The Beauty of Teamwork

I LOVE March Madness. Absolutely love it. Some of my enthusiasm is because I am a college basketball fan, and some of it is because of the memories.

When our kids were young, we spent most spring breaks in the mountains on skis. After a day on the slopes, we would go to a bar/tavern in a little western town for burgers — as long as there was a TV tuned to March Madness. I still remember being in Crested Butte, Colorado and seeing Duke’s Christian Laettner sink that famous shot to beat Kentucky during the 1992 Elite Eight. Everyone in the joint, even those like us who were not Duke fans, screamed with pleasure as that beautiful shot swished through the hoop. Those memories are precious.  

What I love most about March Madness is seeing the flawless teamwork from players at that level. Every one of them understands that he has a job to do, and they have to work together like a smooth operating machine to get the desired result — winning, of course. If you have been watching 2021 March Madness, you know that it does not get much better than watching the teamwork that Gonzaga demonstrates on the court. No wonder they are 30-0 for the season. I have them to take the trophy, but we will see ….

Teamwork is also important in law practice. It is not a place for prima donnas, who try to steal the spotlight. If you are not prepared to be an effective team member, with a team mentality, it will be challenging to be successful. Team members can spot a member out for personal glory in a heartbeat, and they will drop him or her like a bad habit. 

Teamwork is so important that law schools need to present more opportunities to experience it and learn it. MBA programs figured that out years ago and have been emphasizing it ever since. They listened to what the industry was telling them — that solo players are not as effective in the C Suite and that training needs to start in graduate business programs.

Law schools need to take that same approach. They need to teach skills that are valuable to the team. They need to emphasize that teamwork means not having to dominate the conversation and learning to listen. It means listening to other team members and showing respect for their ideas. It means being reliable and having the backs of your teammates. It means being good for your word. And it means working as hard as necessary to get the job done, even if that means making coffee or fixing the copier. Nothing is off limits for a true team player.  

So be a team player. And remember that team play is not just for men — and, in my experience, women are instinctively drawn to team play. And that includes women in college basketball.

As an equal opportunity fan, I love those games, too.

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Thought For The Week: The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. Mark Twain

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Equal Pay Day — Things are Still Not Equal

Today is Equal Pay Day, a day of national recognition of the need for women to catch up with men when it comes to compensation for equal work. We are not there yet, in spite of laws like the Equal Pay Act of 1963 — yes, 1963 and signed into law by President Kennedy. At that time women were earning 59 cents on the dollar compared to men for equal work. Today, that figure is an average of 82 cents on the dollar compared to white non-Hispanic men. This disparity in pay and income costs women and their families hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

The pay gap is even greater for women of color, with African American women earning approximately 63 cents and Latinx women earning approximately 55 cents for every dollar earned by a white non-Hispanic male.

As you can see, these figures are far from “equal”, and we still have a long way to go. This is not just a woman’s issue. It also is an issue for the sons and male domestic partners of working women, who also would benefit from equal pay for women in the workplace. For every family where the mother/domestic partner is a breadwinner, it is a REALLY big issue. Still.

And here is how the gender pay gap has worked in this past year during the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Two million women left the workforce at a rate four times higher than men. As the economy recovers and schools and daycare facilities reopen, the hope is that employers will welcome those women back to their jobs.

And women lawyers also are impacted by this gender pay gap. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for 2019 show that women lawyers made 85 cents for every dollar made by male lawyers. The National Association for Women Lawyers (NAWL) Annual Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms is another good source of information on these issues.

In closing, let me respond to a reader who gave me push back —well deserved , I might add– the last time I wrote about these issues. The reader took issue with what I wrote about flexible hours and how they impact equal work. Let me be clear. I am entirely in support of flexible schedules, and I know how important they are to women with childcare responsibilities, especially. When the hours are worked is not important in the same way as if the hours are worked, and I am completely supportive of increased flexibility that will keep talent in the workplace without sacrificing the work product.

