Women Lawyers are Held Back by Childcare Responsibilities: What are law firms doing about it?

The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) issued the One Third By 2020 Challenge in 2006, calling for law firms to have one-third of their equity partners be women by 2020. At the end of 2019, law firms collectively had achieved only 19 percent.

One reason for the slower than predicted ascent of women lawyers to ownership positions in law firms is that women bear the major responsibility for childcare.  Tech-assisted flexibility makes it possible for women to service clients, but that flexibility doesn’t extend into the “realm of developing a book of business,” according to Jennifer Minter, Chair of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s Corporate section.

Minter is spot on in her observations that business development is the big obstacle to women’s advancement in law firms.  As she notes, “Some women don’t have the resources to undertake business development during off-hours, and therefore often get stuck being ‘worker bees’ with a limited ability to move up the ladder.  I don’t think most law firms necessarily view that as their problem.”  They consider it to be “the individual’s problem,” says Minter.

Read more in this article, originally published in Today’s General Counsel, where other women lawyers join Minter in the conversation. Read about the challenges of attending meetings outside the office, participating in client pitches, and being available and in the room when important decisions are made.

This is the single most challenging issue for women lawyers.  Although law firms have made positive strides toward providing generous parental leave and accommodations for nursing mothers, the problem is much bigger and requires a more comprehensive solution.  As children grow beyond infancy, the responsibilities for childcare multiply to include school issues, after school activities , help with homework … and the list goes on and on.  Some women are not willing to delegate many of those responsibilities to others, and that is where the rubber meets the road.

It is a very thorny issue, and women lawyers across the globe are grappling with it.  They are proud of their accomplishments and want to remain in the profession, but they do not want to be marginalized.  The indisputable fact is that the women have the babies and want to assure that those children thrive — and that means TIME with their children.  On site childcare would go a long way toward ensuring that women (and also men) can achieve a successful balance between good parenting and successful rainmaking, but there has to be a fervent commitment to the concept and dedicated resources to accomplish the goal.

Minter is hopeful that, as more women get into management positions, things will change.  She views it as a business problem that is costing firms money because women lawyers are not able to reach their full potential.  She hopes that it will be a shared problem that law firms and lawyers can participate in solving.

I, too, am hopeful, but I also am somewhat skeptical.  Clients and money still rule the legal profession, and until clients make it clear that they expect the same thing for women in law firms that women in-house counsel are experiencing, the pendulum is not likely to swing.  But all the supportive demands of corporate clients will fly out the window when the crunch is on.  That is when the client turns.

We all know it, but we do not know what to do about it.  Many solutions are not practical and are likely to be perceived as favoring women.  The Old Guard will scoff at attempts to accommodate women, and those attitudes will feed implicit bias.

It is very complicated.


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Thought For The Week: We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there, too. Kristin Martz

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Young Lawyers Need to Protect Their Careers

I currently am counseling a young lawyer about changing a focus in the law.  In that work, I am reminded of the importance of future vision and developing career plans.  A career plan and the research involved in developing one are essential to protecting your ability to exercise options in time to remain true to the career you envisioned when you entered law school.

I know that it is difficult to change courses midstream.  Lots of anxiety and insecurity is involved.  I have been through it myself, and I have helped others through it as well.  One thing is common to all those experiences.  Staying in a practice that does not suit you and makes you unhappy will be a whole lot more stressful in the long run.

Job happiness is complicated.  It is a bit ephemeral and different for everyone.  First you need to figure out what interests you most about law practice and what gives you feelings of satisfaction.  It may be defense work or it may be on the prosecution side.  Or it may be plaintiff’s work.  It may be private practice or practice in public service or in the not-for-profit world.  Or big firm, smaller firm, or in-house practice.  Or urban practice, more suburban practice, or even a country practice. 

The good news is that there are so many interesting choices open to you.  The profession is broad, and the chances are that you will be able to find a place that suits you.  Unfortunately, many young lawyers are leaving practice each year without examining their options and making earnest efforts to find where they belong.  A dedication of three years or more of law school and significant student loan debt deserve more research before abandoning ship.

Talk to as many practitioners as possible about their practices.  Those resources are available through mentoring programs in bar associations, and you need to take advantage of those confidential conversations.  There also are many helpful resources on the Internet — far too many to list here.  You are smart and very tech savvy, and you will find them.

Do it early enough and at a time when you do not have a lot of baggage that interferes with your mobility and opportunities that may come your way.  If the result of that effort is that you still cannot find your place in the law profession, you at least will know that you did your best.  And then you need to consider your options outside the profession.  With a law degree and some practice experience, you should have many interesting opportunities.

Be true to yourself and avoid asking for input from everyone around you.  It is YOUR professional life and no one else’s.  Treat it like the valuable thing it is. 

