Thought For the Week: “If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.” Stephen Hawking

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Let’s Have Some Fun With Movie and TV’s Best Female Lawyers

I am getting ready to go on vacation and spend time in the sun and sand with family and friends, so I am in a playful mood. No heavy research and writing today, just a fun look at how women lawyers have been portrayed in movies and television over time.

Here’s the link. Pop some corn, sit back and look how far we have come. But not so fast. It all has not happened just lately. Don’t overlook Katharine Hepburn in Adam’s Rib. She is my all time favorite movie chick lawyer, and that was a long time ago.

Enjoy! And I will see you back on this blog in a month. Yes, that was a month! I do love saying that!

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Thought For The Week: “A good friend is a connection to life — a tie to the past, a road to the future.” Lois Wyse

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Is Multi-Tasking Such a Good Idea?

Most lawyers, especially women lawyers, pride themselves in their ability to multi-task. And, yes, they are pretty good at it. They have had to juggle family and profession under challenging circumstances, and they have done it very well. I am in awe of women lawyers who manage to multi-task and keep their wits about them.

And some male lawyers do it, too. They multi-task. Kudos to them as well.

The truth about multi-tasking is complicated, however. No matter how you do it, the important question is whether multi-tasking is a good idea at all. Young lawyers need to think about it.

Here is an article that argues against multi-tasking. The author is an in-house lawyer, and has additional advice for all of the in-house lawyers reading this.

My advice to all of you is to pay attention to this article. Many of you have very complicated practices, and the ability to hone in on the subject matter and give it your entire attention at times can mean the difference between success and failure. I am aware that taking a more nuanced approach to multi-tasking complicates the balancing act, but it could very well be worth considering.

I am not saying that you should neglect your family and personal responsibilities in favor of your professional life. That is not what I am saying at all. I believe that an effective balance means that some times your focus has to be on family, and some times your focus has to be on profession. Each day is different, and sometimes each hour is different. That is what you should expect, and handling it means staying flexible and keeping your objectives clear.

I am a lawyer/mom. And I can relate. My kids are grown now, but I remember those challenging days of balancing family with profession like it was yesterday. Some days I felt like a failure as a mother, and some days I felt like a failure as a lawyer. All days I had to stay focused and have the confidence that I could pull it off. And I did. Those two kids now are lawyers and doing their own balancing.

Some things never change. And we don’t really want them to. We value both sides of our lives, and we are capable of creating balance that protects both sides of our lives. It might take a little help from the outside from time to time, but we know how to get that. We just need to be willing to accept the help.

My money is on you. You are smart and capable, and you know your limits. Respect them, and the rest will all fall into place.

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Thought For The Week: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller

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Building Networks is VERY Important for Young Lawyers

Recently I attended a program at an AM LAW 100 firm to benefit young women lawyers. The firm has supported my Best Friends at the Bar program from the beginning, and I return the favor by attending their programs and presenting programs for them. I enjoy the energy of the young lawyers who attend those programs, and I appreciate the seasoned lawyers who participate to help develop young talent.

This particular program addressed a number of topics, including the importance of networking — a typically dreaded subject for young lawyers who want to hide out in the bathroom or pretend to be on the phone when faced with a room full of unknowns. I could sense the discomfort of young program attendees when the subject was introduced. For my part, I assured them that even seasoned lawyers can be challenged by these kinds of cold introductions and conversations. Fortunately , however, breaking into a room full of unknowns is not the only kind of effective networking.

A recent article on Above The Law addressed some of these issues. The author, a 2003 law school graduate, lamented the absence of social media networking opportunities in the early years of her practice. Her emphasis was on how the digital world has transformed the way lawyers socialize and network. The “unfettered access” to lawyers across the globe that is possible via social media is a game-changer, and the ability to profile yourself and your practice on some social media platforms is a huge benefit to developing your unique brand.

