Thought For The Day

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Pablo Picasso

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Thought For The Day

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

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Thought For The Day

Snow, snow, go away.  Come again some other day!

I live in the DC area.  Get the drift?????

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Women Law Firm Equity Partners Lag Behind

Women equity partners in law firms lag behind female representation at the top of other industries.  According to Harvard Business Review, as recently reported in Above The Law, women are underrepresented in most senior-level leadership positions, and, specifically, women make up “less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, less than 15% of executive officers at those companies, less than 20% of full professors in the natural sciences, and only 6% of partners in venture capital firms.”

The American Lawyer also has chimed in and reports the following figures, among others, for women in leadership positions in a variety of industries:

  • Nonprofit CEOS:  45%
  • Fortune 500 general counsel:  22.6%
  • Fortune 10 company executive officers:  19.8%
  • CPA partners:  17%
  • Law firm equity partners:  16.8%
  • Investment bank executives:  11%
  • Venture capital partners:  6%.

Note well:  The percentage of women equity partners in law firms got edged out by women CPA partners — yes, the green eyeshade people.  Edged out, not by much, but still, edged out.  Come on.  That hurts.

What has led to this result?  Here are a few of the reasons offered in the ATL article:

  • Affinity Bias:  That phenomenon where partners at the top of law firms give work to people like themselves (read that as male partners preferring to give work to male lawyers); and
  • The Halo Effect:  Expectations that attribute success by male lawyers to competence and success by female lawyera to luck — which negatively affects promotion of women to senior positions.

There may be other causes. For instance, I believe that women underestimate their competencies and do not compete for leadership positions effectively.  That is hinted at in the ATL article, but I think it plays a larger role.  I also think that women lawyers fail to take the long view and to keep themselves “in the game” until the time when they can compete with gusto — that time after family members are less dependent on them for caretaking.  Women leave or check out of the leadership pipeline too early to eventually become effective leaders and managers.

Tell me what you think.  We may not be able to agree on the specific causes, but we can agree on one thing:  The statistics cited above are not acceptable.  They are unfair, and they need to be remedied. 

Start to think of yourself as part of the solution and not part of the problem.  It will take all of you to solve the problem and positively affect the retention and advancement of women lawyers.

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Thought For The Day

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.

Yiddish Proverb

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Poor Treatment for Women Lawyers?

I started practicing law in the late 1970’s.  Yes, that long ago.  My books are full of anecdotes about the poor treatment of women lawyers in those days by senior lawyers in law firms (almost all men) and judges, as well.  Clients didn’t treat us so well either.

I believe that we have come a long time since those days when some of the lawyers in my firm thought that I should use the professional name “S. Smith Blakely” because it could just as easily be associated with a male attorney.  FYI, I did not do that, but I knew it would not have bothered them if I had.

I also remember the outrageous comments by male lawyers and judges that were clearly gender slurs, but that was long before there was any legal protection for gender bias and workplace discrimination, all of which came nearly a decade later.  Judges calling me “little girl” and telling me to act like a man in the courtroom would not happen on a regular basis today, and I do not hear those kinds of stories reported by the hundreds, if not thousands, of women lawyers I interact with every year.  If I was hearing it, you would be hearing it from me.

Now, Above the Law is dredging up some of those memories in a blog called “The Pink Ghetto.”  Apparently it was so popular as a one-time blog that the editors decided to elevate it to feature status.  The behaviors reported are pretty outrageous, and it shocks even me that this continues today.

But, I guess that is the point.  Does it?  Are these anecdotes true, or is this an opportunity for ATL readers to have some fun with exaggeration and creative writing.  After all, the submissions are anonymous.  I guess you could write anything with impunity.  Right?  I also wonder if these are current experiences.  If they are not, that needs to be clear.  Women have enough problems in our profession without throwing suspect fuel on the fire.

What do you think?  Decide for yourself:

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What’s New on the Part-Time Horizon?

Here’s what’s new — a great interview by Bloomberg News of Susie Lees, GC of Allstate Insurance.  She nails the subject of part-time work for women lawyers, who need workplace flexibility for childcare and family reasons.  She has been there and done that.  She did it when it was a concept that was very hard to sell, much harder than it is today when it is not unusual for companies and law firms alike to have part-time lawyers within their ranks.

I particularly like this quote from Susie Lees about her conversations way back when with employers about part-time work — all of which is still true today. “At the time, I thought, ‘Well, what the heck.  I’m not going to ask for more money.  I’m not asking to be paid as a full-time lawyer. … You pay me based on what I do, and we all win, so what’s the big deal?'”

