Words of Wisdom

I read a quote from a woman judge recently, and it lines up so well with the advice that I give to young lawyers, both male and female. In the words of Patricia Brown Holmes, former Cook County, Illinois Judge:

Be like Nike and just do it — don’t let anything get in your way.

Of course, you must first go to law school and get the best grades possible — study hard and stay on top of every subject. Then get a job doing what you like.

We are always most successful when we are happy. So have fun as a lawyer. Learn. Explore. Watch. Soak it all in. Network with other lawyers so you develop and build relationships and references. Find judicial mentors. Learn their path as you develop your own.

Then, when the time is right and you have developed the skills, wisdom, judgment, confidence and support — make your move. If it does not happen, try again and again until you make it.

Great advice. Do what you like. Your work does not have to be your passion, but you need to enjoy your work.

Passion is not the same as enjoyment. People have passion for their families. People have passion for their hobbies, their avocations, and their artistic pursuits. People even have passion for their pets. But when people have passion for their work, it usually means that they are ignoring families, things, and pursuits that could expand their lives and make those lives particularly pleasurable.

Workaholics may believe that they have passion for their work, but, too often, they leave trails of lost opportunities in marriages and families behind them. You do not want to be one of them.

My professional experience lines up with this approach. I loved my work as a trial lawyer until I had a family. After that, my priorities changed. I put less emphasis on upward mobility and more emphasis on the quality of my work. I gave up partnership to be able to work part-time and meet the needs of my family. I ultimately gave up private practice and chose public service for the same reasons. And I never looked back or regretted my choices. Eventually, when my children were older and more self-sufficient, I returned to private practice as a partner.

Many women do not have to make those tough choices in today’s private law firms. Part-time lawyers can make partner today. There is far more flexibility in schedules to allow for family time and practice time. But, it may not be enough. Each lawyer has a unique view of job satisfaction, and it is all very personal.

So, be scrutinizing of your work opportunities. Find what you enjoy doing, and do it. Do not settle because you have been in a job for a long time and do not know how to leave. Don’t settle because you do not want to admit defeat. Don’t settle because you are afraid of the way others will perceive you. Figure it out. You will look back years later and be very satisfied with your decision. And you will have taken your best shot at happiness in your work.

It takes bravery and confidence to make tough decisions. But if you want it bad enough, you will reach deep down to pull out those attributes and live up to the promise that you should have made to yourself: Do not let you stand in the way of your happiness.

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Thought For The Week: We all need to know what it means to be honest. Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving. James E Faust

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How RBG Helped Lead the Way to Women’s Financial Independence

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is gone. Our mentor is missing. We all should be very sad. Our politics do not matter in this context. We all are women. We all should be grateful that this small and powerful woman walked amongst us.

I was in law school at Georgetown Law (then Georgetown University Law Center (GULC)) during the mid 1970’s when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was arguing cases on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and setting the foundation for women’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It is entirely possible that most law students in those days were not focused on what was going on at the ACLU or even at the Supreme Court, particularly as it related to women’s rights. Law students are very busy, and they were predominately male back then. But, something at Georgetown made it different, at least for me, and, in the 1978-79 school year, I was fortunate to take a seminar course titled “Women and the Law”, which focused on gender discrimination.

As I learned later, Professor Wendy Webster Williams at GULC and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Rutgers Law School-Newark were teaching from the same playbook. Only a few law schools in the country offered this course content at the time, and I was lucky enough to be at one of them. What I learned in that seminar became the foundation for work I did early in my career as an advocate for women’s rights and, later, through founding the Best Friends at the Bar project.

The early work included an article I published in the Wisconsin Law Review addressing historic financial discrimination against women and passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 (ECOA) as the legislative remedy. I was delighted to discover years later that legal scholars make a direct link between the ECOA and the legal battles that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was winning at the Supreme Court in those days.

Young women today owe a great deal to passage of the ECOA. As a result of the legislation, women are able to qualify for credit cards, open bank accounts, obtain both personal and business loans, including student loans, car loans and home mortgages — all without the signature (and the permission) of a husband. The legislation also liberated women who had been widowed or were divorced, who, until that time, could not utilize credit ratings from former marriages to achieve financial independence.

We thank you, RBG, for being there for us.

For more of my thoughts on RBG, please read my article published in the ABA Journal today. I hope you enjoy it.

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Thought For The Week

Fight for the things you care about … in a way that will lead others to join you. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Work-Life Balance and Quality of Life

This is the last in a series of blogs based on information gleaned from a Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) virtual meeting presented by the WILEF Chicago Young Lawyers Committee to address impacts on women lawyers of practice during the pandemic.  The first installment, published on August 5, 2020, addressed the subject of setting boundaries, the second installment, published on August 20th addressed privacy issues in a Zoom world, and the third installment addressed self-advocacy. Today’s topic is work-life balance and quality of life.

