A Strong Message about Leadership for Women Lawyers

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.

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Why Women Lawyers Leave Firms: Astonishing New Statistics

Why do women lawyers leave?

I have been pondering, speaking about and writing about this issue for a decade.  It is fundamental that, before we can try to fix our profession with solutions like lateral hiring, mergers and expanding into new markets, we must delve deep into the roots of the attrition problems.

For years it was hard to get law firm management to talk about the high rates of attrition for women lawyers.  For many of those years, new law graduates were plentiful, and it was a buyers’ market.  That all changed with the Great Recession and the fall off in the number of students in law schools.  Now, there is a talent war for the best of the young lawyers, and it has shifted the focus more toward retention.  That is a good thing, but the reasons for the high attrition rates — for both male and female lawyers — are still not well understood.

So, I was very pleased to read “Top 3 Reasons for Associate Attrition and 3 Ways to Combat It” on Law.com recently.  The new statistics cited in that article and the assertion that the most expensive and surprising problem facing law firms today is not client retention or salaries but associate attrition is validation of so many of the programs that I have presented over the years to law firms and bar associations.  And, make no mistake, this “problem” is all about women lawyers — because women are at the tops of their law school graduation classes and often represent the best of the associate talent in the profession.  Losing that kind of talent can hurt a lot.

According to a report by Overflow Legal Network relied on in the article:

  • Almost 46 percent of associates leave their firm within the first three years, and 81 percent leave in the first five years; and
  • At a 400-person law firms, associate attrition can result in losses of over $25 million annually — not including the knowledge and client relationships that depart with departing associates.

Yes, you read that right.  $25 million.  That is an amazing and grim statistic, and it should grab the attention of every law firm manager.  These new statistics are consistent with a NALP survey that I have relied on for years, which found that 76 percent of women lawyers leave Big Law in the first five years, but that survey was about women associates and was explained by work-life issues associated with starting families.  However, this new statistic is not limited to women lawyers and it is not limited to Big Law.  Without those qualifiers, it is shocking and needs to be taken very seriously.

The causes for this high rate of attrition, as cited in the article, are:

  • Lack of associate training and mentoring;
  • Longer partnership tracks and requirements for larger books of business to protect the Profits Per Partner at the tops of firms; and
  • The expectations of members of the millennial generation regarding things like work-life balance, the role that technology should play in the work place, and clearly defined measures of success.

So, you say, what are the solutions?  You will have to stay tuned for next week’s blog to find out!

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Investment Help For Young Women Lawyers — You NEED It!

Investment advisor!  The title alone makes most of us shutter, and typically the individual advisor evokes a similar response.  Not that they are bad people, but it is often a bad subject for us.  So, the advisor gets associated with the advice.  And, when the news is bad, it can be very bad.  Something and someone you do not want to think about.

As women, we sometimes shy away from this kind of “boring” financial dialogue on subjects like saving, prioritizing and budgeting.  After all, we like to keep things moving and exciting …… not get bogged down so that we have plenty of time to spend, spend, spend!  Those new fuschia-colored sandals for spring, the antique server that is ideal for the entrance hall, the trip to the tropics, and wheels to make you the envy of the young attorney in-crowd. Why would you want to have a discussion that might put a damper on all those fun things?

No, I am not dissing you, I am dissing US.  Women love beautiful and expensive things, and … well … it can get out of control.  And soon you are plummeting downhill faster than you ever imagined possible.  Then you are looking at the bankruptcy court — and you cannot discharge your student loan debt there.  Sorry.

Enter the investment advisor.  He or she could become your new BFF if you let it happen.  The guy described in the article below understands your life as a law firm associate — because he is one —- and he blogs by night on a “mission to prevent young lawyers from falling prey to their own lousy money management.”  Goodwin Procter seems to be good with that as long as he does not neglect his day job.

His name is Joshua Holt, and, until recently, he ran The Biglaw Investor website anonymously.  There is investment advice and newsletters on the site to provide tips to Big Law associates, who lack an understanding of how to manage the big bucks they are earning.

