More on Women Lawyers as Professionals

In the last blog, I discussed a new book about the Millennial Generation in the workplace and the challenges to the older and more traditional workers.  I turned the focus from workers in general to lawyers as professionals.  I promised you examples of how some of the new generation values can conflict with your responsibilities as professionals.

For example, if you are in a financial services practice, your clients are bankers and financial institutions.  Showing up at a meeting with finance clients in casual attire is probably not going to impress the 3-piece suit guys and the designer dress and stiletto girls.  Yes, you have every right to assert your independent and non-conformist ways, but you always have to ask yourself whether it is the smart thing to do.

Another example involves personal time.  You know that I am a big supporter of adequate personal time for an acceptable work-life balance.  But, when the work requires it, professionals step up to the plate and do the professionally responsible thing.   And that can involve working long hours and on weekends to meet the demands of the clients who pay huge monthly bills that keep the law firm doors open and the lights and HVAC operating to the comfort level of the lawyers.  Quite simply, without clients, lawyers and law firms are nothing.

These examples illustrate a larger point.  There is a difference between a lawyer and someone working out of a garage in a start-up organization.  One difference is that some start-up guys and girls could make a lot more money than you ever will.  And that certainly is one way of measuring success.  But, the difference I am talking about has to do with professionalism.  It is a privilege to be a lawyer — to be a member of The Bar and an Officer of the Court — and you need to remember that and respect it.

I appreciate the attitudes of the Millennials, and I talk about them in my new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2015).  I also understand that it is my generation that raised this new generation and is to some degree responsible for the issues that now challenge my generation.  But, I draw the line in my willingness to compromise on issues of professionalism.

I once had a young woman lawyer tell me that she could not attend the public hearing that she and I had spent months prepping for because she had tickets to a concert by one of her favorite performers.  The public hearing had been rescheduled for a date that conflicted with the concert date.  Hearings and trials often are rescheduled, and a professional knows that and assumes the risk.  However, I did not argue with her about it because she had shown such bad judgment that I no longer wanted her on my case.  Her response was unacceptable.  It was a concert, not a family death, a baptism, or a funeral.

Be a responsible Millennial.  Be happy, be free, and advocate responsibly for some of the new attitudes that arguably can improve our profession in this 21st Century.  But, be professional while you do it.  Know when you are crossing the line. 

Your supervisors surely will.

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Thought For The Day

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them.  Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”

Rabindranath Tagore

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The High Price of Professionalism for Women Lawyers

Last week I attended a women’s networking event where the speaker discussed the Millennial Generation (aka Generation Y) and the issues presented by Millennials in the workplace.  The speaker, Lauren Stiller Rickleen, has established herself as an expert in the field, and I have heard her speak before and served on programs with her.  In her new book, You Raised Us – Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams, the author both defines the members of the Millennial Generation and educates the readers, mostly Baby Boomers and Generation X,  on how to work with the new generation.

I confess to not reading the book yet, but I intend to.  However, I believe that I got the gist of the messages from Ms. Rickleen’s remarks.  I anticipate reading a lot about the values and experiences that the new generation brings to the workplace and also the difficulty that supervisors and senior managers have with some of the new attitudes and opinions about how workers should behave.

At the event, the author and audience members discussed the relaxed “schedules” that Millennials are expecting, including very little work beyond 9  to 5 — and weekend work only on rare occasions.   They also discussed the relaxed work attire that the new generation prefers.  Some people think that these new values will change the workplace for the better, and some think that it is the beginning of a slippery slope.  Some people go so far as to say that if the Millennials want to dress in jeans and flip flops it should not matter if the work is getting done well.  Some disagree.

