Women and Minority Lawyers are Valuable Human Capital That Needs Protection

Human capital is something that law firms too often overlook. Management and leadership are so busy calculating success in terms of profit and loss and, especially, profits per partner that the cost of losing human capital, aka talent, is a much bigger concern. Bigger because it is the talented young lawyers who will lead the firm into a successful future, and succession plans are REALLY important.

Read more about why law firms need to focus more on damage control and stopping the talent bleed in my October column for the ABA Journal. Here’s the link: https://www.abajournal.com/columns/article/law-firms-must-do-more-effective-damage-control-to-survive.

And here’s a teaser:

The law industry is broken: with its lack of retention and advancement of women and minority lawyers; in its failure to provide mentoring and preparation for young lawyers to assume the mantles of responsibility they desire; with outdated views of equitable profit sharing and client-generation credits; in its slow progress to offer alternatives to the billable hours; and in its lagging advancements in technologies that could save clients money and relieve stress on practitioners.

And there is much much more where that came from! Enjoy the read.

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Thought For The Week

Well behaved women rarely make history. Laurel Thatcher Urlich

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Webinar On and For Millennial Lawyers

On November 18, it will be my pleasure to present a webinar on and for millennial lawyers in cooperation with Webinars for Busy Lawyers. Here is a registration link for this FREE webinar: https://www.masslomap.org/webinars-busy-lawyers/ 

The 20-minute program will include discussion of the following topics:

  • Defining the millennial generation and how the millennial generation affects the workplace now and in the future;
  • The societal influencers that helped shape millennials and millennial lawyers and affected their values;
  • The similarity between the values of millennial lawyers and the values of lawyers of the Greatest Generation; 
  • What millennial lawyers want in the workplace; 
  • How law firms needs to change to retain young talent and protect succession plans; and
  • How millennial lawyers need to respond to be successful in private practice.

Many of these topics are covered in my book, What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018). If you can’t find time to read the book, here is your chance for an abbreviated version, tailor made for busy lawyers.

If you are a millennial lawyer, this information is for you. If you supervise/manage millennial lawyers, this information is also for you and critical to the future of law practice.

I hope you will join us on November 18, and I look forward to taking your questions during the Q and A.

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Thought For The Week

You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt

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How the Pandemic Has Changed Us

Practicing law — particularly for women with family care taking responsibilities — has always been challenging. I have personal experience with practicing law while raising children and also caring for the needs of an aging parent, and it can be exhausting.

And now the pandemic has put another weighty layer on these challenges. How all lawyers, men and women alike, deal with this will define them in ways that are likely to create career paths they might not have anticipated prior to the pandemic.

The weighty responsibilities of virtual practice, including the need to carve out private spaces to return client phone calls and participate in Zoom sessions, and the responsibilities of home schooling to support virtual learning cannot, it seems, fail to be a constant reminder that our profession is designed for 24/7 delivery of services and for people without other pressing commitments. Fax machines, Blackberries and then iphones started it all, and now availability all the time has become an accepted aspect of practice.

The costs of this kind of availability should be of concern to all of us. Although these costs traditionally have been a subject of discussion between colleagues around proverbial water coolers, these realities are now presenting themselves as particularly poignant and are teeing up a recognition of the importance of addressing the workaholic aspect of our profession and coming up with realistic solutions.

Of particular importance to me is the tension between the need for diversity in the legal profession, which promotes the retention and advancement of women lawyers, and what is sometimes considered to be a related reduction of profitability. In other words, Susan at the office and Susan at home, responding to the needs of family, often are perceived to be in conflict.

In the past, it was easier to separate Susan at the office from Susan at home. But, now, while Susan is in isolation at home, she now lives in her office. She could easily view herself as under a microscope with the requirement to be perfect at being both a lawyer and a mother and, for some, a perfect daughter caring for elder parents under that same roof.

It takes a strong woman lawyer to keep from doubting herself and experiencing a diminution of self worth under these circumstances. And that is a slippery slope.

How do we prevent that? How do we bring greater humanization to the practice of law to avoid such destructive ends? In response, I could address, yet again, the kinds of professional behavior that I would like to see promoted in impersonal Big Law practices, especially, around the country. But I want to think bigger here.

