The True Meaning of Retaining Talent

What is “retaining talent” really?  Who does the concept apply to?  Only “newbie” lawyers?  Not so fast.

I write and speak a lot about retaining talent and value, and the Best Friends at the Bar project was founded on that concept.  It is all about law firms and other law employers knowing how to retain talent and value to improve and protect the professional futures of lawyers, the future of law firms, and the future of best practices in the profession.

But, I always have approached the concept of retaining talent and protecting value with an eye toward the young lawyers in practice, particularly the young women lawyers.  It is the young women lawyers who are the focus of the Best Friends at the Bar project, and that has not changed.  However, retaining talent and protecting value is about more than young talent and value.  It also applies at the other end of the spectrum.  I have been thinking a lot about this as some of my law firm friends approach the sunsets of their careers, and my thoughts on it were validated by this recent article on a law blog.

Here’s the argument.  Retaining talent and protecting value also can be applied to lawyers late in their careers.  As a result, it may not be such a good idea for law firms to have age-based mandatory retirement policies.   Retaining the talent and value that falls victim to those arbitrary policies can affect law firm succession plans and can deprive young lawyers of talented mentors.

Succession plans are a subject of my new book.  In Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, which will be released in July, I discuss the effect on law firm succession plans of losing talent at the mid-levels of law firms.  With so many Baby Boomer lawyers retiring in the next few years, succession plans are at risk unless the talent in the middle of law firms is strong.  So, as the article points out, does it really make sense to force senior talent out of the firms under these circumstances?  It is the senior lawyers who have the institutional memories and the professional and business acumen that is the result of years and years of practice and experience.  That kind of value should not be taken lightly as law firm managers ponder the future success of their firms.  Enough of the senior talent will leave voluntarily without pushing everyone out the door.

And there is definitely something in it for you, the junior lawyers.  Senior talent teaches junior lawyers how to practice law.  It is an established fact that law schools fall short in teaching practical skills, and today law firm clients are refusing to pay for the learning curves of junior lawyers.  The senior lawyers can fill that void — if law firms are wise enough to let them.  It is true that not all senior lawyers are good teachers, but it would be worthwhile to find out which ones are and keep them around to help turn green newbie lawyers into seasoned practitioners.

Think about it.  It is a new twist on retaining talent and value, and it makes sense to me.  Arbitrary rules generally lead to bad results, and it does not have to be that way.  There is just too much to lose.

What do you think?

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Thought For The Day: On The Purpose of Your Life

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain

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Maternity Leave Is No Vacation

Only a woman, who has been through childbirth and becoming the primary source of care and comfort for a newborn, can appreciate the true meaning of “maternity leave.”   Yes, it is for maternal needs (thus, maternity) , and it is time away from the job (thus, leave).  But it is not a vacation.  So far from it that it is even hard to imagine.

Memories of my own maternity leaves when I was a young lawyer flashed through my brain as I read the thoughts of another woman lawyer on the subject.  Even though the other lawyers in my firm “in the day” — most of them male — did not have a clue about childbirth, childcare and work-life balance, I hoped that some of that had changed.  Some of it has, thankfully, but it seems that maternity leave is still a misunderstood concept.

But, fortunately, it also appears that things have evolved at bit.  Most of the male lawyers in my days of maternity leave seemed to be motivated by fear.  Fear, first of all, that you would have the baby right there at the law firm and that they would be required to boil water ….  or something.  Fear that your brain would become so scrambled after experiencing childbirth and bonding with an infant that you would need a period of time to compose yourself before returning to “the male space.”  Fear that you might start to talk baby talk in the middle of an important client meeting if you did not take the requisite time for composure.  So, even though it was plowing new ground to get maternity leave in those days, the empathy factor somehow was higher — even though often misplaced.

Today, things are different.  Jealousy and greed seem to be the behaviors (quite apart from the sheer ignorance and fear of the past) that are causing the confusion about maternity leave today.  Employers cite maternity leave as bad for the profitability of business and ignore the statistics associating maternity leave with improvement of retention.  This is greed at work.  Then there are the male colleagues and the female colleagues without children who audaciously refer to time off for maternity leave as a “vacation.”  This is jealousy at work — and ignorance.

Ironically, as noted in the article above, Big Law is leading the pack on generous maternity and parental leave policies.  In a recent blog, I discussed the ground-breaking policy at Orrick.  If you have not read about it, take a look.  Bravo to Big Law.  It gives all of us hope that maternity leave will become the norm and not the exception.  It also gives us hope that maybe our government will follow suit and mandate maternity leave.  As I write, the US is the only industrialized nation in the world without such protection.