The truth is that you either choose or you lose.  Just choose to do it!


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Thought For The Week: Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. Louis E. Boone

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Are Networking Events Worth A Young Lawyer’s Time?

I know.  You hear it all the time.  Go to those networking events!  They are so valuable!  And, yes, you have heard it from me before.

But not all networking events are equal.  As you will read in this article, you need to be discriminating when it comes to the value of networking events.  Spring is just around the corner (we hope!), and Spring is a season full of networking events.  Better weather and hope for the future spring eternal at that time of year.  So, get ready with some good info on choosing your networking events wisely.

As the article points out, human connection is nearly DOA these days with the advent of more and more virtual communication.  The value of in-person communication is getting lost in the more trendy e-mails and other digital communication that is so popular with all of you.  Not only the value but also the effectiveness and efficiency of communication.  The risk of misunderstandings in this digital age are high.

And networking events are great opportunities to improve your in-person communications and gain confidence in working a room.  Cold calls — one where you just turn up in a group of unknowns to join the conversation — are very challenging, but there is no better place to work on that skill than at networking events.

But, beware of the differences in such events and how they rate in terms of use of your time.  As the author points out, “Studies have shown that casual chit chat and cocktails don’t work — introverts and extroverts alike tend to just interact with people they already know or with whom they have a lot in common.”  Very true.

The author recommends events that involve “relatively high-stakes activities that connect you with diverse others.”  And he goes outside the typical legal networking examples to suggest pro bono work and even joining a local sports team.

This is good and thoughtful advice from Canadian Lawyer.  If you are one of our friends in Maple Leaf Land, you also may want to consider the Women in Law Summit in Toronto later this month.  It looks like very interesting content.

So, go forth and network —- wisely!





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Thought For The Week: Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. Maya Angelou

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Young Lawyers: Can Baking Overcome Your Anxiety?

We all are full of anxiety and stress these days.  You know it.  And we all are looking for ways to deal with the disappointing news of the day, the challenges of our work experiences, and the other unsatisfactory realities of our lives.

So, what are we doing about it?  Exercise is good.  Eating wrong is bad.  For me cooking is even worse, and baking is out of the question unless it is a national holiday and for my family and friends.  After almost 50 years of marriage and some cooking and baking before then, I am over it.  Hello to carry-in and dining out.

Or at least I thought that was the case.  But now I am not sure.  After reading this article in the Washington Post, I may have to rethink it all.  It turns out that the Great British Baking Show may change my life — at least in the short term.

It seems that I may have overlooked a silver lining that comes with baking.  And that is saying a lot because silver linings are not coming easy these days with the current political climate in our country. 

As a bit of a political junkie — at least a policy junkie after serving as Chief of Staff for an elected official for almost a decade — policy considerations still pulse through my veins.  “These are the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls” does not begin to explain how frustrated I can get just watching the daily TV news.  No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, you have to admit that all is not going swimmingly.  Too much infighting, lack of civility and disrespect.

My reaction to this situation has been to do more research, and more research and even more research.  If only I listen to one more TV pundit or read one more editorial, surely I will be able to make sense of the madness.  But, the result has been to lead me further into the madness.

I have a feeling that many of you are experiencing some of this same kind of frustration and madness.  I also have a feeling that too many of you turn to social media to deal with the complications of real life and especially the frustrations and anxieties of being young lawyers in a very demanding profession.

The law profession is rife with anxiety-creating situations, from making billable hour targets, to expectations of positive feedback on assignments, to the content of annual reviews, to making partner, to finding time to sleep and eat …. and the list goes on.

But turning to social media — just like my habit of turning to the pundits and the editorial page — is only temporary salvo.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the most recent generation of social media platforms are all ephemeral external indications of acceptance, popularity and success.

So, I say we all should take a break, both you and me.  A break to soothe ourselves and heal from the inside out.

Granted, it is hard to escape the stresses of every day life and the anxiety that is part and parcel of being a young lawyer.  UNLESS …. we watch the baking show.

Not necessarily to learn to bake but for examples of how to deal with the stresses and disappointments of fast-paced baking competition.  For the examples it provides of putting things in perspective and making the most of the experience. 

Honestly, I have watched the show, and there is a rhythm to it that soothes the soul — a whole lot more than reading one more stress-inducing editorial predicting even more dire consequences than I had imagined or getting “unfriended” on social media.

So, do yourself a favor.  Read the article.  I am not going to try to explain it to you because the article does such a good job of that. 

And then watch the show.  You may find that the Great British Baking Show is the therapy you have been looking for.  And it might make you want to retreat to the kitchen to whip up a chocolate souffle.

Would that be so bad?


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Thought For The Week: You express the truth of your character with the choice of your actions. Steve Maraboli

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