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

Thought For The Day | Comment

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.

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

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!

Career Counselors | Comment

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

Thought For The Day | Comment

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.

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

Thought For The Week: “Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.” John Wooden

Thought For The Day | Comment

Taking a Close Look at the Law Profession

The law profession is ripe for a close look at how it is serving its members. And that close look needs to begin at the bottom. It needs to focus on entry-level lawyers and how their experiences can be improved and enriched — for their benefit and for the benefit of the organizations they serve.

My ABA Journal February column was published today and explores reengineering of the law profession — from the bottom up. It includes proposals for changes to law school curricula to produce “practice ready” lawyers, revisions to bar exams to contribute to that same goal, and the need for apprenticeships/internships and effective mentoring to enhance and advance the careers of young lawyers and preserve their talent to take law firms into the future.

A fresh look at these subjects is long overdue and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. The concept of “practice ready” lawyers has been kicked around for years in the profession, but the resistance from law schools, boards of bar examiners, and bar prep companies has been significant. They all have turf to protect that makes initiating change difficult.

Keep in mind that the US is not the only legal market in the world. Other countries approach legal education and legal licensure differently, especially those countries that impose mandatory requirements for post-graduate apprenticeships to assure competency and readiness for practice . In Canada, for example, the apprenticeship requirement is known as “Articling,” and every lawyer in Canada, after graduating from law school and before being admitted to the bar, is required to go through one year of Articling. In British Columbia, that one year of Articling consists of three months of practical courses followed by the bar exam and nine months of practical experience in a law firm.

In the UK, the apprenticeship requirement to become a barrister is known as “pupillage,” and legal licensure in Germany requires a multiple-stage clerkship. These programs are all designed to avoid what happens in America where entry-level lawyers have little practical experience, feel ill-prepared for practice, and suffer feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and loss of confidence as a result. For those who do not receive effective mentoring at their law firms or other places of business, the temptation to leave the profession is strong and too many of them do just that.

So our failure to meet the needs of future lawyers results in loss of talent in the profession and negative impacts on succession plans. That does not make sense, and it does not have to be that way. Kicking the can down the road will get us nowhere. The time for change is now.

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

Generous Women Lawyers Supporting Their Sisters-In-Law

This is the last blog in a three-part series based on the World Forum for Women in the Law program produced by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and offered virtually at the end of January 2021. It was an invaluable listening experience for young women attorneys and law students, and, for the last few weeks, I have been using this blog to bring some highlights of that conference to you. I appreciate how busy you are, and I do not want you to miss out on the information and advice.

Today’s topic is especially important to me. The subject matter of women lawyers supporting other women lawyers came up during an interview with Judy Perry Martinez, past president of the American Bar Association, and her remarks echoed my own in my books, articles and addresses. Ms. Martinez’s comments centered on the generous women who supported her and how women should use their power to allow others to grow — in contrast to hoarding power and focusing on the shortcomings of others to gain personal advantage.

It is the common concept of sharing resources and paying it forward that we hear so much about and which is fundamental to the rise of women in the law profession. The emphasis of Ms. Martinez’s remarks was on the ability of women leaders to build confidence in others, let them know that they are supported, and help them achieve all that they can be.

This discussion was followed by an interview with the Honorable Tammy Duckworth, US Congresswoman. The emphasis of her remarks centered on women believing that they are entitled to power and wielding power responsibly, compassionately and ethically. As a former soldier, Ms. Duckworth uniquely understands the importance of rank having privileges as well as responsibilities. Those responsibilities include straight talk, integrity, inclusiveness, effective tone and having the courage of your convictions.

The congresswoman underscored the importance of being good to everyone on your team because you never know who will step forward with a skill that you need.

These women have walked the walk as well as talked the talk, and I hope that this conference will become an annual event. There was so much to learn from seasoned women lawyers like these, and those of us in the audience were privileged to have the opportunity to hear them candidly share their remarks and advice.

Please join the event next year. You will be happy that you did.

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