What Indepenence Day Means for Women Lawyers

Independence Day, aka the Fourth of July, is a big holiday in America. I have such wonderful and vivid childhood memories of celebrating on the shores of Lake Michigan, dancing around sparklers buried in the sand, and eating burgers, watermelon, cake with red, white and blue frosting and trying to elude adult eyes to steal a sip of beer from the inevitable keg.  Those were wonderful days.  Our dads were back from the European and Pacific Theaters of World War II after having secured freedom on foreign soil, and we knew it was a good life.

This year, when we are not eating, drinking, playing softball and watching fireworks, we also will give thought to our Founding Fathers and all that they went through to secure our independence from an oppressive sovereign.  We will relive history, but it should not stop there.  We also should be applying the concepts of independence to today, to our own lives, in particular to our own professional lives.

Being independent is essential to happiness and career satisfaction, and that is why Personal Definitions of Success are a hallmark of the Best Friends at the Bar program.  It means that each one of us has the independence to choose to be who and what we want to be and to define success as we value it.  It is a big concept and, without understanding and practicing it, we easily can fall victim to being controlled by others.

We only have limited chances to succeed.  The choices we make and who we make them for are likely to impact our success.  Choosing for yourself has the greatest chance of resulting in success that feels good for you.  It really does not matter what mom and dad and grandma and grandpa or even Aunt Mary think you should do with your life.  It is YOUR LIFE.

So, choose wisely.  Choose what fits your values and what feels good to you.  Choose what makes you happy and what satisfies the needs that make you want to get up in the morning and to do your best to make it a better day.

If private practice does not suit you, consider a change to public service, a not-for-profit practice or an in-house corporate practice.  Pay no attention to the naysayers who point out the salary and prestige differences.  Let them toil away at what fails to “float their boats” while you make the brave choice to listen to your heart.

If full-time practice does not suit you and your personal life responsibilities, make a compelling proposal for a flexible schedule or part-time practice.  If you are not getting the opportunities to advance to positions of leadership and management, find good mentors and sponsors, take on risks and challenge the status quo.  If you are caught in a subject area practice that bores you to death, make a change.  There are so many choices.

And when you choose, remember that nothing is forever.  People change.  Circumstances change.  Opportunities change.  You need to remain flexible so that you can adjust your expectations and make the next good choice in your life.

To get started on this independent journey, read the profiles of outstanding women lawyers in my book, Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer, and also read, “Beyond the Big Firm:  Profiles of Lawyers Who Want Something More” by Alan B. Morrison and Diane T. Chin (Aspen Publishers/Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 2007).  There is sure to be something in these books to catch your eye and appeal to the independent you in you.

So, happy Independence Day to America and to you.  Wave the flag, get out the red, white and blue and have a happy and safe Fourth of July.  Then live the next 364 days of the year in pursuit of personal independence and career satisfaction and success.  Then you will have even more to celebrate on this day in 2016.

Best of luck on your journey to professional independence!



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Thought For The Day: On Courage

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Anaïs Nin

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Thought For The Day: On Being an Agent of Change

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

Leonardo da Vinci

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The Measure of a Woman

Today I seek your indulge while I tell about my friend.  We said our final good-byes to her today, and she left us far too soon.  She was a truly remarkable woman, and the role model that I was blessed to have.  She combined energy and enthusiasm and kindness and grace and beauty and vision and competence in a way that few are able.  She touched the lives of so many people.

My friend owned and operated the pre-school our children attended in my small town.  It was not her first pre-school, because she knew long before so many others the value of early childhood education, and she went on to found a third school in her long and remarkable career.  She was a trailblazer as a woman business owner, and she presented the kind of professional image that paved the way for so many other women to follow.

The children at the schools loved her, and she was the Pied Piper they yearned to follow.  The parents loved her because she helped them raise their children, mothers like me loved her because she assured us that there was no shame in being a working mom when so many others were doubting us, and we all loved her because she was kind, always sought out connections to help people, found the good in all things and demonstrated incredible faith and strength and courage when her daughter died young in a tragic accident and when her husband left her at an early age.  Quite simply, she carried on because it never occurred to her that she had a choice.

Today, the church was full of people telling the stories of my friend’s life and making it clear that she was a leader and role model for so many others as well.  She never entered a room without a huge smile, and she was the helping hand at the same time that she was the graceful beauty.  She worked hard, she played hard, and she loved fiercely.

