Thought For The Day: It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. HARRY POTTER (J.K. ROWLING)

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Women Lawyers and the Motherhood Penalty

Are you familiar with the “motherhood penalty?”  Well, you should be. 

According to an article published earlier this week, the “motherhood penalty” is identified in a recent study as one of the reasons why women make 81 cents of every dollar a man makes.  When, in fact, research also shows that having children raises wages for men, even correcting for the number of hours they work.

The gap between what mothers earn and what childless women and males earn is significant, and the gap between mothers and childless women has not narrowed since the 1980’s — even though the share of working mothers with young children has risen from 47% in 1975 to 70% in 2015.  The reasons cited for such slow progress are the lack of both paid parental leave and subsidized childcare.   

Sounds unfair, right?  But, maybe you think that it does not happen that way in the law profession.  Think again.  The example of a law firm was specifically cited in the article. 

 “You’re a female associate. Should you be considered for partnership at the end of your seven years, when you took nine months off?” 

The study came out of the University of Massachusetts and draws on research conducted by the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics.  That research tracked approximately 18,000 individuals from 5,000 families since the study began in 1968. 

And, yes, it is against the law to punish an employee for having family responsibilities.  But, employers know what to say and how to say it to remain within the law.  And although cases alleging discrimination based on family responsibilities have “skyrocketed” in recent years, the total number of cases still remains small, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lacks funds to proactively police the issue.

Sad but true.




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All Women Lawyers Need to Understand Pay Equity


It is time to revisit pay equity for women lawyers.  In this Buzzfeed article, you will read about a recently filed discrimination class action suit alleging pay inequity.  I take no position on the merits of the disputes described in this article.  My reason for including the article is that the issues you need to be familiar with are described well there.

I know that many of you think this never could happen to you at your firm.  You feel that you are being treated well and fairly in your current position, and the kinds of things described in this article are the furthest things from your mind.  This is how that sense of false security was described in the article:

“[W]omen lawyers often do well early in their careers. They now outnumber male students in law school, and men and women are recruited in nearly equal numbers by top firms.

But even though men and women attorneys bill roughly the same amount of hours, men are on average paid more at every level of their careers, according to a National Association of Women Lawyers survey. In 2007, women made up 16% of equity partners among survey respondents. By 2017, that percentage only rose to 19% — evidence that the glass ceiling is holding.”

Do not take anything for granted.  Become familiar with the issues and what to look for.  And, if you experience pay inequity, do not let an unsatisfactory situation languish.  Once you see a pattern of behavior that shows no signs of improving, take action.  Upon reading the article, you may conclude that the plaintiff in this lawsuit waited too long to act.  Too long to leave and too long to seek redress.

To learn more about the issues of pay inequity, I encourage you to read or reread my article in the DC Women’s Bar magazine.  As stated in that article, both women lawyers and law firms have their work cut out for them on this issue:

It is time for some real soul searching in law firms as they look to the future of the profession. Tolerating implicit gender bias and gender pay inequity will create adversity within the law firm ranks and increased competition among team members. It will discourage camaraderie and will undermine best practices. It also will have a negative effect on law firm succession plans as mid-level talented women lawyers leave because of unfair and unwise practices.

Always remember:  You have value.  You are worthy.  You must learn how to protect yourself.



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How Women Lawyers Perceive Men’s Behavior

It can be difficult to know how men and women are supposed to relate to each other in the workplace these days.  What is too much affection, and, God forbid, what is too much touching?  I have seen close colleagues in an office awkwardly come together for either a handshake or a hug or a cheek kiss, and it is not certain where the gesture will end up.  It resembles some kind of crane-like mating dance, and it is, of course, because they are uncertain about what is appropriate and not appropriate and what is allowed and not allowed.  It is painful to watch.

Everyone is a bit confused.  How much is too much is being addressed by many law firms today in the wake of the most open and candid conversation about sexual harassment that we ever have had in this country.  There is no right or wrong answer to many of the situations posited because firms will differ in their policies from one to the other.  And, most of that needs to be left to them.  They understand their cultures, and, presumably, they will create policies that are reflective of their people and those cultures.

