Women Lawyers Have a Right to Choose Their Paths

“Lean in” as a career strategy never has appealed to me.  I have been saying that and writing about it for more than a decade.  The reason is that many women do not have the resources of a Sheryl Sandberg to “lean in” and go directly to the C-Suite or the corner office.

Many women cannot afford the in-home childcare with multiple caregivers and the arsenal of hired help for everything from grocery shopping, to carpool, to pick-up at the dry cleaners, to travel planning for exotic family vacations.  Rather than giving many women an edge, “lean in” makes many women feel like failures because it simply does not work for the circumstances of their lives.

I prefer “step back” to “lean in” — particularly for women lawyers, whose daily work regimen typically requires unrealistic numbers of billable hours and a high bar for new client development to ascend to the top of the profession.  I address a lot of this in my book, Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer, and I have been speaking about it for many years.

It is not that I do not admire those women lawyers who are able to take direct and uninterrupted paths to the top or that I do not understand the importance of them being there.  It is that I know that those aspirations are impractical for many women lawyers at certain times in their lives, and I want those women to understand that decisions to “step back” at certain times are very understandable and A-OK.

“Step back” has been in the news recently.  Hopefully, “step back” will work better for women lawyers than it has for Harry and Meghan.  However, consider the differences and why the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did not experience the soft landings that they apparently had hoped for and had anticipated.

Harry was to the manor born, and service to country that involves crowns and scepters is serious business.  Parachuting out is not considered an option and is rarely ever done.  Edward gave up the crown, and it was not such smooth sailing for him or Wallace Simpson.

The concept of “stepping back” as it relates to royals and to women in business was recently explored in this article published in the Washington Post.  As pointed out in the article, “Step back is the language of control.” 

And women lawyers must take control.  They must understand personal definitions of success and take pride in the strength it takes to dare to be different.

“Step back” is supported by many women lawyers, who have “stepped back” on the path to partnership and leadership and have come back strong to achieve very prestigious careers.  Most of those women will tell you that they do not regret their decisions to take a step back, whether for purposes of childcare or elder care or caring for special needs family members.  Or whatever circumstances turn up in their lives and challenge them.

There is not just one plan.  There is YOUR PLAN.

It is the plan that works for YOU and is flexible enough to allow for directional change based on the changed circumstances of your life.  Because life is life.  It happens.  And you are up to dealing with it.

So, go out and deal with it.  Take control.  Exercise your right to choose, and have pride in your choices.  You will find it exhilarating and a source of empowerment.

And beware of the feminists who are trying to make you feel ashamed of your choices with their narrow view of choice.


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Thought For The Week: Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. Margaret Mead

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Thought For The Week: Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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January is Mentoring Month for All Young Lawyers

January is Mentoring Month.  It is a way of bringing attention to the importance of mentoring to young and inexperienced workers in a variety of jobs.  Workers who wish to advance to levels of management and leadership in their chosen work lives need mentoring to get there.

The value of effective mentoring is not only recognized widely, but it also plays out in the lives of managers and leaders throughout our country and the world.  Those managers and leaders likely would not have gotten to such heights without help from mentors.

The law business is no different.  Mentoring is key to advancing in private practice from associate to partner and in the public sector from entry level to management and in the corporate setting from associate general counsel to general counsel.

I recently had the privilege of sitting for an interview at American Inns of Court to commemorate Mentoring Month.  The Inns of Court, which had its beginnings over 200 years ago in England to promote civility and respect in the law profession, has now spread to outposts around the world.  The American Inns of Court is one of those outposts and is headquartered in the Washington, DC area.  There also are local chapters in major cities around the country.

Here is how the American Inns of Court describes its mission and the experience as a member on its website:

The American Inns of Court is an association of lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals from all levels and backgrounds who share a passion for professional excellence. Through regular meetings, members are able to build and strengthen professional relationships; discuss fundamental concerns about professionalism and pressing legal issues of the day; share experiences and advice; exhort the utmost passion and dedication for the law; provide mentoring opportunities; and advance the highest levels of integrity, ethics, and civility. Our Inns have gained a national and international reputation as an organization that bridges the gap between formal law school education and legal practice by offering career-long continuing education in the Common Law tradition.

As you can see, the American Inns of Court takes mentoring seriously.  After reading my books, the leadership there requested that I sit for an interview and questioning by a young law student, who is a member of the American Inns of Court.

The interview lasted hours and was reduced to a series of eight videos that were sent out to all 30,000 members of the American Inns of Court.  The subjects of those videos included mentoring needs and responsibilities, interviewing skills, how to work with managers, and challenges to the retention and advancement of women lawyers.

If you are a member of American Inns of Court, you should check out the videos.  If you are not a member, maybe you should be.  Or maybe you know one of those 30,000 members, who would be willing to share with you.

Mentoring is critically important to your future success in the law profession.  I hear success stories, and I also hear horror stories.  The horror stories make me crazy because it seems to me that mentoring is an implied condition of employment in such demanding work.

