You go, USA Women’s Hockey! Know your value!
Susan Smith Blakely
You go, USA Women’s Hockey! Know your value!
Susan Smith Blakely
Mastery of soft skills for lawyers — men and women, alike — is becoming more and more important all the time. In fact, I am working with some tech geniuses on a digital program for assessing these very skills, and I am very excited about the applications and potential of the program to help young practitioners improve the skills that will determine success and upward mobility.
Law schools and law firms are not providing most of this content, ostensibly for curriculum control and cost containment reasons, and, yet, research confirms that 80% of success in business is attributable to soft skills. The law profession is no exception.
Although the emphasis on soft skills may be new, the concepts themselves are not. The buzz words and the research confirming the importance of soft skills simply have raised the visibility of these concepts. We always have known the importance of communication skills, networking skills and inner office politics, for instance. The labels have just changed, and we have upped the ante for developing these skills. You are either in the game with these skills or you are on the sidelines without them.
I have been writing and speaking about the importance of “soft skills” for years, including chapters in my first book, Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law, Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2009. Chapters devoted to the following subjects make the case: Be a Team Player; Find Good Mentors; Ask for Help When You Need It; Find a Comfort Zone for Promoting Work; Treat Support Staff Well; and Watch Your Mouth. The fact that my books are targeted to women lawyers should not work as a limitation of any kind. All lawyers, men and women, alike, need soft skills to succeed in the profession.
To discuss soft skills, we first must define the “hard skills” that lawyers need and eliminate them from the discussion. The hard skills are the ones that come to mind first when most young lawyers contemplate what they need to succeed in the law. Those include intelligence, strong analytical skills, excellent writing skills, good judgment, and diligence (including lack of procrastination). These are the kinds of skills that most law schools concentrate on in developing practice-ready graduates and preparing them to pass bar exams.
While it is true that these hard skills are critical to success in the law profession, they are not enough. There is so much more that goes into being successful as a lawyer, and those things cannot be overlooked. Disregarding them is to proceed at your own risk and setting yourself up for almost certain disappointment.
To quote a friend of mine, a partner in the largest law firm in the world, “Everyone in our firm is smart. Some are smarter than others. The degree of smart is not what typically determines success. It is the soft skills. The ones who pay attention to the soft skills generally fare better than the others.”
Here’s a list of some of the soft skills that you need to develop:
Being a good communicator and a good listener;
Having the ability to accept feedback and use it positively it improve your product;
Learning to network and develop work;
Having a good attitude about work and getting the job done;
Becoming a good time manager;
Having adaptability to a variety of job settings;
Being assertive in the workplace to get the best experience possible;
Being comfortable with collaboration and being a member of a team;
Having confidence in yourself and your abilities;
Being polite and courteous;
Being a creative thinker;
Developing management and leadership skills;
Developing negotiation skills;
Being astute about office politics;
Having a sense of humor and not taking yourself too seriously;
Developing and using emotional intelligence;
Being empathetic; and
Finding mentors and becoming a mentor to others.
Master these soft skills to compliment the hard skills, and you will distinguish yourself from the crowd. To do that, you will have to get out of your office, get to know the people you work with, volunteer for assignments, go to the social events, and take advantage of the opportunity to have the other members of the firm get to know you. Grinding it out at your computer day in and day out to bill more hours than anyone else without even going to lunch with colleagues is a big mistake. When your name comes up in an associate review or later in consideration for partner, you do not want the decision makers wondering who on earth you are.
Make the decision makers aware of you by mastering the soft skills.
Below is a copy of the op-ed that I wrote and that was published on March 21, 2017 in National Jurist “Lawyer & Statesman” on-line magazine. I hope that you find it interesting and that you, too, will gain some hope that the events described present positive changes for women lawyers and for all lawyers in law firm cultures.
