Why Young Lawyers Need Business Plans

As a young lawyer, a business plan may be the farthest thing from your mind.  Billing hours, making your numbers, trying not to look stupid to the partner and, well, just surviving in law practice in the early years are what occupy you.  I understand and remember.

But, don’t dismiss having a business plan as some other-worldly exercise that is not worthy of your time.  It is more than worthy.

I have been preaching — yes, preaching — to young women lawyers about the importance of career plans for over a decade, and business plans are the same thing.  All of you, male and female lawyers alike, need to have them.  It is pretty simple:  Where do you want your career to go, and how do you intend to get there?

Over the years I have emphasized creating career plans based on values.  You have to identify the things that you value and do not want to sacrifice on the altar of a workaholic lifestyle, for example.  Those values include questions about family, children, making a difference in your community, and doing work that interests you.  Your plan needs to contemplate what legal setting works best with your values.

Your career plan — or business plan — is not going to look like anyone else’s.  It is unique.  It reflects who and what you are, and having it gives you confidence.  It will be tweaked many times over the years, and that is the beauty of a plan that allows for flexibility and change.  Once you have it, put it aside and concentrate on being the best lawyer you can be.  That will give you valuable bargaining chips down the line.  And from time to time revisit your plan and revise it as needed.  Nothing is written in stone.

Now, my preaching is validated in an article that I want all of you to read.  It is part of a series of articles by Lateral Link.  As the name implies, the professionals there specialize in lateral movement among lawyers.  But, even if you are not looking to switch jobs, the concepts addressed in the article are worth reading about.  Here are some of those concepts:

  • Why a good business plan takes time;
  • How your business plan can be designed to highlight a key skill or specialty;
  • The role of substance and business development skills in your business plan; and
  • Uses for your business plan — now and in the future.

These are all important things to think about.  Sure, the objective of the article is to attract young lawyers to the Lateral Link mantra, but the advice can be used more widely to get you in the right mindset for taking your career seriously.

Planning is just that.  It is not taking action.  It is planning for action and getting all your ducks in a row to act in your own best interest and protect your future.  It is serious business, but it does not have to be taken seriously to the point of creating stress.  Relax and start to think about your future in a strategic way.

Have fun with it.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Week: Vision is the true creative rhythm. Robert Delaunay

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A Case of Outrageous Advice for Women In Business

Consider this advice for women in business:

Women’s brains absorb information like pancakes soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus.  Men’s brains are more like waffles.  They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square.

Surely this would be from some gender-insensitive and stereotype-infused speaker or handbook of yore.  That is what you would think.  And you would be wrong.

And then imagine me as so completely shocked, dismayed and outraged when I read this quote in a recent article in Huffington Post Business that I let out a primal scream.   For over a decade now, I have labored under the belief that accounting firms like Deloitte and EY continue to lead the way on issues of diversity and opportunities for women.  After all, that is the way it was when I started the Best Friends at the Bar project in 2008 and when I routinely used practices at those firms as examples for law firms to follow.

Well, let me be clear, what you will read in the article is nothing that any law firm should follow or model.  Not by a long shot.  And certainly not today in the 21st Century when the subjects of gender bias , harassment and discrimination have been so thoroughly vetted that business leaders should know which subjects are definitely off limits.

Instead Ernst and Young chose, in 2018, to offer a program for its employees on the proper attire and behavior for women employees — specifically how to dress and act nicely around men — with some of the advice couched in terms of the negative influence of improper female attire and behavior on male employees.

Those poor, poor men, who cannot pay close attention unless women’s skin is completely covered.  Rather than debunking the harmful stereotypes about women, female employees at Ernst and Young were being asked to learn how to live with those stereotypes.

No, I am not going to spoil the read for you.  It is too unbelievable and therefore delectable to do that.  I want you to savor each nugget of bad judgment on your own and, at the same time, wonder at the ineptitude of the mostly male leaders of business today.  We only can hope that this particular affliction does not find its way into the hallowed halls of law firms — or that someone with real brains and business acumen will recognize it for the bad idea it is.