Specifically, the question asked was, “Do you really believe one is setting the cause [for equal pay] back rather than advancing it if they work flexible hours? If they work at home while their child is staying home sick and sleeping all day … or if you work in the office from 8pm to 12am rather than 8am-12pm because that’s when you have morning sickness?

The answer is emphatically No! That is not what I believe, and I regret that what I wrote earlier was interpreted in that way. So, thank you, reader, for allowing me to point that out.

I urge all of you to consult the National Committee on Pay Equity website to find out what you can do to help bring about pay equity for women. Sooner rather than later.

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Thought For The Week: The best thing to hold onto in life is each other. Audrey Hepburn

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When Will Women Be Safe?

I am so disturbed after yesterday’s news out of Georgia where eight women were killed in what look to be hate crimes. All of the facts are not in on these horrific crimes, but just knowing that all the victims were women is disturbing enough. When you add that these women may have been targeted because they are of Asian descent, it is all the more disturbing.

I hope that the Violence Against Women Act finally passes this time around, and I hope that we start to do a better job of educating young men about how to show respect for women. So many of the crimes against women happen in the home, where one in fifteen children in the U.S. witnesses domestic violence, and it is a cycle that repeats itself. Demonstrating respect for the women in the home is critical to stemming the tide of this most regrettable form of violence.

And, we also must start to take sexual harassment, gender discrimination and gender bias in the workplace more seriously. Even though harassment, discrimination and bias cannot be equated with violent crime, they can leave life-long scars and negatively affect opportunities for women.

Looking back at my career as a lawyer, I thought we would be much further down this road by now. When I began law practice in 1979, it might have been understandable that the presence of women in the law profession was still new and that there would be a learning curve for the men who controlled the profession. Well, the days of that learning curve are long over, and what has resulted is just a convenient series of excuses to justify slow progress on inclusion, retention and advancement for women lawyers. According to the most recent statistics published in February 2021 by NALP, only 22% of equity partners in major law firms today are women. And those results have not changed appreciably in the last ten years that NALP has issued its annual diversity reports. Gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and gender bias play a big part in these unfortunate statistics, and it is time that our profession figured this out.

The hatred and resentment toward women needs to stop. I have no patience for men who say that women are getting too much preferential treatment these days. That women are taking jobs and positions away from men and that it is not fair. Not fair! Apparently these men know nothing of the last four hundred years of American history when women were considered to be chattels owned by men, when women did not have the right to vote until 1920, and when women worked both at home and outside the home at the same time to be good caregivers for their young children and to help build a secure future for their families. And the list goes on. Yes, apparently that part of history has been forgotten by some.

So, today, I am thinking of my sisters. My sisters inside and outside the law profession. My sisters of all skin colors and backgrounds. My sisters who need and deserve protection from violence and unequal treatment.

As we close the book on March and Women’s History Month, we need to resolve to do all that we can to protect the women. After all, it is the women who protected us and gave us the best possible starts in this complicated and challenging world.

It is time for pay back.

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Women Lawyers and Diversity Front and Center

March is Women’s History Month in the US, and March 8th was International Women’s Day. We all need to be thankful, particularly during this month, for all the women who have gone before us to pave the way for the opportunities we enjoy today. Yes, there is still more work to be done, but, as they say, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

I celebrated International Women’s Day in a really special way by presenting a webinar to a group of women law students at Durham University in the UK. It was a diverse audience, based not only on gender but also on ethnicity, and it was a real pleasure to present this “first” in my experience. Although Best Friends at the Bar has followers abroad, this was my first off-shore program. I hope that it will not be the last because I know the need is also great in other parts of the world.

Here are some of the subjects addressed in that program:

What I see as the greatest challenges for women lawyers;

How gender affected my legal career, how I handled it, and how gender bias continues to impact women lawyers;

What inspired me to become a lawyer and what I liked best about practicing law;

How women can deal effectively with implicit bias and why they must;

How the profession of law has changed for women in the US in the last 40 years and what I consider to be the most significant advances for women lawyers;

Why I founded Best Friends at the Bar and wrote my books and what I hoped to accomplish;

The importance of diversity and inclusion to the legal profession and how that is being addressed in the American Bar today; and

The use of quotas to increase diversity in organizations.