If it is not, it should be.

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Not Just for Women Lawyers: Where are The Values?

The time has come for us to relate the news of the day to respected behaviors of the past and ask whether we are headed in the right direction. Some people do, and I admire them.  But not enough people for my taste.

So, when I read the news yesterday morning on The Skimm, I was concerned.  I love The Skimm.  I am a busy person and The Skimm gives me the head start I need to follow later with my real newspaper on line in the afternoon and TV news at night — and a cocktail with the latter.  I don’t know who possibly could listen to the nightly news these days without a cocktail.  Certainly not me.

On The Skimm yesterday morning, I read that the Houston Astros cheated by stealing catcher-to-pitcher signs of opposing teams on the way to winning the World Series in 2017.  (If you do not understand what “stealing signs” means in baseball, either look it up on The Skimm or ask your closest guy friend.  He will be happy to explain and make you feel like an idiot ‘cuz you don’t understand baseball, the nation’s favorite pastime.  Been there, done that.  I recommend you look it up and then drop it in conversation with said guy friend for the dazzle factor and a free get out of idiot jail card.)

But the punishment from the Commissioner of Baseball missed the mark.  Everyone who cheats or contributes to cheating should be punished.  Losing future draft picks and a fine?  Maybe cheating again and winning another World Series will justify repeated cheating.

The Skimm also included news that the Oscar nomination, which were announced yesterday morning, ignored the talent of women performers, producers and directors again this year.  (One nomination does not adequate recognition make.)

So, here we are in 2020.  Cheating is running rampant in our society.  Cheating and its first cousin lying.  People, including some people in very high places, cheat and lie openly to sound important and gain advantage.  This is not good for society and what we teach our children.  It also is not good for our perception around the globe.  Really bad, in fact.

And 2020 is not starting out to look so good for women either.  Overlooked again.  Given a token.  Maybe in addition to skipping a host again this year, the Academy should decide to skip the ceremony all together.  Or women should refuse to show up in the lovely dresses and walk the Red Carpet.  Then maybe the viewers, mostly women who want to look at the lovely dresses, would hit the off button.  In Hollywood viewership and ratings mean a lot.

So that is how we are starting out in 2020.  And these are only a couple of the issues that should concern us.  How about climate change?  How about guns?  How about a woman’s right to choose?  How about so many important issues that people ignore because it is so inconvenient to confront them and try to make a difference.

If you want to read about the values that have been lost in our own profession of law, check out my book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice.  It is all there.  Including a look in the rear view mirror to where the good values reside.  Our job is to bring them forward.

We can’t vote for the Commissioner of Baseball or members of The Academy.  But we can vote for our lawmakers — from the local level on up.  Votes count.

If we want to improve values and get back to what we can truly take pride in, that is where it has to start.


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Thought For The Week: There is nothing permanent except change. Heraclitus

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My Mom, The Lawyer

I just read a book that you all need to know about —- to read and to recommend to all of the lawyers in your lives.  By “all” I mean both the female lawyers and the male lawyers in your orbits.

The book, My Mom the Lawyer, by Louisville, KY lawyer/mom Michelle Browning Coughlin, hits all the marks of my own Best Friends at the Bar project for women lawyers.  Like me, Michelle and her project, Mothers Esquire, are devoted to increasing retention and promotion rates for women lawyers.  And, like me, Ms. Coughlin also extends her project to male lawyers, who are parents and caregivers.

Here is a description of Mothers Esquire from the website:

We are Moms. We are Lawyers. We are Master-Negotiators and Multi-Taskers — at work and at home. We are the Equity Partners at the office and the Team Coach at school. We drive mini-vans to depositions and to carpool line. We read briefs by day and Goodnight Moon by night. And we are bringing women together to Disrupt the “Motherhood Penalty” in our profession.

My Mom the Lawyer is written for young children to explain what mommy does when she is not acting like mommy to them.  A book like this could have been written by me for my children and some day can be written by my daughter for her children.   That is the way it is these days — mommy the lawyer and grandma the lawyer — but that does not make it easy for young children to understand.  This book makes it easier.

There are examples of law student moms, law partner moms, trial lawyer moms, transactional lawyer moms, in-house counsel moms, solo practitioner moms, politician/legislator moms, remote office lawyer moms, law professor moms, and moms who are judges.  It’s all there.

Other themes include the leadership potential of women lawyers, the importance of childcare/parenting sharing, the reasons why home time sometimes becomes office time, and the pains of relocation for job reasons.  Even very young children can get a sense of what lawyer/moms do.

Diversity is one of the strengths of this book.  The lawyer moms and their children are from diverse cultural backgrounds, and the simple but vibrant illustrations underscore the messages of diversity.  

Congratulations to Michelle Browning Coughlin for the book.  I enjoyed the read.  So will you and your children.

Information for book purchase can be found on the Mothers Esquire website.


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Thought For The Week: Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. Oprah Winfrey

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