However, Joshua wants to be an equal opportunity website, so he also offers advice to young lawyers on the low end of the pay scale, like those public service lawyers, who are not making the big bucks.  He seems to understand that most law students did not have a lot of money to handle during those three years preceding the downpour of any bucks at all, and that making a salary of any kind can be daunting.

The bottom line is that we all need financial advice — unless we have a lifetime supply of green eye shades.  Young lawyers with massive student loan debt REALLY need it.  In fact, in a rush of humility, Joshua identifies himself on the website as starting his career with $200,000 in student debt and with “zero understanding of how to manage a $160,000 salary and enough anxiety to immobilize a small horse.”  Does that sound familiar?

If, so, check out the website below.  This is not an endorsement of Joshua Holt and/or his advice.  I do not know Joshua or what kind of advice he dispenses.  He may not be for you.  But, chances are someone like Joshua is.  Be sure you find that person — PRONTO — to save yourself a lot of unnecessary grief.



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In Defense of Equal Pay for Women — Including Women Lawyers

You know that I support equal pay for women.  I have written on it in this blog before, and I published a comprehensive article on it recently.  You also might have noticed that I don’t typically get into politics in my work, for a lot of good reasons, but I consider equal pay to be a very important policy decision.  So, here is an update on gender pay equality — an opinion that likely is held by more than just this one political operative.  Heed it as a warning.

In a letter criticizing a bill that addresses the pay gap in the workforce in Utah, a Republican operative, James Green, said that men have traditionally earned more than women and, citing “simple economics,” argued that things should stay that way.

Green’s comments were directed at Utah Senate Bill 210, which proposes changes to laws related to employee pay. The bill would commission a study on whether there’s a pay gap between male and female workers in the state and would require certain employers to adopt a uniform criteria to determine whether an employee should get a raise based on performance.  It also would create a pay index that establishes the average pay range for each occupation based on years of experience.

Mr. Green said in his letter to the editor, published last week in several Utah newspapers, that men make more than women because they’re “the primary breadwinners” of their families, and paying women equally would somehow ruin the makeup of a traditional family where “the Mother” remains at home raising children.

He continued, “If businesses are forced to pay women the same as male earnings, that means they will have to reduce the pay for the men they employ.  If that happens, then men will have an even more difficult time earning enough to support their families, which will mean more Mothers will be forced to leave the home (where they may prefer to be) to join the workforce to make up the difference.”

He concluded by saying that equal pay is “bad for families and thus for all of society,” calling it “a vicious cycle” that would create competition for jobs, “even men’s jobs.”

Yes, in 2017, those views are held.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you do not have to worry about things like equal pay and women controlling their own lives because it is the 21st Century.

Don’t become complacent.  Keep your radar up.  Take your place at the table to correct the wrongs that limit opportunities and choice.

The time to get active is NOW.



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Women Lawyers: Did You March?

Did you march in the Women’s March last Saturday?  What was your experience?  Where will you take that experience?

First a disclaimer.  Due to an illness and a family emergency, I was not able to march and demonstrate my resolve for my most fervent cause — women helping and supporting women.  I was deep in disappointment, but I was with all of you who did march, if only in spirit, as you knew I would be.

I was spellbound by the TV images all day and evening.  I particularly liked the aerial photos of the Chicago march and the breathtaking architecture of that city, and I also loved the photos of DC and NYC where I live and spend so much time, respectively.  However, the images of marches in cities throughout the world were awe-inspiring.

There is no arguing about the success of the marches.  The sheer numbers were overwhelming, and the diversity of attendees and causes represented was uplifting.  The solidarity demonstrated was palpable.  I was particularly impressed by the presence of men in the crowds and their responses when asked about their participation — that they had not been invited to join the women in the past.  It reminded me of one of the themes of my book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2015).  We need to invite both men and women into the discussions about the inequities affecting women if we have any hope of finding effective and lasting solutions.

The day was a powerful statement that has been years in the making since the suffragettes marched in support of voting rights for women in 1913 and the Million Woman March of 1997 in support of equality for black women.   It was a day of protest, very successfully done, and it echoed around the globe.

