“The best way out is always through.”
The progress on maternity leave for lawyers has been significant in recent history, and more and more women lawyers are benefiting from law firm policies that are slowly coming into the 21st Century. It is not surprising that the needs of mothers, who actually carry and give birth to the babies, should be the initial focus of parental leave, but the needs of the fathers are finally getting attention, as well. Firms like Winston and Strawn and Orrick, that give both mothers and fathers up to 20 and 22 weeks of paid leave, respectively, are leading the way. Orrick’s policy is based on identification as the “primary care giver” but also gives up to 9 months of leave to that lawyer. Consider this in contrast to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act that requires businesses with 50 or more employees to give 12 weeks of unpaid leave to either a mother or father after the birth or adoption of a child. For more information on how the US compares to other countries on family leave, see my former blog addressing those issues.
This progress on parental leave is a big deal. The expansion of parental leave to men not only will benefit male lawyers, but it will benefit families — meaning it also will benefit women. That is the way it is supposed to work.
According to a recent article in Am Law Daily, men are not only seeing progress on paternity leave at their law firms but they also are looking for opportunities to contribute to the post-birth care taking. And, they are making a list and checking it twice of firms that “talk the talk but do not walk the walk.” Unfortunately, it has become clear that, even though some firms have developed parental leave policies to include male lawyers, senior management still has not embraced the concept and can be judgmental about men taking advantage of the policies. The associated stigma can have lasting effects on career advancement in some of these firms. The law profession attracts ambitious lawyers, and the threat of such stigmas is powerful and includes concerns about “commitment” to the practice. That dreaded C-word. Women lawyer/moms know all about it.
We need to celebrate the progress we are seeing. Statistics cited in the article show that, on average, law firms offer 15 weeks of maternity leave and seven weeks of paternity leave and that mothers take an average of 14 weeks off, while fathers take an average of four weeks. These averages likely will increase, and men are now reporting experiences similar to those of their female colleagues, who found it more comfortable to take leave after other women in their firms had forged the way.
Here’s how one male lawyer quoted in the article described his experience: “There are a number of other attorneys here who are fathers, and it was helpful to know they had all taken paternity leave and had really encouraged me to absolutely take advantage of it. It wasn’t like you should think about whether you would take paternity leave. It wasn’t like I was worried about if I should take paternity leave. There was no hemming and hawing over it — it was a given.“
At the same time, however, we must recognize that it is not all about firms doing “the right thing.” It rarely is. It also is about attracting and retaining top talent. Firms finally are understanding what has been a theme of Best Friends at the Bar for a decade — that it is good business to retain and advance the talent of the best young lawyers — many of them women lawyers.
And that is what we all should hope for. Keep your eye on this issue.
How casual is your summer workplace wardrobe?
I have been asking this question for most of the ten years that Best Friends at the Bar has been in existence. If you don’t believe me, check out Chapter 5 in Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2009) or this blog and this blog.
I remember interviewing a law school dean of career services for my first book and seeing her frustration at being called by law firm managers about the flip flops and cut off jeans showing up in their offices on casual Friday. She most often was asked why she was not counseling these young women better about the expectations of law firms. Apparently she was, but they were not listening.
That was a decade ago, but it appears that young women lawyers still may not be listening. Proof is that Vivia Chen of “The Careerist” is now asking that same question in a recent article for The American Lawyer. And we all know that she knows a thing or two about the legal business — from top to bottom. No pun intended — but “tops” and “bottoms” are definitely central to the discussion of appropriate attire for the legal work space.
Before you dismiss this as unimportant to your budding future — or a violation of one of your constitutional rights — consider that a recent survey conducted by Seyfarth Shaw, as reported in the article, shows that 50 percent of the over 400 law firm managers surveyed reported “discomfort” when dealing with employees wearing “overly revealing/casual summer clothing.” You should understand by now that making a superior “uncomfortable” is not a good idea. To be sure, senior lawyers, as compared to you more hip young lawyers, tend to be more concerned about the trend toward more casual workplaces. However, their performance reviews should be taken very seriously. So, make sure you know the firm’s culture when it comes to attire before you arrive in flip flops and cutoffs.
It is simple, really. Proper attire for the professional workplace is not weather dependent. That is why God invented layers. It may be 90 degrees on the street, but workplaces have plenty of AC. There is no need for flip-flops and tank tops from 9 to 7, and you can shed that jacket or sweater if you dare head outside for lunch. That doesn’t mean that you have to wear the dreaded panty hose, and it allows for open-toe sandals. There is a lot that you can get away with to beat the heat. But, be smart about it. If you see one eyebrow raise, re-assess. It is all about your future.
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.