Working from Home: Some Great News for Women Lawyers

Working from home — what a life-saving concept.  Telecommuting has become popular in many industries since the advent of technology that makes presence in the office less necessary and the high costs of brick and mortar offices less desirable.   The cost of physical space for offices has become prohibitive in large cities in the US, and reducing the need for all of that physical space is very appealing to business managers. 

We all know people who telecommute, and most of them are happy to have the option of working at home as an alternative to getting in a car to fight the morning and afternoon rush traffic every day.  This kind of flexibility is especially appealing to women lawyers, who often have to work around children’s school schedules and other family issues.  It is a part of the total flexibility picture for them, which also consists of flex time, generous parental leave and reduced hours.  However, until recently, there has not been much movement on the issues of flexibility in the law profession.

Tradition is often the mantra in law firms, and working from home is hardly traditional.  However, as pointed out in a recent article, big law firms were starting to experiment more with flexible schedules prior to the economic downturn in 2008.   However, according to Joan Williams of UC Hastings College of Law and director of the Center for WorkLife Law there, once the recession hit employers no longer felt the pressure to offer flexibility.  Presumably, law firm managers had more pressing matters on their minds like trying to keep the doors open for business.

So, last week’s announcement by Morgan Lewis of a new policy allowing associates with at least two years experience at the firm to work from home up to two days a week was huge.  The concept, which was tested out in the firm’s LA office, turned out to be well received by everyone.  The concerns that working from home would negatively affect availability to clients and productivity were not experienced and opposite results were demonstrated.

Morgan Lewis is not the only firm that has been experimenting with flexibility for its attorneys in recent years.  Examples of modified parental leave policies, alternative work schedules and job sharing by other big law firms are also cited in the article.  Although the approaches at law firms differ, one thing seems to be consistent — the realization that the law labor market is tightening and law firms need to be competitive to attract the best talent.  In the case of Morgan Lewis, the work from home program comes with a full hardware set up in attorneys’ home offices, including dual monitors, docking stations and headsets.  It is expensive for the law firm, but, as noted by one partner, “We’re trying to put our money where our mouth is.”  Another senior lawyer described the program as “a reflection of the trust between the associates and the firm.”

Bravo for these forward-thinking law firms!  I hope examples of this kind of flexibility and recognition of “the trust factor” in retaining talent will start popping up all across the industry.

If your firm does not have a program like this, maybe it should.  And maybe you are the one to make the case for it.  Time spent in traffic five days a week is not time well spent.

Speaking of time, it is about time that law firm managers and leaders start understanding that improving the cultures of law firms benefits everyone.  Morgan Lewis is demonstrating that in a big way.

 

 

 

 

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Thought For The Day

“Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes.”

Benjamin Franklin

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Thought For The Day

“Enjoy all you have while pursuing all you want.”

Jim Rohn

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Happy International Women’s Day!

March 8 is International Women’s Day — a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

Celebrate!

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Thought For The Day

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

John R. Wooden

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Thought For The Day

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

Victor Borge

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Why Should Women Lawyers Have to ASK?

Two things converged for me in the last week, as they rarely do.  For starters, I have been writing a speech on women lawyers as effective negotiators for a conference of health care lawyers later this month.  In that speech, which focuses on the fact that women lawyers can be very effective negotiators on behalf of others but are not so effective in negotiations for themselves, I discuss some of the profound reasons for this disparity, which are cemented in cultural, societal and gender-based learned behaviors.  I have developed this particular presentation as part of the Best Friends at the Bar Multi-Session Program to supplement law firm Women’s Initiatives, and I am looking forward to having that conversation with the women health care lawyers of the American Health Lawyers Association in Baltimore on March 31st.

One of the things that I will address in that presentation is making “the ask” — as in asking for an increase in salary, asking for a promotion, and asking for a much coveted assignment to a trial team.  How to make the ask, and the differences between the way that men and women typically ask for what they want is a fascinating discussion.

So, when I went to the Georgetown Law Women’s Forum that same week, I was very interested in the remarks by Barbara Kurmsiek, CEO and Chair of Calvert Investments, who also is affiliated with the Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Institute. She has been recognized as a member of the 2013 Washington Business Journal Power 100 and as one of the most powerful women in DC by Washingtonian magazine.  You now understand why she was worth listening to.

