Thought For The Week

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

Thought For The Day | Comment

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.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

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

Career Counselors | Comment

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.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

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

Career Counselors | Comment

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.

Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

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

Thought For The Day | Comment

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.

Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment