Women Lawyers Need Balance

Every year at this time, I put Best Friends at the Bar on hold to spend time with family and friends.  It is a month-long hiatus that I know is enviable but that I feel entitled to after all these years.  And I LOVE it.  I will be at the Massachusetts shore with friends and at the Maine shore with family, and I can’t wait for the games to begin!

It is not that my work is over or that my desk is clear. That is not the case at all.  I am completing the manuscript for a new book, on deadline for a book proposal, developing a new soft skills program for associate lawyers, and writing speeches and developing Power Point slides for presentations in the Fall.  I am plenty busy.  But, that is not the point.

Vacation does not happen when your desk is clear.  Vacation happens when you need it and when your loved ones are available.  If you wait for the desk to be clear, vacation never will happen.  If you wait until someone at work tells you that the time is right, trust me, the time will never be right.

Understand what you need and what you have a right to expect.  You can do the math.  If you are on target with billable hours and have not taken your allotted vacation for the year, what are you waiting for?  It is time to act.  Go dip your toes in the ocean like me or go climb a mountain or take a cruise.  August is the perfect month for taking a break and chilling out.  September is a time when the law profession springs back into action.  After that, you are lucky if you get a break until Christmas Eve.

Go for it.  I know I will.  And, when September rolls around, I will be ready to go full steam ahead to grab the brass ring!

See you then.

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It’s Bar Exam Time Again: Remember Your Friends

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.

 

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Women Lawyers Should Avoid the Heat

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Praise of Independent Women Lawyers

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.

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Good News for Women Lawyers with Families

Here is some very good news for women lawyers with family responsibilities.  In her article for Above The Law, Staci Zaretsky describes a new program for women litigators who no longer can make traditional law firm practice work because of childcare responsibilities and other aspects of family life.  She outlines a “hot new trend” of lawyers leaving law firms to join what she describes as a growing field of litigation finance and highlights the efforts of Fulbrook Capital Management in developing a program to fit the needs of women lawyers.

Known as “Virtual Women in Law,” the program is Fulbrook’s response to the recent loss of talent from women leaving law practice because of work-life conflicts.  This program takes advantage of all the latest digital technologies and will allow women lawyers to work from home — or whatever location they choose — with flexible hours.  Check it out here.

The founder of Fulbrook Capital Management and a former Latham & Watkins partner describes the Virtual Women in Law program as “designed to create an alternative distinguished career path for women lawyers, while tapping into an extraordinary pool of talent that otherwise might be unused, wasted, or spent on less than optimal terms.

Hat’s off to Fulbrook Capital Management in these efforts.  Of course, there are other firms that specialize in litigation financing, and, if you are interested in this field of work, you should check out a variety of options for your future.  This post is in no way an attempt to endorse the Fulbrook program over other similar programs.  You must do your homework.

And, as always, it is the hope that more traditional law firms will follow the example of Morgan Lewis, Baker McKenzie and others that have recently embraced telecommuting as an option for their lawyers and one that has proven to have no negative effects on productivity.

All of this is a step in the right direction toward keeping women lawyers in the workplace — if that is where they want to be.

 

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Problems that Still Plague Women Lawyers

No, the challenges for women lawyers are not over.  Progress has been made, but there remains much to do to create a level playing field for women and men in the profession.

The Law 360 fourth annual Glass Ceiling Report is out, and finds that women make up 34.8 percent of attorneys in the leading US firms, and that is up from 34 percent last year.  Call me a skeptic, but I do not think that 8/10th of a percent is any cause to throw a party.

The report further shows that, at the partner level, women represent 23 percent of both equity and non-equity partners.  This data is offered within the context that women comprised more than 50 percent of law school students in 2016, the highest percentage since 1992.  Before you cheer too loudly for that fact, consider that the report also showed that only nine of the 300 firms surveyed reported having a workforce that is 50 percent or more female.

Year after year we see no appreciable advancement of percentage of women in the profession and percentage of those who make partner.  The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) has issued an annual survey on women in the profession for more than a decade, and the percentages have barely budged.  It is a sad read each year.

The reasons for this lack of progress seem to congregate around the topics of lack of flexibility in the legal work space and discrimination against women lawyers, including implicit bias, which is not acknowledged by far too many law firm and industry leaders.  At the same time as more and more women are choosing to enter the legal profession, there are still many challenges that are holding them back in terms of retention and advancement.  But, women will be women, and they continue to amaze me in their abilities to face these challenges head on.

A recent article in LawFuel, addressed some of those challenges and how women lawyers are meeting them.