And now, those same protesters must address the next step.  As one of the TV commenters pointed out, protest is different than activism.  Or, as more eloquently stated by historian Michael Kazin commenting on the importance of a long-term strategy: “All successful movements in American history have both inside and outside strategy. If you’re just protesting, and it just stops there, you’re not going to get anything done.”

A strategy going forward — that is the key.  It can be a group strategy or an individual strategy or both.  Consider the options for a group strategy.  What organization will you join to leverage your power to positively affect the future for women?  There are so many to choose from.  On the individual front, activist Michael Moore asked some pertinent questions from the speakers’ podium.  Are you going to vote in the next local, state and national elections?  Are you going to “walk the walk” in the true sense of the word by consider running for public office to let your voice be heard and to be in a position to affect future policies and legislation to improve the lives of women.  Those are good questions, and I hope you have some good answers.  We all need to think about it.

So, bravo to all of you who marched or who wanted to march — and I most sincerely hope that I never have to sit out again.  I hope we were heard.  I hope our positions were respected as we spoke truth to power.  I hope changes in laws and policies will follow.  I hope we inspired a whole new generation of protesters and activists for just causes. 

That will determine the real success of the day.

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Leadership 101 for Women Lawyers

We all are — or we should be – thinking a lot about leadership these days. This is an important week as we witness the peaceful transfer of power from one national leader to another here in the United States of America. It is what distinguishes our democracy, and it should not be missed, even if your candidate is not being sworn in.

I will be doing my part for the inauguration by participating in a leadership program that, every four years, brings college students to DC to witness the inauguration and hear from leaders in a variety of career areas. I will have the opportunity to speak to at least 200 collegians and talk with them in one-on-one settings to answer their questions about careers in the law. I am looking forward to contributing to this program, where a lot of the discussion will be about leadership and what makes an effective leader.

So, what are the qualities that we should be looking for in a leader? That is what I wrote about in my book, “Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers”(Wolters Kluwer Law & Business and Aspen Publishers 2015), and it is a really important subject.  Although that book focused on law firm leaders, the concepts are easily transferable to leaders in other settings.

The important leadership concepts that I discuss in that book came from one of the gurus of leadership, Marshall Goldsmith, who has been identified by such venerable institutions like the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review as one of the best leadership trainers in the world. After spending a weekend with him and almost fifty other “students” several years ago as part of my own leadership and coaching certification, I understood a lot about the difference between talking about leadership and walking the leadership path. Here is some of what I learned.

Effective leaders focus on the needs of those they lead as much as they focus on their own personal needs. Leadership involves a lot of listening and less speech-making than you might think, which is not always so easy because we all love to talk about ourselves. By talking all the time, however, we miss getting new and fresh ideas from others. We also miss the opportunity to help others problem solve, and we pass up the opportunity to develop leaders for the future.

Here are some of the most important behaviors of an effective leader.  An effective leader:

  • Encourages open dialogue that includes and values the participation of others;
  • Exhibits positive values and fair behavior that will attract and encourage future leaders;
  • Identifies what makes some individuals fall away from the group and provides incentive for them to re-engage; and
  • Champions, praises, rewards and gives proper recognition for the achievement of others.

And, here are the things that an effective leader does NOT do:

  • Value winning over everything else and signal that he or she is right and everyone else is wrong;
  • Easily exhibit harsh judgment about others and make destructive remarks;
  • Speak when angry;
  • Claim credit when it is not deserved;
  • Make excuses and refuse to express regret;
  • Play favorites; and
  • Punish the messenger.

Keep these things in mind as you watch the events of the rest of the week unfold. In addition to the inauguration itself, there is a lot to learn about effective leadership — or lack thereof — by watching the confirmation hearings for the president-elect’s cabinet-level appointments.

We have a whole new set of “leaders” coming to town, and we hope they will be effective and deserving of their titles.  How do you think they measure up so far?

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Would Mandatory Paid Childcare Leave Make US #1?

I discovered two things today — seemingly independent but connected, I think.  These things are important for all women, those with children and those who love the children of others, and they are important to me.

