What the Fourth of July Means to Me

You just gotta ignite the light

And let it shine Just own the night Like the Fourth of July

‘Cause baby you’re a firework.

Come on show ’em what you’re worth

Make ’em go “Oh, oh, oh!” As you shoot across the sky-y-y ~

Katy Perry, “Firework”

The Fourth of July is a big holiday in America. I have such wonderful and vivid childhood memories of celebrating on the shores of Lake Michigan, dancing around sparklers buried in the sand, and eating burgers, watermelon, cake with red, white and blue frosting and trying to elude adult eyes to steal a sip of beer from the inevitable keg.  Those were wonderful days.

This year, when you are not eating, drinking, playing softball and watching fireworks, please give thought to our Founding Fathers and all that they sacrifised to secure our independence from an oppressive sovereign.  We all will relive history, but it should not stop there.  We should think about independence and freedom in our daily lives.  We should take a moment to ask ourselves why it is special to live in America.

Here is what I think.

Our country is the greatest country on earth, and we need to keep it that way.  Currently, the edges are crumbling a bit, and we need to get back to basics and the foundation of our freedom.

I have lived abroad and traveled abroad a lot in my life.  Each time I return and touch down on American soil, I give thanks.  Other cultures and other countries are interesting and exciting, and I have been blessed to experience them.  But the freedoms there and the opportunities for advancement are minor as compared to the freedoms and protections we enjoy as Americans — and as women in America.

People need to understand that.  I often wonder how the large discontented element of our country would respond to life elsewhere.  I think they would be shocked and dismayed.  I think that they might begin to see what they have here in America through a different lens.

It is all about mindset.  America is still the greatest country on earth with a Constitution that has been replicated around the world and a Bill of Rights equaled by none.  That is a lot worth fighting for.

So, happy Independence Day to America and to you.  Wave the flag, get out the red, white and blue and have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

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What Young Women Lawyers Can Learn from a Recent Political Upset

Last week was witness to a remarkable “W” for a democratic primary candidate.  In case you have not heard, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought off a stunning upset over a ten-year incumbent in New York’s 14th Congressional District.

If you are not yet impressed that this is remarkable, stay with me.  There is more.  The “more” is that this young woman pulled off the win although she never has held public office, has no big donors, and was running a campaign on a shoe string.  So how could that happen?

The simple answer is that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez knew how to communicate to voters.  Her principles were strong, and her message was clear.  I also have seen her interviewed, and she is an appealing personality.  I might have wanted to support her if I lived in New York.

Now you probably want to know why I am deviating from my “no politics” policy to bring you this information.  Good question.

The good answer is that I am an advocate for all women.  What impressed me about this story is that the messages this young woman candidate projected met certain criteria that can benefit all women, including women attorneys.

Let’s break that down.

These messages were explained very well in a recent Above The Law article.  As pointed out there, “In many ways, the legal profession resembles politics: connections and money matters, and youth and inexperience are viewed as disadvantages.”

And that is why the victory by Ocasio-Cortez should be important to you.

Here are my interpretations of the take-aways from that article:

  • Open Your Own Doors:  Do not rely on sponsors to do your bidding for you.  You are responsible for your own success.  It is fine to accept help from others but on our own terms;
  • No Excuses:  Just because there are others with better credentials and stronger connections to the “big boys,” that does not mean that you get a pass on trying.  Remember that your enthusiasm and your positive attitude can have a winning influence on people.  Maybe there is no one who is willing to introduce you to potential clients.  So?  Get out there on your own.  Go to as many venues and meet as many people as possible.  Networking 101.
  • Lead with the Why and How Will Follow:  Too cryptic?  In simpler terms, tell people why you are the best at what you do and how you can benefit them with your expertise and talents.  That is strategy —  not bragging.  Smart women do it.  It also is  good old-fashioned common sense.  My grandmother used to say, “Don’t let your flowers die on the vine.”

So, take a page out of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s book and GO FOR IT!  You just might be as surprised as she was with the result.