Shaming and blaming women is so yesterday.  Continuing to make women the scapegoats for the shortcoming of men is something that is exhausting even to contemplate.  Let’s get on with creating effective business and law firm leaders and using the talent of the males and females among us without the distraction of this kind of nonsense.  Honestly, I thought I had heard the last of something so antiquated and harmful.

But, without being a spoiler, I do want to shed light on the defense that Ernst and Young raised when confronted with knowledge of the program contents.  Typical responses were that quotes and facts had been taken out of context.  Although that sometimes happens, all you have to do is read the following to dismiss the defense as inept.  How many opportunities for misunderstanding can there be to the following quotes?

  • Don’t flaunt your body — sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women); and
  • If you’re in a conversation with a man, cross your legs and sit at an angle to him.  Don’t talk to a man face-to-face.  Men see that as threatening.

And there was plenty of other red meat in the 55-page presentation.

Shame, shame.  And not on women.



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Thought For The Week: Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. Mark Twain

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How Women Lawyers Are Perceived: The Double Bind

Perception can be more important than fact.  I learned that when I was Chief of Staff for an elected official.  Politics is ripe for misperception, but the applications go far beyond that setting.

Women often are the unfortunate recipients of misperceptions.  And that is especially true of women lawyers.  For example, women lawyers often are judged in a harsher light than their male counterparts when they display assertiveness, self-promotion or anger, according to a survey conducted by the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings College of Law for the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

The survey asked male and female lawyers whether they felt free to express anger at work when it’s justified, whether they are rarely interrupted at work, and whether they felt penalized for assertive behavior.

Their answers differed based on gender and sometimes based on race and generated the following findings:

  • Fifty-six percent of white male lawyers felt free to express anger, compared to only 40 percent of women lawyers of color and 44 percent of white women lawyers;
  • Two-thirds of male lawyers said they were rarely interrupted, compared to half of the women lawyers; and
  • Sixty-two percent of white male lawyers said they are not penalized for being assertive, compared to only 46 percent of women lawyers of color and 48 percent of white women lawyers.

A separate study led by Arizona State University psychology professor Jessica Salerno looked at anger in the courtroom.  The study, published in Law and Human Behavior, was summarized by Psychology Today, U.S. News & World Report and ASU Now.

In that study, nearly 700 people watched videos of male or female lawyers delivering  closing arguments using angry tones, and study participants were questioned about whether they would hire the lawyers.  The participants used positive aspects of the angry closings to justify hiring male lawyers but referred to negative aspects of anger to justify not hiring the female lawyers.

The male lawyers, who demonstrated anger, were perceived as commanding, powerful, competent and hirable.  By contrast, the women lawyers who showed anger were identified as less competent, shrill, hysterical, grating and ineffective, according to the ASU Now article.  Professor Salerno concluded, as reported in U.S. News, that the study demonstrated that female lawyers can be penalized for showing the same characteristics as male lawyers.

As a result of these studies, women need to think twice about how they present themselves at the office and in the courtroom.  At the office, the reward is acceptance and promotion.  In the courtroom, the reward is to win.

One female trial lawyer, who is also a former judge and prosecutor, acknowledges the double standard and accepts the challenge.  However, she also has the following advice for women lawyers in the courtroom:  Wear dresses, low heeled shoes, little to no jewelry, smile a lot but don’t appear to be laughing.

The courtroom double standard is also examined in an Atlantic article by University of San Francisco law professor Lara Bazelon, a former public defender who interviewed more than two dozen female trial lawyers about their experiences.  Bazelon says that women lawyers have to deal with sexism and biases by judges, lawyers, jurors and clients.

She begins by citing a 2001 report concluding that women lawyers face a double standard/ double bind in which they must avoid being seen as too soft or too strident, and too aggressive or not aggressive enough.  To test the thesis, she interviewed women lawyers and concluded that the double standard still exists today.  All of the women interviewed agreed that abandoning traits associated with being female can severely hinder delivery of a zealous defense in particular.