While it is true that having children is a choice, there is no reason to make that choice so difficult.  I agree with those who say that they do not want to hear about childbirth and childcare ad nauseam in the workplace, and I also do not consider that behavior to be professional.  But, ignoring the difficulties to the extent of not acknowledging the need for maternity leave is unworthy of the law profession.  After all, the profession is grounded on issues of fair treatment.

And, believe me, maternity leave is fair treatment.





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Thought For The Day: Making Your Own Circumstances

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

George Bernard Shaw

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Thought For The Day

“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”

Mattie Stepanek

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Law Firm Leaders Must Address Diversity

Talk is cheap.  Talk on the issue of diversity in law firms is especially cheap.  It is probably the only thing about law firms that is cheap — just ask the clients.

This is a theme you have heard from me a lot over time.  It also is addressed periodically in mainstream media, and here you have it again in this article in the Washington Post.  How many times do law firm leaders have to read about this to answer the call?

The “call” is what I address in my third book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, to be released in July.  It is the call that too often law firm leaders and other leaders in the law profession do not want to answer.  Perhaps it is too complicated.  Perhaps it is too time-consuming.  And, perhaps for some, it is not a priority.  None of those are good excuses.

Diversity in law firms, of course, is not limited to the number of women in firms and advanced by firms to levels of leadership and management.  Diversity affects all minorities, and those issues also are addressed in the Washington Post article.  But it struck me how much attention is given to women as a minority in that piece.  For those who are familiar with the profession and the current make-up of law firms, the talent drain represented by women leaving the profession, or at least leaving law firm jobs, is remarkable.

Take a look at the article.  The irony that lawyers address equality and equal opportunity as substantive issues in their practices but are not applying those same concepts in their law firms should get your attention.  It is a kind of “talk the talk vs. walk the walk” argument.  And, statistically, it is undeniably true.

So, what is the problem?  Time?  Lack of interest?  Lack of belief in the value of diversity?  There is enough in this article — and in my new book — to expose those as false justifications.  Read the stuff on part-time lawyers and their ability to maintain the requirements of the practice without their clients even knowing that they technically work part-time.  This requires the kind of true grit from women lawyers that needs to be acknowledged and recognized as adding value.

I can relate to that.  When I had two small children and practiced part-time, my secretary knew never to tell anyone that it was my “day off.”  She knew never to give the impression that I was not “at the ready” for whatever the job required.  Because I was.

The author of the article, a Stanford Law professor, cites to her survey of law firm leaders throughout the country and states, “[T]hey explained the woman problem by citing women’s different choices and disproportionate family responsibilities in the context of a 24/7 workplace.  As one managing partner put it, ‘You have to be realistic. It’s a demanding profession. . . . I don’t claim we’ve figure it out.’”

Well, I say that law firms and law firm leaders have had plenty of time to figure it out.  It takes real understanding of the problem instead of a restatement of the problem.  And, now it the time to dig into the issue and come up with realistic solutions.  That is what my new book is all about, and I hope that you will help spread the word throughout the profession about the value of the information between the covers of that book.

The time for solutions and equal opportunities for women lawyers is NOW!





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Thought For The Day

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Mary Anne Radmacher

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Why Affinity Groups Matter in Law Firms

Last Friday, I was delighted to be an invited guest at the Proskauer Women’s Networking Event in Manhattan.  From 8 until 10 AM, the women of Proskauer and their clients and other invited guests pampered themselves with blow-outs and bellinis at the hair salon in The Plaza.  It was affinity networking at its best, and I congratulate the women of Proskauer for their ingenuity and clever marketing.

Affiinity groups matter in advancing diversity in law firms.  They matter to all of those who are underrepresented, and they especially matter a lot to women trying hard to prevail against the challenges of a law career to advance in the profession.

However, not all of the members of law firm leadership understand or believe this.  Here is a link to an article to help you to establish and underscore the importance of a women’s initiative at your law firm.  You also will be helped in this endeavor by the information in my new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, which will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in July.  I have devoted an expanded discussion in that book to what makes a successful women’s initiative, and the information can serve as a blueprint for your efforts in setting up a successful initiative at your law firm.

Good luck with your efforts!  We all will succeed together!





Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law Students, Practice Advice, Young Lawyer | 6 Comments