“When they go low, we go high.”
“When they go low, we go high.”
“Practice the discipline of gratitude.”
Henri Houwen, Dutch Theologian
Recently I wrote an article for Corporate Counsel magazine and its on-line blog which addressed, among several topics, the toxic cultures of law firms. Here is some of what I said there:
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 nonlawyers. 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. The result is a profession of burnouts and resentment.
Pretty serious stuff, I am sure you would agree. Now, in the aftermath of that article, comes some newly discovered research demonstrating that these dependencies and related mental health issues are getting their start among law students. Even more serious, if you ask me.
In a recent article on Law.com, the author addressed a first-ever national study of drinking, drug use, depression and anxiety in the legal profession that was published earlier this year in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. As described in that study, the health and well-being among lawyers is “grossly wanting.” Specifically, “younger attorneys in the first ten years of practice are experiencing the highest levels of problem drinking and mental health distress.” According to the data, the early stages of a legal career strongly correlates to a high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
Another study cited in the Law.com article, the 2014 Law Student Well-Being Survey, made the connection between well-being problems law students exhibit and their future well-being problems as lawyers. The article concludes that the two studies taken together suggest that “the front end of the legal profession is running on some very wobbly wheels.”
The question then becomes: What are law schools doing about this? Not much it seems. The article poses the following question: “[W]ould a one-credit course or seminar about these issues during the first year of law school be too much to ask?” and concludes with this summary: “Given the far-reaching implications of the substance use and mental health problems of lawyers — on the public and the future of the profession itself — the time is long overdue that we make substance use and mental health a similar priority.”
Hear, hear. We call it risk management when we discuss similar issues with our clients. How about taking care of ourselves.?
As women lawyers, you know the drill, and so do the women of the White House. Female White House staffers and women lawyers (who often also are White House staffers) have a lot in common when it comes to grueling hours, hyper-aggressive colleagues, and lack of access to the boss —- which all can have an adverse impact on the retention and advancement of women in the workplace. It is very challenging, but the women at the White House have discovered an effective approach that you need to know about.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, the subject of women supporting women was front and center. In this case, the focus was on “crashing the code of power” and the strategy of “amplification,” which was developed by women in the White House based on their desire to be included in the conversations and taken seriously at high level briefings. Too often they were left out of the discussions or their comments were marginalized. So, they developed an effective way of dealing with an unsatisfactory situation. “When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”
Thus, the strategy of amplification was born. The result, as described in the article, was that President Obama noticed, and he began calling more often on women staffers and junior aides. Key to that result was a conversation that some senior female aides had with the President in 2009. They wanted greater access to key policy discussions, and they also wanted male superiors to stop blocking them in their attempts.
They got it — and more. The number of women in advisory positions at the White House has increased, and there also has been some improvement on the work-life front. Valerie Jarrett, White House senior advisor, says that, “Critical mass makes a difference” on the gender issues.
Read the article for more details and recent changes at the White House that have improved conditions for working mothers. There is still not pay parity between men and women at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but some of that may be dependent on past experience — when men had so much more access to seats of power, resulting in a distinct advantage over time.
Access to power and work-life issues are critically important to upward mobility for women. The solutions to the pervasive inequities begin with having your concerns and your voices heard. Always remember that it is not enough just to be “in the room” with power. You have to speak up and have your ideas and your comments heard.
Practice the fine art of amplification like women of the White House. Follow their lead on being relevant and fighting for it.