The Best Friends at the Bar Mission For Women Lawyers — A Look Back at 2017

The Best Friends at the Bar year is about to come to a close.  Yes, I know that the entire month of December lies ahead before the Big Ball drops in Times Square and that you still have time for holiday shopping, holiday cards, holiday decorations, attending parties, giving parties, baking and cooking … and the list goes on.  Do not panic, you have plenty of time to accomplish all this and more.  You are young and energetic and incredibly resourceful.  I have complete faith in you.

I, on the other hand, have the luxury of taking the month of December off each year to address my work-life balance.  December is when I concentrate on family and friends and help make memories.  It is when I listen to music, play the piano, read books, take long walks, and watch all the movies that I have missed earlier in the year.  It is when I stick close to home and don’t travel on business.  It renews me and gets me ready to jump into the new year with gusto and enthusiasm to connect once again with you, my readers.

So, this is my last blog of 2017, and it seems appropriate to look back on the year and see where the mission on behalf of women lawyers has taken Best Friends at the Bar.  Here is the retrospective:

  • I have delivered key note addresses at bar associations, including the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Tampa, Florida chapter of the Federal Bar Association;
  • I have spoken at law firms in Washington, DC and New York City and to other industry groups across the country;
  • I have served on panel discussions and written over 50 blogs on subjects from Advocacy to Zero Tolerance;
  • I have written the draft manuscript for a new book for Millennial lawyers; and
  • I have perfected a program on Soft Skills for Lawyers, which will be available in 2018.

This has kept me very busy, and I have enjoyed it all.  Best Friends at the Bar is a gratifying project that positively affects the lives of so many women lawyers, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to carry out this mission.   I hear from many of you, and your comments make it all worth while …

Like the young woman standing in the back of a ballroom at one of my speaking engagements earlier this year.  She was holding a baby and doing the “mommy rock” as she listened intently to my remarks.  I met her later and she told me that she has a two-year-old at home and this new baby.  She said that she doubted whether she could continue in law practice until she heard me speak about the many faces of success.  She smiled broadly and said that she had called her husband and told him, “I just heard this woman speak, and I know I’m going to make it now.”

That says it all …. except Happy Holidays to all of you.  See you next year!

 

 

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Advice for Women Lawyers — A Variety of Perspectives

Today I am speaking at Gibson Dunn in New York City, in the heart of BigLaw.  (OK, so I am not writing this blog as I prepare to take the stage to keynote the luncheon, but my preparation of this blog coincided with my preparation for my remarks at Gibson Dunn.  Close enough.)

As I prepared my remarks for “Owning Your Career” for the Gibson Dunn Women’s Mentoring Circle, I recalled  an article that I recently read titled “Advice (I wish I had been given) for Women Starting Careers in BigLaw.”  The author has been practicing for eight years in Big Law, and she claims to have had an “overwhelmingly positive experience.”  I always am happy to hear that.  I also am happy to hear that she appreciates the unique challenges to women lawyers that can make or break a career.  Certainly she is likely to encounter a lot of them along the road to partnership if that is what her goal is in Big Law.  Here are the highlights of the article:

  • Don’t let yourself get siloed into ministerial tasks;
  • Learn to delegate and don’t feel guilty about it;
  • Make your voice heard; and
  • If there is an issue, speak up for yourself.

The advice is good, and I especially like the author’s treatment of the last bullet where she states,

If you feel you are not getting the opportunities to which you are entitled, you have two options:  (i) you can sulk, blame the firm, complain incessantly over snacks in the associate lounge, anonymously post on ATL and/or quit the firm; or (ii) you can speak up about it.

I compared this to the advice that I gave in this article for Huffington Post a number of years ago.  A fundamental difference between the two articles is that I write for all young women lawyers — not just those in Big Law — so my advice is more about career planning and execution that is common to the experience of most women lawyers.

Here is the advice that I offered in that article and that I would offer today — to all women lawyers:

  • Embrace the novelty of being a woman lawyer in a field full of men but do it right;
  • Recognize that male lawyers and female lawyers think and interact differently;
  • Support other women lawyers;
  • Create a life balance that includes paying attention to personal needs and health — even while being an excellent lawyer; and
  • Craft your own definition of success in the law.