The link to the op-ed is: http://www.nationaljurist.com/content/op-ed-flexible-work-models-should-improve-law-firm-culture
Op-ed: Flexible work models should improve law firm culture
March 21, 2017
By Susan Smith Blakely
I have seen the effects of insensitive law firm cultures in my own career and the careers of so many others. Although the most severe impact has been to women lawyers with family and childcare responsibilities, male practitioners also have suffered from the inflexible demands of a profession that has refused to examine itself critically.
Until now, perhaps.
Within a week’s time, announcements by Big Law players on major work-life initiatives in their law firms have provided hope that the sands may be shifting in favor of more reasonable policies and programs to reflect a changing world. This is recognition that the millennial generation, especially, is capable of embracing current technology that could benefit both themselves and their law firms.
Last week, Morgan Lewis announced its initiative allowing associates, who have been at the firm for at least two years, the opportunity to work from home two days a week. Similar announcements followed this week by Jackson Lewis and Baker McKenzie.
Peter May, Baker McKenzie’s chief talent officer, described the incentive behind the new program this way: “If you actually create an environment that is flexible, that enables people to be at their best no matter where they happen to be, you’re going to have much more engaged employees. If they’re more engaged they’re going to be more productive, and if they’re more productive, that’s going to have huge organizational implications.”
Morgan Lewis’s rationale for its forward-thinking program, however, was the one that got my attention and buoyed my spirits the most. That rationale revolved around the recognition that losing talent is very destructive to law firms and that making tested and proven work-life concessions will help protect talent in a very competitive industry.
Yes, this rationale is more law firm centric, but it reflects the truth that we all know to be the greatest motivator for change: Competition. Let’s call it what it is. Programs like this create a bond between employer and employee that often results in the kind of loyalty that traditionally has been missing in law firm cultures. One Morgan Lewis partner referred to the new program as necessary but very expensive. Another member of the firm described the program as “a reflection of the trust between the associates and the firm.”
We should take this as good news — very good news — and we should give the prescient leadership of these law firms the credit they deserve. We also can hope that other law firms will follow, and that what we are seeing is a law profession that is coming of age and throwing off the shackles of the past that are not only confining in a modern world but also are destructive.
As I wrote in a Corporate Counsel article “Is Work-Life Balance for Lawyers a Hopeless Goal in the Legal Profession?”:
“The only thing standing between the current workaholic culture of law firms and this brighter future for lawyers is greed. It was the greed of Wall Street that brought on the Great Recession in 2008, and that experience should serve as a harbinger to law firm leadership. Greed and pursuit of high profits at the expense of the well-being of lawyers and their families will lead to no good.”
Let’s call it what it is and make all efforts to do better.
Susan Smith Blakely is a lawyer, author, speaker and career coach. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Georgetown University Law Center. She is the founder of LegalPerspectivesLLC, and her Best Friends at the Bar Book series addresses the low retention and advancement rates for women lawyers. She can be reached through her website, www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.
Investment advisor! The title alone makes most of us shutter, and typically the individual advisor evokes a similar response. Not that they are bad people, but it is often a bad subject for us. So, the advisor gets associated with the advice. And, when the news is bad, it can be very bad. Something and someone you do not want to think about.
As women, we sometimes shy away from this kind of “boring” financial dialogue on subjects like saving, prioritizing and budgeting. After all, we like to keep things moving and exciting …… not get bogged down so that we have plenty of time to spend, spend, spend! Those new fuschia-colored sandals for spring, the antique server that is ideal for the entrance hall, the trip to the tropics, and wheels to make you the envy of the young attorney in-crowd. Why would you want to have a discussion that might put a damper on all those fun things?
No, I am not dissing you, I am dissing US. Women love beautiful and expensive things, and … well … it can get out of control. And soon you are plummeting downhill faster than you ever imagined possible. Then you are looking at the bankruptcy court — and you cannot discharge your student loan debt there. Sorry.
Enter the investment advisor. He or she could become your new BFF if you let it happen. The guy described in the article below understands your life as a law firm associate — because he is one —- and he blogs by night on a “mission to prevent young lawyers from falling prey to their own lousy money management.” Goodwin Procter seems to be good with that as long as he does not neglect his day job.