Although the book and the discussion was not limited to the law profession, it certainly got  me thinking about you as young women lawyers.  Yes, some of the discussion applies to you, but not all of it.  There is a difference between you and many other young women in the workplace.  You are professionals, and you have taken a professional oath.  You belong to one of the oldest professions in the world, and it is still around for a reason.  For centuries, the members of the profession, for the most part, have acted in professional ways.  As a result, I am much less accepting of some of the new attitudes in the workplace when it comes to you.  I expect you to act professionally and dress professionally.  To do otherwise can cost you clients and opportunities for advancement.

What are some examples of this risk?  Stay tuned to the next blog and find out.


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Thought For The Day

“As is our confidence, so is our capacity.”

William Hazlitt

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Carpe Diem, Women Lawyers!

Remember Carpe Diem!  Some law professor along the way probably threw it out to you.  Seize the day!  Be a Roman General!  Have a plan.  Never let grass grow under your feet.

But, how does that apply to you as young women lawyers.  Here’s how.

Life does not always hand you what is convenient at the moment.  But, when an opportunity comes your way, seize it.  Embrace it.  If it involves a certain amount of inconvenience for you, be flexible, change some plans to take full advantage of the opportunity.  It likely will not come again.

Here is how it worked for me recently.  The Book Launch for my new book was a great success, and Legal Bisnow made it the lead article later in the week.  What a boon for Best Friends at the Bar!  I had been waiting for that for years.  Here is a copy of the article, and I am sure you would agree.

But, I had plans for the weeks following the Book Launch.  I was tired from planning and producing the event, and my desk looked like a bomb had exploded in my office.  I needed time to regroup and catch up. I could almost feel the simple joy of the slowly-sipped cafe lattes and a few long walks among the beautiful fall foliage that I had planned.

That is not what happened.  I had been given an opportunity, and I needed to maximize on it.  That article was a great promotional tool for Best Friends at the Bar, and copies needed to be sent out through my networks.  That meant hours of research and personal e-mails to hundreds of contacts.  Not group e-mails.  Personal e-mails that are what personal contacts expect to receive.

Similar opportunities will come your way many times in your career.  Just when you are looking forward to a night before the TV, someone will walk into your office with an invitation to attend a networking event or a client dinner.  It does not fit into your plans, but it has the potential for experiences that could enhance your career.  You know that the invitation is coming at the last minute — which usually means that someone else is a no show — and that annoys you a little.  You were not the first choice.

Or, you just got off the plane from a business trip.  You are tired and need to rewind.  The last thing you want is to get on a plane again right then.  But, someone will walk into your office — or call you on your cell phone — and ask you to fly to Timbuktu to meet with a new client.  Ugh!  I can feel your pain.

You need to take advantage of these opportunities.  You are young and resilient, and although things do not always work out the way you had planned, you can handle the change of plans and the inconvenience.  And, you can handle it without letting others know that it is an inconvenience to you.  You can be a team player, and it will be noticed.

So, Carpe Diem!  Just do it.  It will be good for your career, and it will be good for your personal future.  It will get you ready for motherhood — and the time when you will need real flexibility!

As for me, the post-event marketing is done, and I have had my share of cafe lattes.  The sun is still shining, and the fall colors are brilliant.  Life goes on, and I did not miss the opportunity.  It feels good!

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Celebrate a Veteran Today

Today is Veterans Day and an opportunity for you to say Thank You to someone who sacrificed for our country.  There are plenty of them in your midst.  Most law firms, government legal offices, and other law employers include senior lawyers who served our country both at home and abroad as part of the military.  They need to be thanked.

In some cases, those people put their lives at risk.  In other cases, the inconvenience of being away from loved ones and families on long deployments is something that you would not want in your life.  That sacrifice needs to be respected and acknowledged.

There also are plenty of young veterans among you.  Take out a moment to recognize them — whether you supported the conflict or not.  That doesn’t matter.  There is plenty of time to debate the merits of those involvements abroad, but today is not that day.  Today is the day to say Thank You.

Don’t miss the opportunity.  So little effort and so much reward — not just for them but for you.  God Bless America and God Bless Our Veterans.