Bazelon says she tells her law students that “their body and demeanor will be under relentless scrutiny from every corner of the courtroom [and] that they will have to pay close attention to what they wear and how they speak and move.”

Other women lawyers take a broader view and see it as a likability/confidence issue that affects women in any leadership role.  One sees the tradeoff as signaling that women need to be assertive enough to command confidence but not assertive enough to be seen as abrasive.  Another describes an effective strategy as being “relentlessly pleasant.”

Still another woman lawyer cautions against choosing a strategy such as deference, which could undercut an assertive message and also may compromise effectiveness or authenticity.  She is joined by a colleague who emphasizes the importance of authenticity and earning the trust of the judge and jury to show them that their stereotypes are wrong.

It is a big issue and one that can be outcome determinative in both the law firm and the courtroom.  It requires sensitivity to your audience and a good bit of finessing.

Women lawyers can agree that it is not fair and should not be this way.  But it still is.

We have to learn to deal with reality and hope for change.


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Thought For The Week: A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. Walter Winchell

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Young Lawyers Should Reach For Their Dreams: The Example of Belva Lockwood

This blog post is not only for women lawyers.  It is for all young lawyers.  It just happens that Belva Lockwood is one of the best examples of reaching for dreams of practicing law — because of the lack of opportunities for women during her lifetime.

So, you say, “Who is Belva Lockwood?”  If you attend or attended George Washington University Law — where she graduated from a predecessor law school there and where the Belva Lockwood Society is very active — you would know.  If not, it is much less likely that you ever have heard of her.

I am fortunate to be a guest at the Belva Lockwood luncheon from time to time (yes, they do let Georgetown Law grads attend!), so I have heard her story told by those who know it best.  Here is that story for those of you who have not heard it before. 

Like Belva Lockwood, all young lawyers need to follow their dreams.  It is more important than ever because the profession has changed so dramatically so quickly:

  • Technology now has such a prominent role in law practice that young lawyers spend hours and hours each day in front of computer monitors isolated and  doing work that does not feel remotely like what they thought was the promise of a hard-earned law degree; 
  • Today there are so many layers between partners that control clients and entry level lawyers, especially in Big Law, that young lawyers are denied the mentoring experiences which are so meaningful to them and so important to developing talent and future law firm leaders; and
  • Today young lawyers in large private practice venues are being managed by associates more senior to them — associates who have no experience in management, supervision or positive reinforcement/motivation.  Instead, those more senior associates are competing with more junior associates for the prize of partnership, which makes them unlikely and ineffective in mentoring roles.

Young lawyers deserve more.  They deserve interesting work and helpful feedback to make their work as meaningful as possible.  My recent blog makes that clear.  If you missed it, I suggest you read it and know that there are people who understand your dilemma and are on your side.

My advice to you is:  Don’t settle.  If you are not getting what you need in your current practice setting, look beyond it.  Get a copy of my book about balance where I explore a wide variety of practice settings and include examples of lawyers, who have left law firms and successfully transitioned into new venues.

To define your professional dream, you will have to value your talents and the best place to use them.  Sometimes taking the long view requires getting the critical experience you need before moving on, but that does not mean that you should give up on your dreams.  During that learning experience, remember that you deserve to have a professional life that satisfies you and also allows you to have a satisfying personal life.  It is hard to be truly satisfied in either your professional or personal life without that kind of balance.

To keep your options open and follow your dreams, you also need to keep your spending in check.  Make good business decisions and save money for a rainy day that may come while you are figuring it all out.  That savings also will give you the flexibility to take a lower paying but more satisfying job at some point in your future.

Use the example of Belva Lockwood and her grit and determination.  Don’t take “no” for an answer any more often than you must.  “No” is discouraging.  “I will find a way” is exhilarating.  That should be your goal.





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Thought For The Week: Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. Confucius

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