But her message was not all about social media. She also addressed networking within the office and building meaningful connections there to develop your talent and access valuable mentoring. Adding legal recruiters and bar association colleagues to your networks was also discussed.

All of these things are important, especially social media like LinkedIn, which enables young lawyers to reach out in ways that are comfortable for them. However, the challenge of the less comfortable venues for networking is important also and should not be ignored. Have confidence in your ability to walk into a group, introduce yourself, and join a conversation. Be assured that your background and experience is something of value to share and that others will welcome your presence in their conversations. Practice your opening remarks for that situation in the same way that you (hopefully) practice your elevator speech.

My best advice for starting challenging networking conversations is to ask people about themselves. Lawyers typically love to talk about themselves so you will be on solid ground. With luck, eventually the conversation will turn to you and your experience or, at the very least, you will exchange contact information with those you have met.

Networking is a process, and it is critically important. Having a professional network can lead to important contacts and clients — exactly what you need to impress your firm and climb the ladder of success.

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Thought For The Week: “Comfort can be dangerous. Comfort provides a floor but also a ceiling.” Trevor Noah

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Considering the Fate of Bar Exams and Revisting Diploma Privilege

During this bar exam week, I am reminded of the great debate about the necessity for bar exams at all. This is something I have pondered many times before and written about as well. Maybe it is because of my respect for knowledge — and the pursuit of knowledge — and not memorization. Maybe it is because I am a pragmatist and understand that whatever you spit out to pass a bar exam can seldom be relied on in practice. Everything has to be researched again and updated unless you are hankering for a malpractice suit. Everything. And all competent practitioners know it.

Or maybe it is because I am from Wisconsin, the birthing ground for progressives, and I know a lot of lawyers practicing there who never wrote a bar exam and are very competent and impressive members of the bar. My Dad was one of them.

One of the things that Wisconsin got very right over the years is what is known as “diploma privilege.” Diploma privilege in Wisconsin confers a license to practice law based on a diploma from one of the two law schools in the state. It has been alive and well for generations in Wisconsin. If it was a problem, you can bet that the Wisconsin legislature would have changed the policy long ago. No state wants to encourage and tolerate incompetence among its lawyers.

I wrote about this in a blog on September 8, 2020 during the fiasco of bad bar exam experiences associated with the pandemic. If you are interested, you can access that blog in the Archives under that date on the Home Page of this website.

Many others have addressed the subject before and since. When looking at diploma privilege Wisconsin-style, the salient question is how many Wisconsin lawyers are deemed incompetent or a threat to the quality of the bar because of diploma privilege. The answer is very few, as confirmed by a recent article in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, which was referenced in Notice and Comment earlier this week where author, David Lat, revisited the subject of diploma privilege.

The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics article sheds important light on the subject of diploma privilege. In that article, Professor Milan Markovic examines the experience of diploma privilege in Wisconsin and concludes:

[T]he bar examination requirement has no effect on attorney misconduct. The complaint rate against Wisconsin attorneys is similar to that of other jurisdictions, and Wisconsin attorneys are charged with misconduct less often than attorneys in most other states. Moreover, the rate of public discipline against Wisconsin attorneys who were admitted via the diploma privilege is the same as that of Wisconsin attorneys admitted via bar examinations.

Professor Markovic further noted that, during the pandemic, four states and the District of Columbia adopted some form of limited or modified diploma privilege. In 2021, these jurisdictions all returned to administering the bar exam again, however. But the pandemic experience shows that instituting diploma privilege is possible and establishes the groundwork for more lasting policy change in the future.

In recent years, the support for diploma privilege has grown. Instead of assigning incompetence to lawyers who do not write and pass a bar exam, maybe the American Bar Association should be looking at its accreditation criteria for law schools. The fact that Wisconsin only has two law schools — both of them very fine legal training institutions — might be a clue in this process.

Control the quality of legal education, and bar exams will not be necessary to protect the quality of the bar. It seems fundamental.


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