“Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands… They have rich husbands because they step back from work.”
For more than a decade I have been urging law firms to retain and advance the talent of women lawyers. The three-book Best Friends at the Bar series has been my effort to spread those messages, and most recently I have expanded my work to include cautionary messages about ignoring and losing the talent of all young lawyers — men and women alike — in What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).
Those books and the hundreds of blogs and articles I have written and speeches I have given include discussions of the many reasons why our institutions must change to become more inclusive of young people, starting with “the right thing to do” (which is almost always overlooked as a compelling reason) and ending with the sacrifice of future leadership (which should raise huge red flags). Simply speaking, even if equity and fairness do not win out as arguments for change, the future of the profession should be cause for concern. You would think that would get some attention, but you may have to think again.
I admit to getting discouraged every time I see yet another article on these subjects. The most recent one appeared in Financial Times earlier this week, and you can read it here. It is a good article on the problem of leaking law firm talent in the UK, and it echoes what is going on this side of “The Pond.” But … you have heard it all before.
The article includes arguments like:
The conclusion from what appears to be the continuing need for this article and so many like it is that current law firm leadership is tone deaf on the subjects. Current leadership is not willing to tackle law firm reform with the kinds of changes that address retention — like workplace values, work-life balance, and billable hour requirements — because doing that might impact client retention. In other words, current law firm leadership too often cares more about money and power than anything else. And there is no question what comes out on top when development of future law firm leaders is in competition with the high demands of clients. Someone has to pay those big salaries at the top. The careers of young lawyers and succession plans be damned. Current leadership won’t be around to care.
Thought For The Week: Be humble in your confidence yet courageous in your character.” Melanie Koulouris
The New York Times article that I discussed in last week’s blog is worthy of your attention. The examples used are of husband and wife lawyers, who are struggling to raise young children. The upshot is that one parent — typically the female — has to make sacrifices such as cutting back to part-time status, giving up promotion opportunities, and making far less in salary to make these situations work. This is the current reality despite the fact that American women of working age are the most educated than ever before.
The statistics are all there to make you feel really depressed — and they will have that effect. In the past, we have focused on causes like discrimination and lack of family-friendly policies in examining the effect on the careers of women lawyers, but this article cites evidence that we should not be looking at gender alone. The culprit, according to the author, has nothing to do with who has a Y chromosome.
The culprit is corporate greed. Greed that manifests in long, inflexible hours and winner-take-all attitudes that more often than not “flatline” the careers of one member of a couple — more often than not the women. Add to that the fact that working 50% more hours often results in 100% more salary. As the article points out, it is not a linear comparison, and the extra money is very important to a young family.
Although it is not just the law profession that is guilty of short-circuiting talent in this way, it becomes clear that the law profession is a leader in the shift from a reasonably-oriented service industry mentality to a culture of money, power and greed. The important question is not who is to blame but, rather, what can be done about it. As you will see in the article, the answer lies in worker demand and significant challenges to management. More predictable hours and flexibility in when and where the work gets done are good places to start.
But, the goal is not to create ways to allow women to work the same long, inflexible hours as men. As expressed by one on-line comment to the article, “No one should be doing this. A father working constantly is not a good father or partner. Or person, for that matter. Probably not healthy either. . . No wonder this country is a mess. We’re working ourselves to a literal and existential death.”
Hear, hear. It is a “systems problem” and, as I have written in What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, law employers have great incentive to change the workaholic cultures they have created. It is a total sea change that is called for not a temporary fix. And it needs to come as soon as possible before we lose more talent than our profession can afford.
Here is my favorite quote from the article:
There is a lot to think about there.