New Approaches to the Practice of Law

At about the same time that my recent article addressing needed changes in law firm cultures was being published by Corporate Counsel, the Women in Law Hackathon was being held at Stanford Law to address better compensation models for law firms.  Some of my friends were involved in the Hackathon, and, indeed, it is the brainchild of Caren Ulrich Stacey, the founder of the OnRamp Fellowship.  It seems that we all are wondering how to improve what have come to be toxic law firms cultures and create better-functioning and more diverse BigLaw atmospheres, beginning with new compensation models.  Read all about the innovative team competition at the Stanford Law Women in Law Hackathon  and the winning ideas at this link.   I was very pleased to see that the $10K winning prize was donated to Ms. JD, a group very near and dear to my heart.

One thing is for sure:  Change is necessary.  While the age-old “bill by the hour” is the standard fare, there will not be much room for schedule flexibility and other programs that promote diversity.  While the way that we evaluate the quality and success of law firms is PPP (profits per partner), there will be very little way to escape the increasing emphasis on profits and the lack of emphasis on quality of life and the high cost of chasing profits in our profession.  Here is how I explain it in my article in Corporate Counsel:

“The truth is that we don’t do the profession of law very well in America. We ignore the lifestyles and well-being of practitioners. The law firm culture encourages workaholic behaviors that lead to stress-related illnesses and dependencies, as confirmed by research demonstrating that lawyers suffer from alcoholism and illegal drug use at rates far higher than non-lawyers. Divorce rates among lawyers, especially women, also appear to be higher than divorce rates among other professionals. Although lawyers represent some of the best-paid professionals, they are disproportionately unhappy and unhealthy. (“Why Are Lawyers So Unhappy,”, December 5, 2011.) The result is a profession full of burnouts and resentment.

In an August 11, 2010 article on work-life balance in the ABA Journal online titled “Why Lawyers Should Work No More than 40 Hours a Week,” Debra Cassens Weiss addressed these issues straight on. Her findings supported a need for a change in culture to benefit the professionals and the profession.

According to Cassens Weiss, lawyers can be more productive and creative if they put down their Blackberries and iPhones and concentrate on their personal lives at least part of the time. She cites expert findings that multitasking causes distraction, and that Blackberry/iPhone addicts lose focus and concentration.

Cassens Weiss gives us a lot to think about. To date, however, articles like hers and the underlying studies have not resulted in significant positive change in our profession. The alarmingly low retention and advancement rates for women lawyers are directly related to the traditional culture and practices of law firms, and those statistics have not changed in a decade. This is serious, and we need to do something about it. Finally.

We need to abandon our myriad excuses for why we cannot change this destructive pattern and practice. If we are going to improve the retention and advancement figures for women lawyers, we need to address the underlying problems affecting all lawyers, and hope that the process benefits them all. We need to start with a fundamental analysis of “happiness” and healthy living in both our professional and personal lives, and combine it with workplace practices and policies that we support and dignify. …

The only thing standing between the current workaholic culture of law firms and this brighter future for lawyers is greed. It was the greed of Wall Street that brought on the Great Recession in 2008, and that experience should serve as a harbinger to law firm leadership. Greed and pursuit of high profits at the expense of the well-being of lawyers and their families will lead to no good.

Surely, we can do better than that.”

Think about it.  Talk about it.  Make it part of the conversation that all lawyers should be having to safeguard their professional futures.  It is that important.


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Thought For The Day

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

Rosa Parks

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Why (Women) Lawyers Leave Law Firms

In a word, it is “culture.”  The culture of law firms is not very compatible with what many  lawyers want and need in their professional lives.  According to a recent article, many lawyers emphasize the need for things like flexibility, less emphasis on time billed and more emphasis on project success, more feedback and recognition of value to the organization, and less toxicity in the workplace.  Surprisingly, according to this article in Law Practice Today on line, both money and promotions are secondary to the time and culture issues.

This article was based on survey information from both males and females.  The emphasis was on retention of talent in law firms, and all of the lawyers surveyed had left at least one legal employer.  Although the participating lawyers all found fault with the way that law firms function, they were not without hope that things could turn around with the appropriate amount of attention to the problems that are plaguing law firms and driving young lawyers away.

Intense time demands led the list of critical flaws.  That comes as no surprise, and law firms have responded with part-time and flexible time policies.  However, those flexible programs will have to come without the stigmas that have accompanied them in the past and labeled lawyers who take advantage of the programs as “lacking the commitment necessary for upward mobility.”  Only time will tell how that gets resolved.

The most interesting part of the article for me was the discussion of the toxic nature of law firm culture.  I have just written an article, which will be published soon in Corporate Counsel on line, that digs deep into that issue, and it is a great concern to many of us who have experienced such toxic environments.

The toxic nature of law firms is disturbing.  I believe that it is founded in unhealthy attitudes of turf wars and fee credits that do not lend themselves to the kind of team efforts and mentoring that women gravitate to and that Millennials, both men and women, seem to prefer.  At the bottom of most of those kinds of negative behaviors is greed.  We need to address that head on.  Multi-million dollar partner salaries at the top of law firms drives the need for huge profits, which, in turn, drives the need for huge billable hour requirements.  Quality of life suffers. 