The profession of law has changed a lot since I started practicing more than 40 years ago. Women’s affinity groups, flexible schedules, achieving partnerships on less than full schedules — these are all new developments that have made the profession better for women. There is a lot that has been accomplished, but there is still a long way to go before women and men have the same opportunities in our profession.

Today, some of the issues have changed. Although the challenges for women lawyers are still very much in the spotlight, issues affecting broader diverse populations are now front and center as well. Addressing these issues responsibly takes time — time that affects the balance that is difficult for women in the law to achieve, especially those women with family and children care taking responsibilities. For every hour spent in committee meetings, practitioners have to find another hour in the day to work on client matters.

And clients also have become involved, too. Some clients are very proactive about how matters are staffed and are demanding more and more transparency on issues related to diversity. Clients scrutinize bills to see how the team actually functions and demand that diverse lawyers, who are assigned to the matter, actually work on the matter and are not just window dressing to secure the representation.

All of these varied responsibilities make it hard for lawyers to balance work life with home life. Some of the panelists described themselves as overwhelmed and in need of managers, who understood their need for boundaries and their aversion to false deadlines. They described the importance of learning to prioritize to meet even the true deadlines, and how much harder it has been during COVID-19 with kids at home and spouses working out of the same space. Some of these women found themselves turning to lawyer assistance programs, behavior therapy, and even medication to keep them in the game. One of them left practice. These measures all may seem extreme, but they are realistic. The law is a tough taskmaster.

The panelists all agreed that you have to do what is right for YOU. Law practice is not for everyone, and it may not be for you. Be honest about it, explore alternatives, and get the help you need.

Careers can be very long these days. Choose well, and remember that you don’t always get it right the first time. Be true to yourself, and let happiness be your goal.

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Thought For The Week

It always seems impossible until it’s done. Nelson Mandela

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What’s Up With the July Bar Exam?

Just when we thought that the legal profession was finally showing signs of thinking with a new collective brain while problem solving during a pandemic, along came the July Bar Exam, and bar examiners across the country short circuited and set us back again.  They have demonstrated once again that the profession is archaic and stuck in past practices just for the sake of it.  Certainly not for the logic of it.   Here is a link to provide some of the sordid details about how this has unfolded. 

It is amazing to see bar examiners struggle with decisions of whether to continue in-person exams or initiate on-line exams or some additional options (like diploma privilege) for this ONE YEAR when the planet is on fire.  FOR THIS ONE YEAR.  And the arguments centering on “quality control” and “competence to practice” seem especially specious under these circumstances. 

There has been a great debate for years whether law schools adequately prepare graduates to practice law.   Many legal commenters have weighed in with a resounding “no”, and most law school graduates would raise the stakes with “hell no” as they evaluate the cost of their legal educations against how competent to practice they feel upon graduation.

Ask the Wisconsin Bar Association how many of its lawyers are deemed incompetent because of diploma privilege, which confers a license to practice based on a diploma from one of the two law schools in the state and has been alive and well in Wisconsin for generations.  If it was a problem, you can bet that the bar would have changed the policy.  No state wants to encourage and tolerate incompetence among its lawyers.  I know a little about this.  My Dad was one of those Wisconsin lawyers, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School and benefitted from diploma privilege, and I can tell you he was anything but incompetent.  If you are interested, you can read about him in my book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018).  

However, the debate about the value of bar exams will go on.  But, the immediate need for reasonable and responsible action cannot.   Time is of the essence.  It is September, and the current bar exam fiasco is still up in the air in many jurisdictions.  The elitist attitudes of too many lawyers seems to be that THEY had to take the bar exam and all law graduates need to take the bar exam.  End of discussion.  No exceptions.  Even when matters of health and safety should lead to a different conclusion. 

Here is a link to some of the fallout from a decision-making process that has failed.  More than 20 jurisdictions held in-person bar exams in July and many of those jurisdictions failed to adhere to public health guidelines in spite of the warnings about COVID-19.  As the bar examiners bite their nails and ponder (see this about Florida, this about New York, this about the technology-related problems with on-line exams and refusal to use damage control, and this about disgraceful and insulting behavior toward women test takers), law school graduates, mostly young people with huge student loan debts and seemingly wrecked futures, fall by the wayside. 

I read their accounts on line, and I cannot help but be disappointed in my profession. What are we thinking?

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Happy Labor Day!

Thanks to all the front line workers who have kept us safe during this pandemic. They are the backbone of our country, and we should be thankful for them each and every day.

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