idea about the merits of these suits, the pattern does suggest a need for reform.   It also demonstrates that women lawyers are not willing to sit on the sidelines and that they know how to do something about it.  Yesterday I was contacted for contribution to an article coming out soon in American Lawyer on-line addressing these issues.  Look for it.

And, of course, we have the possibility of our first woman president — who also happens to be a lawyer.  No matter where you are on that issue, you cannot deny that Hillary Clinton’s words “Women’s rights are human rights” are a guiding light for us all.

Perspective.  We always need to keep it in mind.  For those of you who need an extra nudge, check out this story about the Saudi women and the underground running club.  That should make it very clear.  All these women want is the right to exercise in public — and they are fighting for it.

 

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment