“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
The number of gender bias law suits and gender bias complaints against law firms is on the rise, based on this article in AmLaw Daily, which quotes David Sanford, the chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp, who represents most of the plaintiffs in the current lawsuits. Sanford also has represented countless other women lawyers in complaints against their law firms based on unequal opportunities and unequal pay as compared to their male colleagues.
Most of you probably have read at least something about the current law suits, but there is more that may come as a surprise to you. What you may not know is that the higher you climb in a law firm, the more likely you are to encounter gender bias. Just because you are experiencing what you believe is equal treatment as an associate or a non-equity partner, you should not be lulled into a state of complacency. Here is how it is described in the article:
“When it comes to large law firms, gender disparities tend to heighten as lawyers move up the ranks. Although [Sanford] has seen instances of woman associates receiving lower bonuses than men, the lockstep approach that most firms use to set the base salaries for associates can put a check on differences in pay at that level. But higher up the chain, employment conditions for lawyers often depend heavily on decisions made at the top of the firm. Firm leaders, for instance, decide whether to make a particular lawyer a partner. And they have control over compensation, deciding how bonuses are administered or which partners receive credit for originating a matter.“
“We see the differences arise at those key moments of discretionary authority,” Sanford said. “And that discretion is typically administered by males.“
This is a major focus of Best Friends at the Bar, and I address these issues in my programs on effective leadership for women lawyers at law firms, law schools and law organizations throughout the country. Appropriate use of the “discretionary authority” that Sanford talks about is a key component of effective leadership in law firms. My writing and speaking on these subjects, including in my book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business/Aspen Publishers, 2015), is full of examples of leadership behavior that screams implicit gender bias — and often comes as a big surprise to the male lawyers in the audiences. In fact, after they acknowledge how “clueless” they are about the impact of this negative behavior, those lawyers begin to ask for more advice on how to turn negative behavior into positive leadership for the benefit of women lawyers and the firm.
That is when the real progress happens, and I love being a part of the transformation.
Does your law firm need this kind of candid discussion about gender bias? Or do the leaders in your law firm want to remain clueless and vulnerable? Do they want to continue to lose talent due to disregard and the convenience of complacency or do they want to take responsibility and become the effective leaders they can be?
Contact me to get your firm on the road to recovery from gender bias. You will be glad you did.
This is a topic that I address whenever I speak on effective leadership for young women lawyers. However, the need for valuable feedback to young lawyers about the quality of their work is not gender specific. They all need it, and most of them do not get enough of it.
Not giving good feedback to junior lawyers is a real failing of senior lawyers, and it lowers the level of effective leadership in law firms. Relying on annual reviews as the only way to address issues of work product, professional behavior and related issues is not serving the young lawyers or the law firms well. The feedback must be much more often and much more strategic to help guide young lawyers in their careers.
Now, fortunately, we find that large law firms are looking for feedback on the effectiveness of their own feedback. Fancy that! Legalintelligencer.com reports that some large firms, here and abroad, are either abandoning annual reviews in favor of “consistent feedback and dialogue” or are starting more regular conversations about performance. Young lawyers today, like generations of lawyers before them, are looking for praise, at most, and constructive criticism, at least — and they are entitled to it.
In my book on effective leadership for women lawyers, I praise Reed Smith for the metrics-based women’s initiative developed at that firm, and now I have more reason to say “hat’s off” to that firm. According to the Legal Intelligencer article, Reed Smith is developing a pilot program utilizing a real-time feedback app to allow partners to give effective feedback on performance regardless of time zones. The inability to bridge time zones and walk down the hall to say “well done” is described as a strong motive to develop an effective program to improve the feedback.
The article also reports specific efforts at two other firms. Blank Rome has been in the process of “revolutionizing” its evaluation methods for several years and is using corporate America as a model. The first step was to simplify the year-end review form and make it available year round. The program also includes a midyear “check-in” informal discussion and a “100-hour dialogue” for the new lawyers with the partners they have worked for the most. And, Ballard Spahr is working on software to prompt partners to provide feedback at the time when an associate completes an assignment.
Other firms may be working on similar programs, and it all is very good news. Associate lawyers want to be treated like their work is important and deserves attention. There is nothing more frustrating to them than not having their efforts recognized, and it makes them feel like mere cogs in a wheel. Young lawyers tell me that it is not unusual to send work product to partners without having receipt acknowledged — just receipt, nothing more.
Now we have evidence that law firms are recognizing what very bad strategy for retaining and advancing talent that is and how it demonstrates ineffective leadership. I hope the efforts described in this article turns into the rule rather than the exception.
On the day after Mother’s Day:
“The greatest privilege of my life has been being a mother.”
Susan Smith Blakely
Today I write to you about effective leadership, recognizing that yesterday effective leadership intersected with politics in the American experience. However, there should be nothing of partisan politics in seeing that experience for what it was: Killing the messenger.
When I speak to audiences of attorneys and law students about effective leadership, as addressed in my book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, one of the concepts that I stress is taking responsibility for your own actions and not killing the messenger. It is a fundamental theme of effective leadership, as recognized by the most well-respected global leadership trainers, including my own personal leadership guru, Marshall Goldsmith.
Former FBI Director James Comey was not fired by the American President because of something he had done in the past. He clearly was fired for something that it was feared he would do in the future. Comey had made it clear that he was pursuing the investigation into White House personnel — including or not including the President, however, was not clear — as actions of those individuals may or may not relate to what has become known as “The Russian Problem.”
That was what Comey did —- and that is why he was punished. If you have any doubt about that, consider the fact that Comey’s past actions all had been praised by the President, time and time again. In fact, those past actions may have benefited the President in getting him elected to the highest office in the land.
Your legal career will call on you repeatedly to become an effective leader — in small ways and in much larger ways. To be an effective leader, you must be honorable, honest, and maintain your dignity. You must not blame others, and you must not kill the messenger. You cannot be or do any of those things if you compromise yourself with actions that you cannot defend.
Start now, at the beginning of your career so that doing the honorable, honest and dignified thing becomes second nature to you. Do as former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted this morning to the career men and women at the Department of Justice and the FBI :
“You know what the job entails and how to do it. Be strong and unafraid. Duty. Honor. Country.“
That just about says it all.