I want us to contemplate the very essence of current professional practices and demands of law firms and what the pandemic has taught us. For example, we have learned that we do not have to be present in professional offices for twelve to fifteen hours a day to deliver excellent legal services.

We have learned that hearing the voices of children in the background during a business call is a mere recognition of the reality that lawyers need to be present in the lives of their children. We have learned that looking at a computer-driven device 24/7 is not good for our mental health.

We have learned that receiving e-mails in the wee hours of the night are very disruptive, and we try not to do it to others. We even have learned that seeing the smiles on the faces of those we love on a more regular and consistent basis makes our hearts sing.

The pandemic has underscored these issues, but it did not cause them. The duality and resulting tension that we are experiencing during COVID-19 is, in reality, nothing more than an extension of age-old habits, and the real culprit is the manner in which we have allowed our profession to run roughshod over our personal lives.

There is a reason why people, even lawyers, in other cultures are encouraged to demonstrate greater respect for their family lives and to take month-long vacations to enrich family experiences. It is something we need to think about as we pull out of the pandemic in the coming year and return to practice as usual — OR NOT. I am hoping for NOT.

As we contemplate the financial benefits of working remotely related to the questionable need for expensive brick and mortar practices, let us also contemplate the well-being issues that have become more clear to all of us during isolation during a pandemic.

We owe that to ourselves, to our families, and to the future of our profession.

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Thought For The Week: Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another. Alfred Adler

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Beware of Political Discussion in the Office

It is the height of the political season, and you may be a person who feels the need to share your political views in the office. But, don’t listen to Nike on this one. No. No. No. Halt. Desist. Freeze. Just don’t do it.

This is especially good advice after the debacle of the first presidential debate last week. Whatever side you were on, it is no exaggeration to say that it was a debacle. It was a shipwreck. It was a dumpster fire. If you watched all 90 minutes of it, you probably felt as brain dead as I did afterward. But you may want to stifle yourself and keep your thoughts to yourself in the office setting. Here’s why.

It can be very risky discussing politics with colleagues. Although you may think you know how they trend on the political spectrum, you should err on the side of caution. Even if their opinions may be similar to yours, similar and the same can be light years apart.

When I was growing up in a small town in the Midwest, my family had a rule. You don’t discuss politics and religion outside the nuclear family. Even inside the nuclear family it could get very interesting and even a little ugly because my parents were educated and opinionated people who did not always agree. I think that they cancelled each other’s votes out on a regular basis, and don’t get me started on religion. My Mom was a devoted church goer, and my Dad was counsel to the church board and taught Sunday School. But he took his kids hiking and bird watching during many a church service ‘cuz I’m pretty sure he was an agnostic!

A recent article by Joel Patterson, a ForbesBook author, entitled “How To Prevent Political Discussions From Polarizing Your Workplace” suggests the following — with a little twist on those themes from yours truly.

Remember the Core Values of your Workplace. In a law firm, those core values should include respect for others and also for their opinions. If that is your guide star for any political discussions you think you must have, you may survive without major interpersonal upheavals. But, it is still risky. Once you introduce the subject, you may have to pivot and dodge when the road gets bumpy. Some people find that very hard.

Be Aware That You Will Be Judged By Your Behavior. If you disrupt the workplace with your strong opinions, you will be judged. Take that to the bank. Any time you make others feel uncomfortable, they will judge you. Even if some of your colleagues agree with your opinions, those same colleagues will judge you for the disruption. It is a no-win situation.

Practice the Fine Art of De-escalation. Let’s assume that you have taken the leap into the unknown and are in a full-blown workplace discussion of politics AND that it gets heated and a bit out of control. How you handle yourself at that point could be very important to your professional future. All eyes will be on you. Will you be cool and agree to disagree? Or will you pour gasoline on the flames? Hard to know until you are in the thick of it. Again, very risky.

If you are not convinced by now that “Just don’t do it” is the right approach to political discussions in the workplace, I can’t help you. You are helpless and on your own.

I just hope you make it through to the end of the year — because that may be how long it takes to sort out the mess we are in right now.

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Thought For The Week

Rule of law is fundamental to peace and security, crucial for economic and social progress and vital in protecting people’s rights and fundamental freedoms. . Aliona Niculita

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