First of all, I read that the United States of America comes in fourth in terms of being the most desirable country to live on earth.  The first three positions were awarded to Germany, the UK and Canada.  Not bad to be in fourth place, but first place is better.  However, this probably was predictable because the subject of the survey was “quality of life.”  That includes stuff like paid family leave, access to affordable health care, mandatory vacations and the like.  We don’t rank so well on that stuff in America.

I remember traveling in Jamaica years ago (not a contender for a top slot in this survey!) and meeting a couple from Germany.  They were on a six week vacation because the government mandated that employers provide that kind of break from the pressure and routine as a way to force its citizens to unwind, relax, enjoy life, and, presumably, be better balanced and produce more when they are working.  My family and I were trying to eke out a week away from the grind of two law practices, and the German way sounded pretty good to me at the time.  Still does.  Quality of life is important.

The second “thing” that came across my radar today also is a quality of life thing.  It seems that the DC Council is considering a paid family leave act that goes beyond anything anywhere else in our country.  This is really important stuff.  It is so stressful and anxiety creating for new mothers and fathers to leave their infants to the care of others in the first months after their births, and, many times, the new mothers and fathers cannot afford to quit their jobs and give their newborns the kind of care they require.

Here is what the proposed DC law will require that employers provide:  11 weeks of paid family leave for parents to bond with newborn or adopted children and eight weeks to care for an ailing parent or grandparent — among the most generous paid leave laws in the nation.

The proposal, released Monday to the full D.C. Council, is expected to draw support from a majority of the council, which has been discussing paid leave for more than a year. You can read more about the specifics of the proposed law in this article.

Advocates of paid family leave believe that it fills a critical need in a country where 59 percent of mothers with infants are in the workforce and only 12 percent of workers in the private sector get paid leave through their employers.  Count me among those believers.  Studies also demonstrate that both parents and children benefit from the opportunity for a parent to care for a child after birth or adoption.

In case you did not know, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without a national paid leave law of any kind, and only a handful of states have independently passed paid leave laws.  So, this new law that looks like it may pass in DC is a big deal.

Perhaps we can take some solace from the fact that both President-elect Trump and his daughter Ivanka talked a lot during the campaign about paid childcare leave.  A national law that is generous and treats parents, and especially women, with the dignity they deserve on this issue is what we need.

Then, maybe, we can be considered the best country to live on the planet.


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What Yesterday’s Election Means for Women

I don’t know what your politics are, and I really don’t care.  You don’t know my politics either, and we will keep it that way.  My parents taught me not to talk about religion, politics or sex in polite conversation, and I try to remember it.

However, politics does not have to be part of the discussion about yesterday’s election for the next President of the United States.  There were other issues at stake.  The election results were disappointing for some who were hoping to usher in the first woman president in the history of our country.  They wanted to hear the highest glass ceiling in the land shatter.  It did not work out that way, and, for them, I say do not lose heart.

This campaign season helped us to focus on issues that continue to be important.  Women’s issues cannot be put on the back burner any longer, and the discussions in the national media over the course of the campaign about gender discrimination and female objectification, gender pay equity, women’s health issues, a woman’s right to choose and related topics have built on a narrative that is not going away.  Maybe you would have felt more comfortable with a woman president leading the charge on these issues, but that should not shut you down.

Keep on going to improve conditions for women.  And, for sure, do not take anything for granted.  This election was considered by some (including the pollsters who now are looking for work and will be for a long time) to be a done deal for Hillary Clinton days before the entire country voted.  National polls were repeatedly cited supporting that result.  And look how it turned out.

The takeaway is that we as women must always be vigilant.  The challenges still remain, and we always must be the best version of ourselves because we will continue to be judged differently than men.  Our mistakes will be judged more harshly, our behaviors will be judged more harshly, and even our appearances will be judged more harshly.  Nothing could have been more obvious in this campaign.  Both candidates tripped and fell, but it was the woman who suffered more.

Eyes are always on you.  Understand it, deal with it, and make it work for you.  If these challenges are what drive you to excellence and accomplishment without scandal and impeachment, then it is a good thing and you will be the kind of woman who is ready to lead.

All the way to the White House.

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