I was not among her closest friends, not by a long shot.  She had so many.  But, I was close enough to the periphery to engage with her, observe her and admire her.  Three weeks before her death, I had a lovely exchange with her.  As always, she asked about the children, marveling yet again at their accomplishments, and asked about my work and about my mom.  She never missed an opportunity to put someone else in the limelight, and that was the secret sauce to her success in life.  She gave effortlessly of herself without asking much in return.

She taught my children, and she has taught me.  Because of her, I have a high standard for my own behavior and expectations.  I can gauge my effectiveness by the success of the people around me and not by the accolades of others.  Because of her, I can love without abandon, and most of the time, I can take that important extra moment to consider my response and make certain it is measured and not harmful.  And, I can try, try, try to demonstrate the kind of grace and dignity to make others want to follow me that came so easily to her.

So, when you ask about leadership and consider a role model for today’s modern woman, think of my friend.  She was a leader to so many people.  She demonstrated the kind of behaviors and character traits to inspire us all.  She is gone, but not forgotten.  She has touched so many, and she lives on in those she touched.

If only we all could say that.

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Thought For The Day: On Commitment

“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as life in-between.”

Pat Riley

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Thought For The Day

“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.”

B.K.S. Iyengar

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Legal Residencies? It Is About Time.

The subject of legal “residencies” is up for discussion again.  I have written about this before, and I am happy to see that it continues to be considered among the solutions for a still weak legal job market but also, and most important, as a way of improving the practice skills of recent law graduates.

Everyone is familiar with the medical residency.  It is a requirement of medical education in America, and it involves medical school grads spending a couple of years at hospitals for on-the-job training and little sleep.  It prepares them for real world practice and for being on-call and alert at all hours of the day.  Presumably.

Various types of legal education programs modeled after medical residencies are being experimented with around the county.  Most law schools now include clinical programs to provide legal services to indigents, and some law schools, like Arizona State University Law, have launched teaching law firms that are associated with the law school and hire and mentor recent graduates of the law school.  These programs respond to social needs and give recent grads exposure to real practice in a way that three years of law school does not.  Law schools also have experimented with programs dedicating the third year of law school to practical skills through mock law firm practice in areas of litigation and transactional practice.  I spoke in one of those programs several years ago at Washington & Lee Law, but I think the jury is still out on that experiment.

The most recent effort at such a program is from my own alma mater, Georgetown Law.  I am really pleased at the combined efforts of the law school and two leading law firms (DLA and Arent Fox) in establishing a non-profit “low bono” law firm to meet the needs of low income clients at affordable rates.  The “law firm” will be staffed by salaried lawyers from the recent Georgetown Law class, and DLA and Arent Fox lawyers will provide a range of services and support, including training and mentoring the new lawyers.

A twist on this theme also was offered in a New Republic article a couple of years ago.  There, Mark Chandler, general counsel at Cisco, explained how he wants law school to include paid internships that also will include law school credit.  He understands the value of those internships for relating classroom to real world, and he believes that industry is ready, willing and able to provide those experiences.  Perhaps the best part of his proposal is that the interning students would not have to pay law school tuition for the period of time they are involved in the paid internships.  What a novel approach!  Instead of bleeding law students of every dime they have, law schools would waive tuition and let them earn while they are gaining experience at internships.

And now, there is something a little different.  The Above the Law blog reports that UnitedLex, a third-party vendor and NOT a law firm, is partnering with four law schools (Vanderbilt, Ohio State, Emory and the University of Miami) to provide law graduates with hands-0n experience as residents in its legal services business.  More than 100 law graduates from the four participating schools have been hired by UnitedLex, and the UnitedLex CEO describes the program as an “alternative job path for graduates who don’t see toiling for a few years in a Biglaw firm as the key to a viable career.”  The dean of one of the law schools heralds the collaboration and describes it as part of “developing pipelines for our graduates.”  The silver lining for the participating law schools is that they receive  50% of the profit generated from clients of the project that is channeled to their alumni networks for student scholarships.  So, it appears to be a win-win for all.

Clearly, there is more than one way to provide hands-on practice experience for law students and recent graduates and also serve important societal and educational needs.  The key is to keep on brainstorming solutions and building the better mousetrap.

Law education is not sacred.  It can and must be improved to meet the needs of the current market for law grads and the realities of practice.  Let’s hope that more law schools and law firms break away from tradition and take up the challenge.







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Thought For The Day

“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.”

Elizabeth Edwards

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