“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”
I first met Lori Mihalich-Levin soon after her first baby was born and when she was in the overwhelmed-by-baby-and-the-thought-of-returning-to-work stage. Our lunches were enjoyable but a bit somber. She was struggling, and I wanted to help her.
Lori and I had been connected by a mutual friend at Georgetown Law. Although there were many years between my years at the law school and Lori’s, we had a lot in common. Returning to law practice after not just one, but two, babies had been difficult for me, and now that was happening to Lori. It is hard to know what to say because law practice has its own set of rules. Nothing is easy there — especially for women.
In time, Lori figured it all out, as I knew she would. Lori’s overwhelmed stage morphed into the wisdom-and-I-can-do-anything stage, as with so many women who experience it. But, Lori did not stop there. She wrote down her thoughts and developed programs to pass on to others the benefit of all she had painstakingly learned. Lori is the exception. First she started a “Mindful Return” program, and then she wrote a book. In her spare time, of course!
You can read all about Lori, her book and her projects in this article in the Washington Post. It captures all of the profiles of the book, which is made richer by myriad contributions from experts in the many fields that combine to capture a daunting experience. Honestly, nothing in my life prepared me for the first time I had to drive away from my baby — not to the grocery store, not to the post office, and certainly not to the law office. It is in a league of its own for creating doubt and fear and longing.
But, that “baby” of mine is now a woman lawyer, too. Children survive and thrive, and so do Mommy Lawyers. But, it never hurts to have a little help from a friend.
Lori is that friend. Get the book!
John R. Wooden
The subject of the low retention rates for women lawyers, as published recently on Law.com, was addressed in last week’s blog. What? You did not read the last blog? Shame, shame. I write them so that you will read them and have a “leg up” in making career decisions. Fortunately, former blogs are so easy to find on my web site. But to help you out, here is the link to that blog. I understand how busy you are.
The solutions offered by the Law.com article focus on the needs to run law firms more like traditional businesses to eliminate some of the administrative tasks for junior lawyers, the use of fixed fee billing arrangements to increase the exposure that junior lawyers will have to higher value projects, an increased use of technology, and clear paths to partnership and metrics-based evaluations systems in making partnership decisions.
Those are all good thoughts, and some of them might work. However, I like to focus more directly on the causes for the high attrition in finding solutions to improve associate retention, which, of course, includes retention of women lawyers.
One way or another, law firms are going to have to address these issues. I have been focusing on most of these issues for a decade now through the Best Friends at the Bar project, and, admittedly, the solutions are not easy. However, that is no reason not to put our shoulders to the wheel and find effective and lasting solutions. The future of the profession depends on it.
Why do women lawyers leave?
I have been pondering, speaking about and writing about this issue for a decade. It is fundamental that, before we can try to fix our profession with solutions like lateral hiring, mergers and expanding into new markets, we must delve deep into the roots of the attrition problems.
For years it was hard to get law firm management to talk about the high rates of attrition for women lawyers. For many of those years, new law graduates were plentiful, and it was a buyers’ market. That all changed with the Great Recession and the fall off in the number of students in law schools. Now, there is a talent war for the best of the young lawyers, and it has shifted the focus more toward retention. That is a good thing, but the reasons for the high attrition rates — for both male and female lawyers — are still not well understood.
So, I was very pleased to read “Top 3 Reasons for Associate Attrition and 3 Ways to Combat It” on Law.com recently. The new statistics cited in that article and the assertion that the most expensive and surprising problem facing law firms today is not client retention or salaries but associate attrition is validation of so many of the programs that I have presented over the years to law firms and bar associations. And, make no mistake, this “problem” is all about women lawyers — because women are at the tops of their law school graduation classes and often represent the best of the associate talent in the profession. Losing that kind of talent can hurt a lot.
According to a report by Overflow Legal Network relied on in the article:
Yes, you read that right. $25 million. That is an amazing and grim statistic, and it should grab the attention of every law firm manager. These new statistics are consistent with a NALP survey that I have relied on for years, which found that 76 percent of women lawyers leave Big Law in the first five years, but that survey was about women associates and was explained by work-life issues associated with starting families. However, this new statistic is not limited to women lawyers and it is not limited to Big Law. Without those qualifiers, it is shocking and needs to be taken very seriously.
The causes for this high rate of attrition, as cited in the article, are:
So, you say, what are the solutions? You will have to stay tuned for next week’s blog to find out!