His name is Joshua Holt, and, until recently, he ran The Biglaw Investor website anonymously. There is investment advice and newsletters on the site to provide tips to Big Law associates, who lack an understanding of how to manage the big bucks they are earning.
However, Joshua wants to be an equal opportunity website, so he also offers advice to young lawyers on the low end of the pay scale, like those public service lawyers, who are not making the big bucks. He seems to understand that most law students did not have a lot of money to handle during those three years preceding the downpour of any bucks at all, and that making a salary of any kind can be daunting.
The bottom line is that we all need financial advice — unless we have a lifetime supply of green eye shades. Young lawyers with massive student loan debt REALLY need it. In fact, in a rush of humility, Joshua identifies himself on the website as starting his career with $200,000 in student debt and with “zero understanding of how to manage a $160,000 salary and enough anxiety to immobilize a small horse.” Does that sound familiar?
If, so, check out the website below. This is not an endorsement of Joshua Holt and/or his advice. I do not know Joshua or what kind of advice he dispenses. He may not be for you. But, chances are someone like Joshua is. Be sure you find that person — PRONTO — to save yourself a lot of unnecessary grief.
You know how I feel about the need to improve law firm cultures.
See my op-ed today in National Jurist Lawyer & Statesman: http://www.nationaljurist.com/content/op-ed-flexible-work-models-should-improve-law-firm-culture.
Send it to your networks to spread the word!
Working from home — what a life-saving concept. Telecommuting has become popular in many industries since the advent of technology that makes presence in the office less necessary and the high costs of brick and mortar offices less desirable. The cost of physical space for offices has become prohibitive in large cities in the US, and reducing the need for all of that physical space is very appealing to business managers.
We all know people who telecommute, and most of them are happy to have the option of working at home as an alternative to getting in a car to fight the morning and afternoon rush traffic every day. This kind of flexibility is especially appealing to women lawyers, who often have to work around children’s school schedules and other family issues. It is a part of the total flexibility picture for them, which also consists of flex time, generous parental leave and reduced hours. However, until recently, there has not been much movement on the issues of flexibility in the law profession.
Tradition is often the mantra in law firms, and working from home is hardly traditional. However, as pointed out in a recent article, big law firms were starting to experiment more with flexible schedules prior to the economic downturn in 2008. However, according to Joan Williams of UC Hastings College of Law and director of the Center for WorkLife Law there, once the recession hit employers no longer felt the pressure to offer flexibility. Presumably, law firm managers had more pressing matters on their minds like trying to keep the doors open for business.
So, last week’s announcement by Morgan Lewis of a new policy allowing associates with at least two years experience at the firm to work from home up to two days a week was huge. The concept, which was tested out in the firm’s LA office, turned out to be well received by everyone. The concerns that working from home would negatively affect availability to clients and productivity were not experienced and opposite results were demonstrated.
Morgan Lewis is not the only firm that has been experimenting with flexibility for its attorneys in recent years. Examples of modified parental leave policies, alternative work schedules and job sharing by other big law firms are also cited in the article. Although the approaches at law firms differ, one thing seems to be consistent — the realization that the law labor market is tightening and law firms need to be competitive to attract the best talent. In the case of Morgan Lewis, the work from home program comes with a full hardware set up in attorneys’ home offices, including dual monitors, docking stations and headsets. It is expensive for the law firm, but, as noted by one partner, “We’re trying to put our money where our mouth is.” Another senior lawyer described the program as “a reflection of the trust between the associates and the firm.”
Bravo for these forward-thinking law firms! I hope examples of this kind of flexibility and recognition of “the trust factor” in retaining talent will start popping up all across the industry.
If your firm does not have a program like this, maybe it should. And maybe you are the one to make the case for it. Time spent in traffic five days a week is not time well spent.
Speaking of time, it is about time that law firm managers and leaders start understanding that improving the cultures of law firms benefits everyone. Morgan Lewis is demonstrating that in a big way.