My responses would not be a surprise to you if you have been following the messages of Best Friends at the Bar. It does not matter where on the globe we live, the challenges for women, who want to be independent and have careers, are very similar. It takes determination and grit and confidence to overcome the challenges, but it is worth every bit of that effort.

However, a couple of responses are worth mentioning here. On the question about the accomplishments of women lawyers over the last 40 years since I began practicing law, I pointed to the number of women in law school today, which exceeds the number of men in almost all US law schools. I also cited the accomplishments that women have made in becoming managing partners of some of the most prestigious law firms in our country and the fact that those numbers increase every year. I also cited the significantly greater number of women in the judiciary, including in the federal courts.

However, I also pointed out that the percentage of women equity partners in law firms, currently 22%, has not changed much in the last ten years, in large part because many women leave practice early due to the impacts of work-life challenges and implicit bias.

Another response that deserves mention is my opinion on quotas for women lawyers and the fact that I do not support them. Although I am a devoted fan of women professionals, I want them to get invited to the party because of their skills and their accomplishments and because they are right for the role. I shared that I currently am on my fifth Board of Directors of organizations, and, if I thought for a moment that I was there as a token, I would resign. I want to be there because I have proven myself to be valuable to the organization.

I wish I could share a link to the Durham University Law School program, but I am not able to do that. However, I hope I have given you the flavor of it.

And, of course, it is all in my books!

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Thought For The Week: Happy International Women’s Day!

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The Law is a Tough Business

In response to my most recent column in the ABA Journal addressing reengineering the law profession — including reforms to law school curricula, bar exam content, the benefits of mandatory apprenticships and improved mentoring — I have received e-mails from readers all over the country. Some of those e-mails are from young lawyers thanking me for writing the piece and also telling me their unfortunate stories. It always pains me to read how isolated and alone young lawyers feel and how disappointed they are as members of a profession that seems not to care about their career development or work satisfaction.

Here are some of those stories.

I heard from a young female lawyer, who has practiced less than a year and is thinking about leaving the profession. She was especially concerned about the workload and the lack of mentoring and career development at her law firm. My response to her was to remind her that the law is a tough profession and that the first years of practice are especially challenging. I suggested to her that it is not prudent to leave a profession after such a short time in practice. It is not good for a resume, and it does not say much for her perseverance. Although I agreed with her that effective mentoring should be forthcoming from firm leadership, I suggested to her that she needs to be proactive. She needs to actively seek out mentors in the firm and to join local bar associations where mentorship is typically addressed and provided.

I also heard from a male lawyer who, after nine years in a law firm, is considering leaving the profession because of unfulfilled expectations. He wrote that he feels like he is still functioning as a clerk and does not receive much respect or interest in his career path. For him, my response was not the same. After nine years, he is likely to know better than anyone else that he needs something different and must make a change. My hope is that he has made enough money in those nine years to buy down any student loans he may have from law school and to accrue enough savings to give himself a cushion. If that is the case, he will be in a much better position to consider alternatives to private law practice. Leaving the profession altogether may be an overreaction, and my suggestion was that he look for a career path that includes alternative legal work spaces or that uses his legal skills in a different setting. I also suggested that he consult with a life coach who specializes in working with lawyers. Those consultants are available in most large legal markets and also can be found on the Internet.

And I heard from seasoned lawyers, who were very complimentary about the column. One of them, a foreign-educated lawyer, had fulfilled the requirements of a mandatory apprenticeship program in her country and found it to be invaluable. Others opined that the reforms I suggest in the column, although laudatory, will never happen. To that I responded that those reforms will never happen if people like me stop advocating for them and stop getting information about reform initiatives into the public forum for discussion.

You can take that to mean that I will not stop trying to make things better for young lawyers. You have my word.

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