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Women Lawyers Look Back

Ms. JD has asked me to look back on my career and what I wish I would have known ten years ago.  What better way to do that than on this blog.  I always welcome the opportunity to participate with Ms. JD, including sharing my blogs for the Ms. JD website, and I was delighted to be the recipient of the Ms. JD “Sharing Her Passion” award last year.  It is a great organization for both young and more seasoned women lawyers.

If I look back ten years, I wish that I would have known how gratifying it would be to use a project like Best Friends at the Bar to spread career advice to young women lawyers like you.  Although I had a great passion for the project when I started it in 2007, only now am I able to gauge the incredible effect it has had on young women lawyers, especially, which was evident at the Book Launch for my third book recently.  More than 100 guests attended to celebrate women lawyers and the new book that is focused on the responsibility of law firm leaders to lead effectively and to retain and advance women lawyers.  That would not have happened ten years ago.

But, for me really to accomplish what Ms. JD has asked, I have to look back a lot further than ten years.  After all, I have been at this woman-lawyer thing for more than thirty years.  Any wisdom that I have learned is included between the covers of the books in the Best Friends at the Bar book series, and I recommend you read those books to put my “what I wish I had known” list into a larger and even more meaningful context.

Here’s what I wish I had known when I joined my first law firm in 1979 and when it soon became 24 litigators — 23 men and me!

  • That a career is a long time.  It is made up of phases, and you have to take the long view.  What is right at one moment in your career may not be right or doable at another.  Remain flexible;
  • That you need to have a Personal Definition of Success.  Not someone else’s definition, especially not a male lawyer’s.  Your situation and circumstances are unique, and you have to fashion your own definition of success within the context of those circumstances and your own unique situation;
  • That gender discrimination is never a good thing.  It is wrong.  However, sometimes the things that are said to you and done to you are not intended to harm you.  There is intentional bias, and then there is unconscious bias.  Learn to recognize the difference.  Although unconscious bias also has the potential to harm you, it should be dealt with differently than intentional discrimination.  Education can be an effective tool against unconscious bias, and you need to become part of the education process.  Remember this:  Be a discriminating listener but do not listen for discrimination;
  • That you need to be the best lawyer you can be from Day One of your practice.  In addition to being a highly competent young lawyer, who is skilled in research and writing, advocacy and logical thinking, you need to be professional in every way and not comprise your principles.  Conduct yourself as a professional.  Dress as a professional.  Speak as a professional.  If you are being marginalized, deal with it in a professional manner.  Tears and tandrums rarely win the argument, and they almost always shut down communication channels;
  • That the most important skill for advancement in the legal profession is a combination of networking and client development.  You will demonstrate your value to your firm in a very visible way if you take advantage of networking opportunities to “sell” your law firm and your practice, and the rewards are huge when you bring new clients to the firm.  Nothing else will distinguish you more among your peers, including billing 200 more hours than anyone else.  Creating value for your firm and for yourself, to trade on in the future, should be your goal;
  • That women lawyers bring different values to the workplace, and those values are what define us as people.  We should not have to relinquish those values to be good lawyers.  In fact, I would argue that those values make us better and more compassionate lawyers; and
  • That being both a mother and a lawyer is an unbeatable combination.  It is the best job in the world, but it also is very challenging.  Keep the faith.  You can make it work — with a little help from your Best Friends at the Bar!  That includes both male and female lawyers and effective law firm leadership.  Read my new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2015) so that you know what you have a right to expect from law firm leaders.  Then share the book with some of those leaders so that they can aspire to being the best leaders that they can be.

Of course, the list goes on, but that gives you some idea of what I would like all of you to know much earlier in your careers than I learned it.  I had no female role models when I started practice.  It is a privilege to participate in your careers in this way, and I highly recommend it to others.  We all will rise together, on the same seas and in the same boat.

Good luck to all of you!  You have made a fine choice of career, now safeguard that career and make it work for you.

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Thought For The Day

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

T.S. Eliot

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