“In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”
It is that time of year again. Time for the bar exam. Memories of it send chills up my spine — even though I faced bar exams in a prior century! Two exams, two jurisdictions, two passes. That’s it for me. However, I still have the occasional bar exam nightmare.
Law school graduates all over the country will sit for bar exams on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 25 and 26. Maybe you are one of them, but I doubt it because reading this blog would not be a good use of your precious time right now. There is barely enough time to eat and sleep, and you are lucky if you have a few hours a week to lose yourself in a movie or some mindless task that allows you to breathe easier for just a short time. When did doing laundry become so soothing?
The bar exam is the ultimate right of passage for lawyers, and it is one of the ways that lawyers quality control the profession. It is a necessary evil. Much has been written about whether it is equitable, how it could be redesigned to be more like medical school proficiency exams, and whether law school education should include more practice ready emphasis to make the bar exam unnecessary all together.
But, my money is on the bar exam being around for a very long time. All you can do is prepare for it with the realization that it will have a huge impact on your future. It is a marathon and not a sprint. Pace yourself and do not hit the wall too early.
Most of you who are reading this blog either have the bar exam behind you or ahead of you — but not next week. However, chances are that you know someone who will face this bar exam. So, now is the time to remember your friends. E-mail or text them with a few well-chosen encouraging words. Short and sweet and supportive. Let them know that you have great confidence that, when October rolls around and the test results are reported, their names will be on the pass list.
Just do it. So little can mean so much.
I remember what it was like for my husband. I remember what it was like for me. I remember what it was like for my kids — and for me as their Mom, who worried day and night until the October good news arrived. Not because I did not have faith in them, but because it is winner takes all. Anyone can have a bad day of testing, and I am no fan of zero sum games. But, it is what it is. All you can do is manage it well.
Be there for your friends. When your time comes, you will want them to be there for you.
Yes, it is very hot this summer in most parts of America, but this is not the kind of heat I mean.
The heat I am talking about occurs when boys and girls start fooling around on the job. There is no place for this in the law profession, and I hope you know it. I made it clear to you in my first book, Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Aspen Publishers 2009). Presenting yourself as a professional to avoid mixed or wrong sexual/relationship messages is serious business and needs to be taken seriously.
Here is some of what I wrote then: “I am always amazed at the stories that my [book] contributors tell —- tales of nipples peeking through sweaters and blouses and exposed cleavage. They recount the necessity to counsel young women attorneys to raise the necklines and lower the hemlines. … Let me share what the law school career counselors have to say on the subject. Their advice is no breasts exposed, no panty lines showing, no visible underwear, and no thigh-length skirts. … Too much perfume can also be a problem.”
I stand by those words, and, from what I see in the audiences of young women lawyers in programs I present across the country, you do take it seriously. Today, there is heightened awareness of gender issues in the workplace, and young women lawyers are presenting themselves as true professionals. Bravo! Take a bow!
Even with that success, however, now there is another twist on male/female workplace issues that you need to consider. As pointed out by Vivia Chen of The Careerist in an article for The American Lawyer, a recent poll demonstrates that many Americans do not approve of men and women being alone with each other in the workplace — and that is particularly true when it comes to eating and drinking together. JUST ALONE — not fooling around. Nearly two-thirds of those polled think that people should be extra cautious around members of the opposite sex in the work setting.
AND, here is what Chen calls the “real shocker.” Women are even more disapproving of mixing business with pleasure than are their male colleagues. Check out the article for the statistics as they relate to particular kinds of interaction between the sexes and the socio-economic influence on polling.
One conclusion presented in the article is that many women believe or know that something is to be feared from these encounters. Something like bad male behavior, temptation on both sides, or the threat of rumors that can tank careers. Another conclusion is that the law profession is more evolved than the broader poll group and that women lawyers should not think of giving up prime job assignments because the work entailed being alone with a male colleague. Anything else, according to Chen, would be a “lousy career strategy.” I agree with those conclusions, but I also know that there is nothing to be gained from turning a blind eye to the possibility of foul play.
Let me be clear. I want you to take educated risks, not to be held back by outdated attitudes, and to be wildly successful in your practices. But, I also want you to be aware that dangers lurk. Do not get too comfortable in your quest for equality and a corner office that you ignore warning signs. Inner office relationships typically end badly, and the junior lawyer, almost always a woman, is the one who gets the blame. She, rather than the male partner, is so much easier for others to blame and keep their jobs.
If you feel the heat, get out of the kitchen. Change the setting, have a difficult conversation, or bring someone else into the mix. Even unfounded rumors can ruin careers.
You are smart, capable, ambitious and savvy. You have been trained to know that innuendo can be just as persuasive as fact. You understand leading questions, and you also should understand leading behaviors and that they can lead you where you do not want to go.
Put all your skills to work to protect yourself — and then grab that brass ring!
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Happy Independence Day! Yes, it is about small town parades, fireworks and sparklers, burgers on the grill, mountains of ice cream, and being together with family and friends. It only comes once a year, so knock yourself out! But, during the festivities, do not forget about the “independence” part.
I am not just talking about the Declaration of Independence or what it has meant to the evolution of this country where we all enjoy freedoms and independence unparalleled in the world. That is the focus, but it goes much further than that. It is about national independence and also about individual independence. After all, Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were fiercely independent men — or there would not be any United States of America today.
As you know, there were no Founding Mothers. Too early for that, although history has it that George Washington’s mom was a force. But, still, not recognized as having “founding” value. Today, women have the opportunity to rise as high as men, but the road is rocky and it takes strength and independence to achieve those heights.
So, what does it mean to be an independent woman? Last week, when our President chose to disparage yet another woman, Mika Brzezinski responded by saying that President Trump’s words did not defeat her because she was raised to be a strong woman — one, apparently, with thick skin and who knows exactly who she is and who she is not.
That is what all women need to be because we will be challenged again and again throughout our lives and careers. Women have to prove and reprove their worth at every turn. Achievement for women is a transient state of being. It has to be done and redone. There is no value in complacency.
How do you become strong and independent? Many sage and eloquent writers have contemplated that question. Today I borrow from the commencement address at Cardigan Mountain School for boys in New Hampshire, as delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this week. My son-in-law attended Cardigan Mountain School, and I know it to be a fine place to develop strong and independent young men. However, Justice Roberts’ words are equally as instructive in developing strong and independent women. Here is part of what he said:
Success comes to those who are unafraid to fail. And if you did fail, you got up and tried again. And if you failed again, you got up and tried again. And if you failed again — it might be time to think about doing something else.
From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to learn the value of justice.
Betrayal will teach you the importance of loyalty. Loneliness will instruct people not to take friends for granted. Pain will cause someone to learn compassion.
I wish you bad luck — again, from time to time — so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life. And understand that your success is not completely deserved, and that the failure of others is not completely deserved, either.
Hear, hear. Success is most often derived from being strong and independent. Heed the words of the Chief Justice, and become strong and independent by failing. Become strong and independent by being treated unfairly. Become strong and independent by being betrayed, by being lonely, and become strong and independent by having just the right amount of bad luck.
Through all of your challenges — and because of them —you young women lawyers are on the way to becoming wildly successful. Embrace the challenge. If you fail, just pick yourself up and keep on going. It is not failure that defines you but how you respond to failure.