Isn’t that the point?  And how about this quote from Lees?  “What’s wrong with working part time?  If you’re a good lawyer and you’re good at client service, you can do that 20 hours a week.”

Lees has been at Allstate for almost 30 years and has risen to the General Counsel position.  Yes, she is in charge of 70 Allstate offices around the country.  What is the key to her success?  Clearly she is talented, but she also stayed in.  Here is how she explains it:

“[F]or those folks — whether it’s women or minorities or men — who drop out for whatever reason to raise their families, how do they get back in?  I don’t think they can. I think when you drop out, you’re out. There’s not an easy way to get back in. I would be very interested in the numbers of women who have dropped out, because the big firm lifestyle didn’t fit with their family needs — would they go back if given the chance? If someone took the time to retrain them, and offered them an opportunity, would they go back?

And, perhaps that has made the difference for Susie Lees.  She did not try to work part-time in law firms.  She has spent her remarkable career in the corporate world. 

My experience was different.  I graduated from law school more than ten years earlier than Susie Lees, and I took the law firm route.  Eventually, after my children came along, I tried to work part-time in that setting.  Although I sold the concept to law firms as early as 1984, part-time law firm practice was not a satisfying experience.  It was too soon, and law firms were not ready for it.  Eventually I ended up in public service to stem the tide of my children’s early years, and later I returned to law firm practice.  However, I saw resistance to the part-time concept even then, and I think it continues to be a hard sell, especially in the current employment market.  Not impossible, but hard.  You have to be smart about the way you play your cards to make part-time work in a law firm.

Another thing I loved about the Susie Lees interview was how her proven loyalty to her employer was so obviously derived from the company’s willingness to give her a chance with an untested concept.  It is a continuing theme of Best Friends at the Bar that employers should not underestimate the loyalty of women who are treated fairly.  It pays off in spades.

So, sit back and enjoy reading the interview.  It also touches on other subjects about how to improve law practice that Susie Lees knows well from her GC perch.  Be happy that Ms. Lees is a board member at the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL).  She has so much value and experience to share.

Here, again, is the link:

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Is It All Bad News For Women Lawyers?

Have you seen the results of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) most recent Annual Survey on the progress of women lawyers?  At first blush, it’s pretty discouraging — as it has been for the previous eight years. I am especially disappointed with the reporting on the gender compensation pay gap.  Equal work should mean equal pay.  These figures appear to be affected by a lot of gender bias and failure to recognize that men and women approach work differently.  It should not all be about billable hours.  Regrettable to be sure.

However, I recommend that you keep an open mind when you read the results of the survey.  Ask yourself whether this report is measuring progress for women lawyers with a yardstick that matters to you.  There is a difference between measuring how many women advance to partnership and management positions in law firms and measuring how many women lawyers stay in the profession and have satisfying careers.

For many of you, who are not able to push forward to partnership without interruptions from family and caretaking responsibilities, the important thing is that success is not a series of snapshots at predetermined career markers.  Success is a spectrum of moments and years of keeping a career alive and finding a balance that works for you.

So, here are the highlights from NAWL’s Ninth Annual Survey, as recently reported by Above the Law:

  1. Men continue to be promoted to non-equity partner status in significantly higher numbers than women. Among the non-equity partners who graduated from law school in 2004 and later, 38% were women and 62% were men.
  2. The compensation gender gap remains wide. The typical female equity partner earns 80% of what a typical male equity partner earns, down from 84% in the first survey. Thus, the gap reported a decade ago has gotten wider.
  3. Women continue to be under-represented on the highest governance committees. The typical firm has 2 women and 8 men on their highest U.S.-based governance committee around 20% women.
  4. Women are under-represented on compensation committees. Yet, law firms that report more women on their compensation committees have narrower gender-pay gaps.
  5. The typical female equity partner bills only 78% of what a typical male equity partner bills. However, the total hours for the typical female equity partner exceeded the total hours for the typical male equity partner.
  6. Lawyers of color represent only 8% of the law firm equity partners. In other words, 92% of biglaw partners are white.
  7. Women have not made “appreciable progress” since 2006 in either attaining equity partnership or increasing their pay to be on par with their male colleagues once they grasp the brass ring. As Bloomberg highlights in NAWL’s report: “Women represent 18 percent of equity partners, an increase of two percent since 2006.”

For more perspective on this subject, see this article in The American Lawyer://

Let’s hope that “10” will be the lucky number for this survey.  Wouldn’t that be nice for women lawyers?

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