Here also is an interview that I gave to The Muse years ago about why women leave the law.  That is looking backwards to see where it all went wrong — something that is helpful to know as well.

And for those of you thinking about a career in the law, here is another advice piece that I did for Girl’s Guide to Law School.

I believe that there is a lot of room for advice from seasoned veterans of the profession, and I also believe that you need all the good advice you can get.  So, go ahead and help yourself!

 

 

 

 

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Here’s the September/October 2107 BFAB Newsletter

September/October 2017 Newsletter

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Women Lawyers Must Be on the Lookout for Sexual Harassment

You all need to be aware of possible sexual harassment in your offices.  These allegations are surfacing across all industries today, and none of us can act like it is not a problem in our profession and in our offices.  We all know that it is.  It was a problem when I first started practicing law in 1979, and it is still a problem today.

If you see something, say something.  Sexual harassment can be blatant or it can be subtle — like when a woman refuses advances from a supervising male colleague and ends up losing support for her work, receiving negative reviews, and eventually being forced out of the firm.  The power differential in law firms is significant, and power gone wrong corrupts.

It is the responsibility of all of us to expose problematic workplace behaviors and cultures.  We need informal complaint processes, qualitative surveys, focus groups and educational programs to raise awareness of the problems.  Effective leadership in law firms includes addressing these issues sooner rather than later.  Male lawyers have to be made aware of the seriousness of the problem of sexual harassment so that they stop being enablers.

These issues were addressed recently by Gretchen Carlson in a talk at  TEDWomen 2017.  Ms. Carlson, the former Miss America and news anchor, who, in 2016, bravely revealed her experiences with sexual harassment while she was employed at Fox News, correctly stated in her talk that the law profession is not immune from this same reprehensible behavior.  “It’s from waitresses to Wall Street bankers to lawyers [and more].”

Here are some highlights from an article reporting an interview with Ms. Carlson where she further elaborated on her experiences and gave advice to victims of sexual harassment:

  • It’s not fun to come forward if you have been the victim of sexual harassment.  You don’t do it for fun or fame or money;
  • Talk to a lawyer before you do anything else.  Your HR department is not always the best place to report harassment because those employees’ jobs may end up being in jeopardy if they give value to what you report;
  • Document everything that is happening to you.  Keep a journal and take it home with you every night.  Send copies of offensive e-mails to your outside e-mail.  If you are escorted from the building because of your accusations and without an opportunity to return to your office, you will have preserved the evidence; and
  • Tell someone, preferably two trusted colleagues, to have corroborating evidence and avoid the “he said, she said.”

Remember this advice from Gretchen Carlson, and also remember:  If you see something say something.

 

 

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Bravo to the Lawyer Moms

I was in Oklahoma City recently delivering the keynote address at a state bar association conference.  I met many interesting people, including junior lawyers, senior lawyers, male lawyers, female lawyers and judges.  One of the standouts for me was a woman who looked like she could deliver her baby at any minute.  She is a partner in a mid-sized firm, mother of two with a third on the way, and she has my vote for the the I Can Do It All Award.  She did not run off after the luncheon address but stayed for the panel discussion and for the Happy Hour afterwards.  She was all in, with a beautiful smile on her face all the time she was sipping her non-alcoholic beverage and the rest of us were enjoying a glass of wine.

Another woman had an infant in her arms and was doing the “mother rock” in the back of the ballroom throughout my speech.  Most of the audience did not notice her because their attention was focused forward toward me and the screen where the power point was playing.  But, I noticed this woman and her baby, and I loved seeing them there.  It knew that it had to be challenging for her to attend, but I thought that the subject of my speech, Owning Your Career, must have interested her enough to put in the effort.