  • Women Lawyers Constantly are Underestimated.  Too often they are treated like they are under qualified or not suited for their jobs.  Consider the fact that this is true even though women law students are typically at the tops of their graduating classes in terms of grade point averages and honors.
  • Women Lawyers are More Susceptible to Health Issues.  This is where you definitely have to “listen up.”  It is serious business.  The stress of being a lawyer can take a toll on anyone, but it is especially stressful for women who must prove themselves at every turn and find themselves on the receiving end of sexist comments and behaviors.  Chronic stress and poor coping techniques can result in depression.  Arm yourselves.  Get the stress OUT!  Let go of it.  Embrace something outside the office to arm you against negative triggers inside the office.
  • Women Lawyers Struggle with Work-Life Balance.  This is the ever-present challenge for women lawyers with home and family responsibilities, but it also affects lawyers who want time to develop their social lives.  The long hours at the office are not compatible with home or personal lives, and it can drive women out of the profession.  Hope lies in more flexible workplace practices, including working from home made possible by advances in technology, and a recognition that flexible schedules can work to the benefit of both the woman lawyer and the law firm that wants to retain talent.
  • Women Attorneys are Criticized for Their Looks.  This problem is much more prevalent for women lawyers than it is for male lawyers.  When did you ever hear of a male being told that he does not “look like an attorney?”  Shirt, tie, suit — check.  No comment.  But, it always seems like open season for critiquing women’s dress in the workplace.  If her skirt is too long, she looks like a spinster.  Too short, she looks like a street walker.  Hair too frizzy … hair cut too severe …. there is so much material in this playbook.  With the exception of too much thigh and cleavage, most of it is not acceptable.  Challenge it.  Ask what a lawyer “looks like.”  I have a friend who did that many years ago and established herself as no pushover for the boy’s club.  Now she bosses the men around!

As always, I know you are up to the challenge.  But, do not attempt it alone.  For every boy’s club, there needs to be a girl’s club.  Stick together and prevail!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women Lawyers Need to Consider Their Options

Today’s legal news outlets are full of conflicting information about the state of women in the law.  On the one hand, there are reports about law firms adopting policies to promote women, and, on the other hand, there are reports that female partner promotions are plunging in the UK, which gives us pause to wonder when that particular trend will hit the US.

There also are reports of gender pay gaps among in-house counsel, with women lawyers drawing the short straws, and the number of law suits by women law firm partners alleging pay discrimination is on the rise.  (For more information on gender pay equity, see my blog from earlier this year and read my comprehensive article on the subject in the DC Women’s Bar newsletter that is cited in the blog.)

What to do?  It is a serious question for all of you to contemplate.  It may be time to consider your options.

I have been writing and speaking on subjects related to women lawyers for the last decade.  Along the way, I have tried to keep the faith that right will prevail and that, with increased visibility, women will receive the equal treatment they are entitled to in the law profession.  I surely know that women lawyers are very qualified and represent great value to the profession, so it follows that they should be treated equally and fairly.  For me it was just a matter of time and shedding greater light on the issues.

But, I am not naive.  I founded the Best Friends at the Bar project because of the lack of progress on retention and advancement of women in the law, and, over the years, I have been struck by the continued slow progress and the unfair treatment that has accompanied it, and I fear that past is prologue.  So, today, I take a little different view.

Today, I tell women lawyers to band together to safeguard their futures– not only within the law firm but also outside of the law firm.  Perhaps at another law firm — one that they band together to form.  A place where they will respect each other and the individual circumstances that challenge each of them.  A place where they will help each other to prevail against those challenges with the confidence that a professionally satisfied lawyer is a lasting lawyer.

Women-owned law firms are becoming more and more prevalent, and, according to this recent article, an organization has been formed to help women lawyers in this endeavor.  Read the interview of Nicole Galli, who left Big Law to form her own women-owned law firm and now helps guide other women lawyers in their own similar pursuits.

Do not despair over weak statistics and slow progress.  That is not worth your time.  What is worth your time is planning for your future. So, just do it!

 

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Women Lawyers Must Own Their Careers

Whether it is “success on your own terms,” as some have called it, or “personal definitions of success,” as I call it in the Best Friends at the Bar book series, all efforts by women lawyers to find the right balance for satisfying and lasting careers should be dignified.  I learned all about this as I evolved through the women’s liberation and feminist years as a practicing lawyer with no children to the 1980’s when my children arrived and challenged my creativity as a professional.

I understand how important all of these phases of development for women have been.  I acknowledge the work of the feminists, and I understand how critical they were to our journey to the independence we enjoy today.  However, I also recognize that the male definitions of success that were embraced by those early pioneers have not worked for many women with home and family responsibilities, and defining ourselves in terms of male models has been, for many women, like setting ourselves up for failure.

At the same time, I acknowledge and applaud the women who have the support systems for keeping their homes and raising their children that allow them to aspire to the corner offices without interruption in their careers. We need those women to attain the critical mass of women in leadership and management positions to positively affect policies for women in the workplace.  But, we are not all those women. I certainly was not, and I had to reinvent myself many times in my role as a lawyer, wife and mother over the course of my long career, and that is why the Best Friends at the Bar project is so important to me.

The overriding truth in all of this is that we need to get away from any models of success that do not fit our circumstances, and we need to create personal definitions of success that work for us at different times in our lives. Those definitions will change, just as our profiles change as we move through the various phases of motherhood, child rearing, parental care and other personal life issues.  Fortunately, there are a multitude of practice choices to fit our needs at the various stages of our lives.  In my book Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2012) I explore these various practice models through profiles of women who have successfully moved from one to another.  Take a look and find yourself in those pages.

Be strong and chart your own course.  Have the courage to pursue a path that may be unique to you and only you and the confidence to know that you will find a way to make it work.  Do not be deterred by the opinions and judgments of others.  They do not walk in your shoes, and many of them do not share your values.

Stay true to yourself, and you will be rewarded by the pride of knowing that your choices are yours, your successes are yours, and your rewards are yours.  You have to own your careers and your futures.

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