But, there are a few standard responses to the “what is appropriate” question, and most of them fall better into the category of “what is outrageous” and clearly outside the realm of acceptable.  In an article this week by Patricia Hunt Holmes, retired partner at Vinson & Elkins, some of those standard responses are addressed.  In calling out “Men in Law,” Ms. Holmes lays out very clearly how women perceive men in the workplace and why the grades are low.   Here are some of the nuggets with a bit of my own commentary thrown in:

  • Don’t call women by names that you would use for a child — like honey, doll, sweetie and baby.  You laugh … but the evidence confirms that it still is happening.  Not ancient history like when I was an associate in a law firm and the FEDERAL JUDGE called me “honey.”  Definitely a “no no” then, and a “no no” now.  Miss or Ma’am will do.  It sounds stiff and archaic, but at least it is respectful;
  • Stop flirting with every woman in sight.  Most women are not interested, and the ones who are should not be — not in the workplace.  It almost never works out for them, and they should know it.  Keep it conversational and on terms that will allow you to continue to be colleagues without the baggage that comes from awkward sexual innuendo; and
  • Keep your door open when you are conferring with a female colleague in your office.  Only in situations where security is in question and information is very confidential should you ever close your door to the outside world when you are alone with a woman in your office.  It will lead to office rumors and can be very harmful to the woman’s career — not yours.  Years ago, when I was a much younger lawyer,  the managing partner of the firm always closed his door when he and I met in his office, and my secretary described for me what went on in the hallway outside.  Lots of speculating and twittering and a fair amount of jealousy thrown in.  That did me no good, and the men should know better.  They cannot be that clueless.

It is to her credit that Ms. Holmes takes the role of helping hand as it relates to the men she is addressing.  She calls them “good people” and reminds them of how their “missteps” can rob them of meaningful relationships with female colleagues.  She also cautions them not to allow the “current hysteria” to cause them to avoid working with women.

I know that the sweetie name calling, the flirting and the behind closed doors treatments sound like something out of a bygone era.  However, sadly, think again.  There is still a lot of bad stuff going on out there, and you need to have your eyes wide open.  These are the obvious ones.  It is the subtle ones that really will trip you up.







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Today, Valentines Day, is a day for celebrating love.  We buy cards with red and pink hearts and poetic verses expressing our love, we share classic red (the color of love) roses with our loved ones, we have intimate candle lit dinners demonstrating our love, and we thank the powers that be for the opportunity to love whomever we wish.

Oh, wait a minute …. you say you are caught in the office and not able to participate in the Day of Love?  You cannot see yourself clear to taking a few hours off in the name of love?  And I say, if that is the case, you are overlooking the most important love of all.  The love of yourself.

Your job is not limited to the office.  It also is your “job” to love yourself, and that begins with a recognition that you must take care of yourself to be helpful and effective and loving to the others in your life.  It all starts with YOU.

Take time out for pleasure.  Take time out for people.  Take time out for just plain doing nothing and staring at a beautiful sunset.  It will help you gain perspective and make the hours spent toiling at your desk seem much less of a burden.  It will give you things to look forward to.  That is essential for healthy living and the balance that we all need.

So, love yourself.   Today is the perfect day to start.  Happy Valentines Day!

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If Notorious RBG Is Encouraged about the Future For Women Lawyers, I’m ALL IN!

By all accounts, the appearance of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday at NYU Law was a huge success.  As always, she had interesting perspective on the past and future of women lawyers and on workplace dynamics.  Here is a link to coverage of the event.

I heard Justice Ginsburg speak at a law banquet years ago, and I found her completely believable, entertaining and without a scintilla of hubris.  What you see is exactly what you get with her.  Her sense of humor alone is so charming when combined with the realization that she is one of the most powerful legal intellects of our time.

My daughter drew a long straw when she was a law student and was chosen to attend an “intimate” conversation with Justice Ginsburg at the law school.  I remember the collective comments from the ten students chosen for this privilege about what an “adorable” woman the Justice is.  That was before she became notorious, and I had to remind them that she can slice and dice like no one else when a legal argument does not hold water.  But, I guess it is fair to say that she does it in an adorable way, and she dresses the part.  Who can resist the lace jabots?  And what a collection she has.

Some highlights from the report of the event are as follow:

  • Her support for the #MeToo Movement;
  • Not letting the bad behavior of others influence the good behavior you expect of yourself;
  • The importance of having strong female colleagues;
  • Her proposed “equal legal treatment” amendment to the Constitution; and
  • The importance of laughter in relationships and work environments.

Read the full article and see for yourself. 

You go, Notorious RBG!  Long may you reign.






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Thought For The Day: The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own. Benjamin Disraeli

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Thought For The Day: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. MEISTER ECKHART

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