Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honor, I lose myself.
Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honor, I lose myself.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
Over 100 people gathered at the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC last night to celebrate women lawyers and the release of my new book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen 2015). A good time was had by all in the beautiful setting made possible by sponsors including Womble Carlyle (Premier Event Sponsor); DLA (Sustaining Project Sponsor); Hogan Lovells; Faegre Baker Daniels; Reed Smith; Kirkland and Ellis; The Potomac Law Group; and NewLAWu.s.
By all accounts, the guests enjoyed my remarks and those by Cathy Hinger, partner at Womble Carlyle, and Libby Baney of Faegre Baker Daniels. The themes were effective leadership, inclusiveness and the importance of changing law firm cultures to retain and advance women lawyers. The raffle was a crowd pleaser and included a designer necklace from I. Gorman Jeweler (also a sponsor), a sequined top from Julia Farr Collections, and chocolates from Puja Satiani.
Check out Facebook at Best Friends at the Bar to see some pictures from the evening.
Buy the book, read the book and recommend it to your friends. The reviewers say it is a “must read” for women lawyers and law firms leaders, and I believe them!
The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) issued its first annual report in 2006 and has been updating it on an annual basis since. Now, ten years later, the results are that no appreciable progress has been made for women lawyers in law firm settings.
According to the report, women lawyers still comprise less than 18 percent of equity partners, only 2 percent higher than in 2006.
Here is a summary from the report.
Women equity partners at law firms are not much better off than they were in 2006, according to the latest study by the National Association of Women Lawyers® (NAWL). The survey found that law firms have made no appreciable progress in the rate at which they are promoting women to equity partner, and male equity partners continue to be compensated at much higher levels than female equity partners.
In 2006, NAWL issued the NAWL Challenge: increase the number of women equity partners, women chief legal officers, and women tenured law professors to at least 30% by 2015, and it conducted its benchmark survey on this subject. Each year, the survey enables productive discussion by reporting objective statistics regarding the advancement of women lawyers into the highest levels of private practice. For the past 10 years, it has tracked the professional progress of women in the nation’s 200 largest law firms by providing a comparative view of the careers and compensation of men and women lawyers at all levels of private practice, as well as by analyzing data about the factors that influence career progression.
“NAWL issued the Challenge to ignite the conversation about the under-representation of women in the legal profession,” said NAWL President Marsha L. Anastasia. “We are committed to highlighting these issues and bringing the legal profession together to work on them and share best practices. After all, studies show that having a woman’s point of view drives better business results.”
To read the Executive Summary and the full report, please visit www.nawl.org/2015nawlsurvey.
So, it should be clear that it is time for change, and, in fact, that change is far overdue. You can contribute to positive change by forwarding the messages of Best Friends at the Bar, purchasing the BFAB books, and encouraging your law firms and law organizations to support BFAB through speaking engagements, counseling and other programs.
Together, we can make a difference. Let’s get started!
In my last blog, I acknowledged that most law firms are not throwing women out, but I suggested that nudging women out accomplishes the same goal — even if it is benign by appearance. My comments were a reaction to an assertion that “women lawyers are selecting themselves out of law firms.” Not so much, I think, or, at least, not without help from the law firms.
Here’s an example of nudging or what some would call unintentional bias. Most women love sharing. They recognize it as a righteous and noble thing to do, and they teach their children to share. However, many Big Law firms today are organized as a series of smaller practices within the larger firm, and each of the “silo” practices can become very isolated and unwelcoming of outside influence. There is the healthcare silo, the financial services/real estate silo, the environmental silo… and on and on and on. The result is that there is very little client sharing and cross-selling between and among the silos, and there is a certain amount of distrust generated by the system. Sandbox 101 does not seem to be alive and well in many large law firms today, and women lawyers can find that to be an unwelcoming environment. It can contribute to them selecting themselves out.
Law firms also nudge women out through the client development practices that most often are not very women-friendly and through lawyer evaluation and review programs that favor the boastful and disfavor realistic self-evaluations and career goals. Should women be effectively excluded from client development opportunities because they do not enjoy ice hockey, boxing matches, and cigars? Is it a woman’s fault that cut-throat competition for clients is not one of her favorite pastimes? Should a woman be disadvantaged because she is realistic about her skill sets and motivated to improve rather than to overlook skill deficiencies and overstate competencies?
These unconscious biases are the tools with which law firms nudge women lawyers out and send them packing toward the home front or alternative practices — even when don’t want to go. The mistake of the past is thinking that the departure of women from law firms at alarming rates is all about flexible schedules and the need to work part-time. Work-life challenges are only a part of it. Maybe when law firm leaders figure that out, and before all of the female talent is lost for good, we can have real and meaningful conversations about why women lawyers leave.
Until then, read my new book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2015), and discover some interesting research. Recommend it to your colleagues, especially those “at the top.” They are the ones who really need it.
Last Friday I attended another great Georgetown Law program. This one was sponsored by the Georgetown Law Women’s Alliance, and it was a very interesting panel discussion. I am a graduate of GT Law, and I could not be prouder of the programs the law school provides to support its students and graduates.
The all-woman panel consisted of two Big Law lawyers, a law professor, and a Federal Judge. The panelists were candid and entertaining and great role models for everyone in the room, from law students to seasoned practitioners.
A comment by one of the panelists, a co-managing partner of the DC office of a Big Law firm, got my attention. She said that women lawyers are selecting themselves out of law firms and used that statement as a springboard to talk about all of the other settings that are available to women who want to continue to practice, which include in-house positions, not-for-profit organizations, government and academia. It was a positive spin on a negative problem.
I really liked this woman, and most of her remarks were spot on. But, I think this one needs a little massaging.
By saying that the women lawyers are selecting themselves out, it puts the burden on the women and makes it sound like it is their fault that they are not succeeding at law firms and staying. The message is that if they want to remain at law firms, they must “lean in” more. The implication is that we are giving the law firms a “get out of jail free” card and putting no responsibility on law firm leadership to also “lean into” the problem.
I agree that women are selecting themselves out of law firms and that law firms, as a rule, are not throwing them out. But, there is a big difference between throwing them out and nudging them out.
There are many ways that law firms are nudging women lawyers out. The whole culture of law firms can be very unresponsive to the values that most women bring to the workplace — values like cooperation, collaboration and teamwork, finding common ground, and negotiating for the best deal not the most recognition and bragging rights. That can be a big problem for women and create uncomfortable working conditions that subtly encourage women lawyers to leave.
Do you feel the nudge? Tune into my next blog to learn more.
“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”