Of particular interest was Barbara Kurmsiek’s assertion that WOMEN SHOULD NOT HAVE TO ASK any more than men should — but they do.  The facts show that women are not as easily recognized as talented and worthy of recognition, and the result is that they have to ask for things that come naturally to men.  Her comment that leaders and managers should not be afraid to elevate women and that the worst possible result would be “as many average to incompetent women leaders of organizations as there currently are male leaders of that same description” really got my attention. Think about it.

I agree with Ms. Kurmsiek that women should not have to ask, but I also know that they do have to ask and that they will continue to have to ask.  So, be sure you ask in a way that is most likely to get what you want.  Here are a few pointers on the right way for women lawyers to make “the ask”:

  • Be prepared, be calm and be in control of yourself;
  • Argue your “case” in the same way you would argue on behalf of your clients and your loved ones BUT without excess emotion;
  • Be YOURSELF. If aggressive is not your personality, don’t try to fake it;
  • Think of negotiating for yourself as negotiating for all the women behind you who also are deserving;
  • Don’t apologize for your requests and positions; and
  • Maintain a sense of humor.

We all know that negotiating for salary is considered “the BIG ask.”  So, here are some additional pointers on negotiating for a salary increase:

  • Take advantage of a “win” in timing salary negotiations;
  • Emphasize why you represent good value for your employer. Don’t be humble;
  • Be prepared with personal statistics about hours, production, committee service, pro bono representation, new client development efforts and results, and positive relationships with firm colleagues and clients;
  • Remember that being denied “a little” can become “a lot” over time; and
  • If you are not successful, have a back-up — another ask!

Good luck in perfecting THE ASK!  And think about attending the Georgetown Law Women’s Forum next year.  It is very much worthy of your time!

 

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Women Lawyers: Get the Raise You Want!

Last week I wrote about why women should not have to ask — for raises and other things they want in their professional lives — any more than men have to ask.   But, as we saw, the truth is that women do have to ask, and they need to know how to ask smartly and effectively.

For some of the best advice on this subject, I always look to Sallie Krawchek, one of the most accomplished women on and off Wall Street and one of the best mentors for women professionals.  She recently posted some salary negotiations advice on LinkedIn,  and you need to know it.  Here are some of the things Sallie Krawchek would tell you over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine — if any of us ever got that lucky:

  • Do not treat getting a raise as a once-a-year exercise.  She seems to be saying that too often women treat salary discussions as routine and yearly, and you do not prepare in advance like you would for a trial or any other negotiation.  Instead, you must talk to your bosses at various times during the year about whether you are on target, what success looks like for you, your team and your department, and what is most important to your boss in the coming months.  That could be gaining new clients, it could be winning the big case, or it could be getting meaner and leaner.  Whatever it is, you need to know and understand how you fit into that picture;
  • Do not go into salary discussions without knowing how much you SHOULD BE earning.  If you do not know that, you surely will not know what to ask for.  Although Sallie Krawchek cites some research sources, a quick look leads me to believe that you need something more tailored to the law profession.  So, take a look at this, and this to help you figure out what you can reasonably ask for and expect.   As pointed out by Ms. Krawchek, this kind of research beats information from your friends at other firms, which may or may not be reliable — and which may cost you a few drinks!
  • Don’t expect karma to deliver the raise — you have to ask.  In the words of Sallie Krawchek, ” I can’t tell you how often in my experience women (men, too….but really women) simply never asked for a raise. Newsflash: karma doesn’t care about you and likely won’t deliver you a raise. And not asking is a reason – not the reason, by any means, but a reason – that women continue to earn less than men.”  And last but certainly not least:
  • Don’t spend the raise.  Invest it — or a good portion of it — if you can.  Sallie Krawchek has a very solid investment background, and she points out that failing to invest as much as men historically has cost professional women hundreds of thousands – for some even millions – of dollars over the course of their lives and that having an investment portfolio outside the office also can give you greater confidence inside the office.

Excellent advice.  Now, do your part.  Put together a strategic plan for that raise you want and deserve, and do not blow it.  The key is to be prepared and to be smart. 

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

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