Gender issues also create toxic environments, and we have to take a close look at those issues and how to eliminate negative gender attitudes from our workplaces.  Implicit bias is a very big problem, and most law firm leaders cannot even define it.  The need for education is great, and law firms need to be reaching out to experts to help them identify and eliminate those behaviors.

The article concludes, and I agree, that law firms will continue to lose talent until they dedicate adequate resources to these problems and solve them.   And, law firms not only will lose talent, but they will lose it to the competition.  Although many women, especially, left law firms in the past to return home and care for families, that is no longer the case.  Today, attorneys are not opting out to care for their children full-time, and they are gravitating toward the New Law practice models which provide lawyers with opportunities to do legal work from their homes and in more flexible practices.  That is the competition, and it is a growing trend.  Law firms have a reason to worry.

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Thought For The Day

“If you’re doing your best, you won’t have any time to worry about failure.”

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Thought For The Day

“Don’t count the days.  Make the days count.”

Muhammad Ali

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Are Women Lawyers Held to Higher Ethical Standards Than Their Male Colleagues?

I love listening to NPR while I am driving in my car.  Fortunately, or unfortunately as it may be, I live in the Washington, DC area where traffic is worse than most places in the country.  As a result, I spend a lot of time in my car in traffic.  The silver lining is that it gives me a lot of time with NPR.

Recently, while listening to All Things Considered, I heard about a study examining unconscious and subtle biases within the context of whether men or women are more ethical at work.  In examining which group, men or women, receives harsher punishment  for ethical violations on the job, the study concluded that women receive harsher punishments.  The reason why will surprise you.

The study did not conclude that women are less ethical than men.  No, in fact, the study showed that, because people expect women to be more ethical than men, an ethical infraction by a woman is met with greater punishment than the same infraction by a man.

In other words, people react harshly when they are disappointed to find that a woman has acted in exactly the same manner as a man, who they consider to be unethical.  The woman gets punished to a greater degree.  So, the double standard strikes again with particularly harmful results.

You are probably wondering whether this disparity could possibly apply to the legal profession.  Yes, indeed.  Read the dialogue from the radio show to learn about the experience of Mary-Hunter McDonnell, an organizational sociologist at Wharton School, when she was a law student.  Her ethics professor used the example of a shameless attorney in his lecture to highlight unethical behavior.  When he disclosed that the attorney in question was female, an “audible gasp” went through the lecture hall.  The students had associated the unethical behavior with a man, and they were expressing disbelief that a woman had acted in such an unethical manner.

The effects of this stereotype stuck with Ms. Hunter McDonnell.  Years later, in cooperation with colleagues at two other leading universities, the research team turned their attention back to the profession of law and analyzed disciplinary punishments meted out by the ABA.  Their findings confirmed that the positive stereotype that women are more ethical than men ends up having negative effects for the women. Women lawyers had a 35 percent chance of being disbarred for an identical infraction that resulted only in a 17 percent chance of disbarment for male lawyers.

The bottom line is that having a reputation for ethical behavior can get a woman lawyer disbarment at a higher percentage rate than her male counterparts.  Certainly a Catch 22 you want to understand. 

A high pedestal for ethical behavior has been created for women lawyers, and falling off can do some real harm.  Don’t compromise your ethics, but be aware what you are up against.




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Thought For The Day

“The secret to living well and long is: Eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure…”

Tibetan proverb

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ACI Conference for Women Lawyers in the Life Science Practice Space

I am so pleased to be a part of a conference that will convene in Boston on July 28 and 29, 2016 to address the issues of leadership and advancement for women lawyers in life science law.  I will be moderating a panel titled “Tales from the Top on Effective Leadership:  Concrete Tips for Influencing and Motivating Others in the Life Sciences Legal Space.”  My fellow panelists are leading in-house C-Suite and General Counsel Office lawyers from major life sciences corporations, and we also are joined by a partner and head of life sciences litigation at a top tier international law firm.  It is a power-packed panel, and we are expecting between 150 and 200 lawyers in the audience to take advantage of what these sage practitioners have to say about leadership for women lawyers and advancing them within law firms and law organizations.

Here is a link to the conference.  This would be an excellent opportunity for women lawyers who are interested in this practice to network and get the best advice possible about planning their professional  futures and achieving their practice goals.

Now, I have to admit that, when I got the call from the conference organizer asking me to participate in the program, I was a bit stymied by the title.  “Life Sciences Legal Space.”  Hmmmmm?  But that is only because it is new lingo for an old concept.  The life sciences sector combines a diverse range of legal practice areas, including specialties in patent and product liability litigation and commercial, corporate, and regulatory work anchored in pharmaceutical and medical device client representation.   This is a big industry, and there is a lot of opportunity for lawyers in these fields.  Our goal at the conference, of course, is to make the greatest of those opportunities available to women lawyers.

As you may know, my background does not fit those practice areas.  My role at this conference is in leading the discussion about advancement and leadership for women lawyers.  That is a space I am very comfortable in.  My new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business/Aspen Publishers, 2015) makes a very strong case for why law firms should care about effective leadership and advancement of women lawyers.  It is not practice area specific and applies to leadership and advancement for all women lawyers.

Please join us in Boston on July 28 and 29 to hear this great panel and the other speakers and participants in what promises to be a very informative conference and excellent professional growth experience.  Check out the agenda in the link above.  There is something for just about everyone here.

I hope to see you there!



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