Leadership Lessons for Women Lawyers

My friend, Caroline Dowd-Higgins, is an excellent career coach, motivational speaker and author of “This is Not the Career I Ordered.”   Her recent blog “15 Leadership Lessons to Invigorate Your Career”  is worthy of your attention.  Caroline and I first met when she was the Career Services Dean at Indiana University Law, and I think it is no accident that her advice rings true for young lawyers.

Here is her list (with a little editorial help from me!);

  • Be Confident:  Confidence can be more important to career success than competence.   Confidence is developed by you and comes from within you, but new skills can be learned.  People like to be around those who are confident because it is uplifting and makes them feel confident, too;
  • Develop You Professional Brand:  Learn to promote your unique skills so that others will recognize you as the “go to” person in some areas.  Even if you are not certain that your current specialty is what you want in the long run, take advantage of it in the short run to gain the confidence of others;
  • Read More:  Feed your brain with new information on even the busiest of days.  Intellectual stimulation is a common denominator for effective leaders and opens you up to diverse perspectives;
  • Identify 25 Influencers:  Think about who can help advance your career.  Inside and outside your field.  Meet those you can and read advice from those you can’t;
  • Make Time to Help Others:  Helping others is a road to happiness.  It puts the focus on the needs of others and takes it away from obsessing about your future and your problems.  It puts you in control.  Even the busiest and most successful people need to make time to help others;
  • Emphasize Your Strengths and Minimize Your Weaknesses:  Sell yourself by playing to your strengths.  Nothing is ever gained by concentrating on the negative;
  • Have a Plan:  Your career plan can be as short as a list of goals and achievements for one year.  Ask yourself what you want to accomplish in the next 12 months, and write it down.  If you are being blocked in accomplishing your goals, think about moving to another career setting.  You are young and flexible;
  • Ask for Help:  It is not a sign of weakness, and you should not treat it like one.  Everyone gets help along the way.  Ask for help and give help;
  • Take Some Risks:  Get out of your comfort zone, whether it be to ask for help, to seek advice about your career goals or to take on the challenge of new work.  Stretching beyond your comfort zone involves some risk but also provides great opportunities for growth;
  • Value Your Differences:  Be YOU.  Do not change who and what you are to fit into any group.  Diverse backgrounds and viewpoints are essential for growth and development — of people and of organizations;
  • Take Your Seat at the Table:  Be seen and be heard in the workplace.  Do not always have the attitude that no one wants to talk to you and that no one values your input.  The truth is that most people do not take the time to talk to colleagues because they are too busy or they are too insecure or socially awkward to start a conversation.  You be the one to initiate the conversation;
  • Fail Forward, Fast and Often:  Do not be afraid to fail.  Do your best and understand that failing is part of the journey toward success.  Learn from your mistakes and go forward; and
  • Be Curious:  Curiosity is key to success.  Learn something new about your firm and put it to good use at the right time.

(Yes, I know there are not 15!  I consolidated a few.)

Keep this list handy, and check it from time to time.  Ask yourself whether your short-term plan is working and how you can use these leadership lessons to get where you want to go.

And then, enjoy the journey!

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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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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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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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