Later, I saw that young woman with her baby in the hall outside the ballroom.  I told her that I enjoyed seeing her and the baby in the back of the ballroom.  Her response left me speechless.  She told me that, after the speech, she called her husband, who was home taking care of their two-year-old.  She told him that, after hearing me speak, she was sure that she was going to make it through her career challenges.  As she stated, “I now know that I am going to make it because you gave me the confidence I need to meet the challenges and succeed.”  God bless her.  She and others like her are what keep me going at Best Friends at the Bar.

So, when I was thinking about lawyer moms for this blog, I also wondered about the issues of interviewing for a job when you are pregnant.  I have not had that experience, but I found an article that raises all the issues you need to consider if you find yourself in that situation.  Although I am usually on the side of full disclosure, I was surprised to find that I was nodding my head at other possibilities.  I think you will find it helpful if you ever find yourself in that situation or if you are an employer on the other side of the interview.

Best wishes to all you Lawyer Moms.  Bravo!  I feel your pain and also your euphoric feelings of accomplishment.  You rock!

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Mentoring is Critical to Career Success for Women Lawyers

I write a lot about leadership in law firms.  In fact, my last book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, is all about that subject.   In that book, I address the elements of effective leadership by presenting examples of good leadership and bad leadership.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples of bad leadership to fill those pages.

An important part of effective leadership in law firms revolves around mentorship.  Mentoring young lawyers and helping them to develop their career paths and identify and maximize on their talents is key to career success for the young lawyers and long range success for the law firm. 

However, far too many law firms do not have effective mentoring programs.  That is especially true of large firms.  Small and medium sized firms may not have formal mentoring programs, but the nature of those practices as team oriented tends to produce many more mentoring experiences than in large firms.

The failure of law firms to take mentoring seriously is a boon to my business because the kind of mentoring and career counseling that should be going on in law firms falls to career counselors like me.  But, still, I am complaining.  For you.  I know the value of effective mentoring, and I want all of you to have that advantage.

All mentoring programs are not equal.  Effective mentoring programs are different from mentoring programs that are designed for recruiting value and not given much priority in practice.  Firms often view mentoring as too time intensive, and that does not have to be the case.  

Some kinds of effective mentoring are so fundamental and take so little time that it is mind boggling that firms pay so little attention to them.  Things like having periodic conversations with newbie lawyers about their lives —weekend activities, the ball game, vacation plans and myriad other topics that can make a young lawyer feel like an integral part of the organization.  Things like providing feedback on work, especially when that feedback is positive.  Things like explaining to a young lawyer his or her role in the case or the matter to assign value to that young lawyer’s efforts. 

The truth is that too many associates sit in their offices day after day without any conversation with senior lawyers.  That does not go far in making them feel like the lawyers they want to be and inspiring them to come to work every day with positive and hopeful attitudes.

If you are a law student, ask about mentoring programs in your job interviews, and give special value to firms that not only talk the talk but also seem to walk the walk.  To be sure about what you are hearing, ask young associates at the firm about their experiences with mentoring.  If you are an associate lawyer and not having a good mentoring experience at your firm, talk to a senior lawyer about it.  Firm management should be happy that you care about your career path and developing your skills enough to want guidance from experienced professionals.  And, if you are a firm leader or manager, make sure that your firm steps up in the mentoring arena.  Set the example and establish goals and objectives for an effective mentorship program.

For more on mentoring, read this article.  It is written by a partner in Big Law, who experienced valuable mentoring as a summer associate at the same law firm and has made mentoring junior lawyers a priority because of his own positive experiences.

So, you don’t have to believe me.  Get it from the top!

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Women Lawyers: Up Your Confidence Game

I recently read this explanation for the high rates of attrition among women lawyers, especially women in litigation:

Male lawyers are conditioned to be overconfident decision makers whereas female lawyers are conditioned to believe they’re impostors, not smart enough or not ready. That conditioning starts from the way we’re brought up as boys and girls and the cultural ideas that are ingrained in us from early childhood.

Think about that.  Imagine a bunch of boys gathered for a game of pickup basketball on a Saturday afternoon.  What would you hear from those boys?  Bravado?  Yes, plenty.  Bragging about their abilities and how much better he is than the rest?  Yes, certainly?  All of them thinking he is headed to the NBA.

Then ask yourself whether you can imagine a group of young girls acting tha way.  The answer is likely no.  A group of young girls would be sizing themselves up against each other in a very different way.  Does my hair look good enough?  What about my makeup?  I wish I had a new dress like hers.  I am sure the boys like her better than me.

And, the girls are not all to blame.  Women have been taught for generations that bragging is not lady-like.  And it is not.  It also is not man-like.  It is obnoxious from both males and females, but men get away with it because of cultural norms.

But, you are stuck with being a girl and a woman.  Not smart enough?  Not ready?  An imposter?  Now tell me that you never have felt that way.  Don’t bother because I probably would not believe you anyway.

The differences between the way that male and female lawyers evaluate their capabilities does not fall purely along gender lines, however.  Surely, many young male lawyers have found themselves feeling the same kinds of insecurities as the young female lawyers, but the men seem to get over it faster.  As the young men become more capable, they gain confidence.  Not so for many young women.

Women lawyers really need to work on the confidence factor.  The law profession is difficult and can make you question your competence on a regular basis.  But, it has been my experience that confidence trumps competence every time.

And, you have so much competence to be confident about.  For the most part, you excelled in undergraduate schools, gained entrance into prestigious law schools, and statistics show that women graduate at the top of their law school classes in terms of gpa and honors more often than men.  These are not small accomplishments.  Treat them with the significance they deserve.

Make it a point to be consciously confident, and stop being too humble.  Humble doesn’t help when it keeps you under the radar and holds you back.  Check your persona to make sure that you are presenting a confident face to the world.  Check your communications to make sure that you are talking in a confident manner.  That does not mean bragging and claiming to know what you do not know.  That is obnoxious and dangerous, but there is a confident way of saying that you do not know but will find out and come back with the information.

Start developing your professional brand and an “elevator speech” that reflects confidence and competence and references your strengths, your abilities and your unique perspectives.  If your brand is right for you, it will inspire and empower you to connect effectively with both clients and colleagues.

Stop beating yourself up with the NOTS — not good enough, not smart enough, not this, not that.  Stop thinking of yourself as a fake or an imposter.  By those standards you never will be good enough.

And you are good enough.  You just are not recognizing it and marketing it.  Play to your strengths not your weaknesses.

 

 

 

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Best Firms for Women Lawyers — How Reliable are the Lists?

I know that I have published list after list of the “Best Firms for Women Lawyers” over the years in my blogs and on my website.  It seems like the right thing to do for someone who has been devoted to the retention and advancement of women lawyers for more than a decade. 

But, honestly, I did it with some reluctance.  I always was a little skeptical about how those lists were compiled, whether the research was based on an even playing field for all contenders, and the nature of the relationships between the ranking entities and the firms ranked highest on their lists.

Now a new batch of those lists (from Law 360, Working Mother, and more) has been released, and it turns out that I am not the only one with these kinds of questions and concerns.   One of the most savvy law reporters around has doubts similar to my own and has looked critically at the lists and the law firms that appear there.

In her article, “‘Best’ Law Firms for Women?  Really?,” Vivia Chen of The Careerist and ALM calls the lists “confusing, if not misleading.  And sad.”

Here are some of her concerns for you to keep in mind as you read and rely on those lists:

  • Having a high percentage of women lawyers in a law firm is different than having a high percentage of women equity partners or shareholders;
  • Effort is not the same as results, and firms that have flexible work arrangements, generous parental leave policies and business development training (while all laudable efforts) should not be given equal weight with firms that “walk the walk” and have impressive percentages of women as partners, demonstrating real equality for women within their ranks; and
  • Sugar coating and “misrepresenting” the data will not get us where we want to go in terms of true equity for women lawyers.

We all are trained as fact finders for three long years in law school and in our practices, and we must look behind representations to discover the facts and who really deserves credit and who does not.  We need to expect that of ourselves.

For more on the “lists” and progress in gender diversity at law firms, see “Who’s The Best? (Leading Law Firms for Women)” in the current issue of the  ABA Journal.

 

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