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Diversity Fatigue — as in Women Lawyers Don’t Count: You Have to Be Kidding

Diversity should be on the minds of all people.  All the time.  It should be on our minds as we walk the streets and as we read our newspapers.  We always should be asking ourselves how open-minded we are and how accepting of different peoples and different cultures.  We never should forget the important role that diversity plays in our lives and in the expression of our freedoms.

Diversity is important to the quality of our institutions and the quality of our products.  It has been demonstrated that diverse teams produce better and longer-lasting results.  That is why diversity is so important to the profession of law and to best practices.

The Best Friends at the Bar project is founded on expressions of diversity.  It was designed to advocate for diverse populations, which now include women lawyers and all young lawyers.  It was founded to address the challenges faced by special interest groups and to help members of those groups overcome the challenges.

As a profession, the law has not always been diverse.  In fact, for most of its existence it has been populated by mostly white males.  But all that has changed.  It is true that the power in the profession is still concentrated in the male population, but women and people of color have advanced to positions of acceptance and excellence that cannot be denied.

There still is much to do to achieve real diversity where women are concerned.  Women lawyers are not paid as much for the same work as male lawyers, and women lawyers are still a minority in positions of management and leadership in law firms.  Women lawyers continue to face challenges based on stereotyping and gender discrimination and harassment, and women lawyers of color are saddled with an entire other layer of discrimination.  With diverse populations come challenges.  And, as a profession, we must be up to the challenge.

So, when I saw this article on “diversity fatigue,” it resonated with me.  Diversity fatigue, really?  “Fatigue” meaning that it exhausts you and you are tired of it — whoever you are?

It is not too exhausting for those of us who realize how far we still have to go to achieve diversity that will be healthy for our profession.  If it is not too exhausting for those diverse populations that are trying to be included in the group and climb the ladder of success.  It is not too exhausting for those bright young minds who are contemplating whether they want to join our profession.

If it is too exhausting for law firm managers, leaders and diversity officers, that is a BIG problem for them to address.  They have a product to sell, and their market is more diverse than ever.

So, read the article and see what you think.  Let me know.

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Women Lawyers and Lawyer Couples

Two-lawyer households:  I know a little about those.  My husband and I graduated two years apart from law school, and the following 40-plus years are history.  Not only the history of our two careers and more than three law firms and public service for each of us, but also the history of a couple and a family — which now includes two children, both of them lawyers.  As we prepare to celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary, I think you could say that it worked for us.  But, it was not easy.

First, there were the years when our two careers were new and very exciting.  We were learning so much and pushing the envelope for all it was worth.  It was a great challenge, for sure, but it also was exhilarating.  We would come together at night after long hours at the office, able to share our experiences because we spoke the same professional language.  It never got old to experience the profession through another set of eyes — with trust and candor.

Those years were followed by the years with children when we were just plain tired all of the time.  Tired of working so hard at the office and tired of working so hard at home.  But never tired of each other or tired of the kids.  It was family — always family first — and many difficult career decisions followed as we made certain that we had time to do right by our family.  The difficult choices turned out to be the right choices, and professional success often was a dynamic concept based on changing circumstances.

And those years were followed by reflection and incredible pride in what we had accomplished.  And those feelings of pride remain to this day and grow with every new success experienced by our family of lawyers.

So, when I saw this article in the National Law Journal, it was natural that I wanted to share it with you.   Written as an inspiration for today’s two-lawyer families, it includes information that has become de rigueur for those of us who have lived it but may be unfamiliar to so many young lawyer couples.

Today more than ever, lawyers have spouses and significant others, who also are lawyers.  It is simple:  There are so many more women lawyers in practice today; and lawyers today often spend more time at the office than at home.  So, lawyers are naturally and disproportionately likely to end up in love relationships with other lawyers.

If that is a scary concept to you — because you cannot imagine overcoming the challenges of a two-lawyer relationship — consider the example of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her now deceased husband Martin Ginsburg.  Channeling their experience, the article provides guidance on how to survive the pressures of two-lawyer couples and parenting:

  • Support each other, and treat the other person’s work like it is equally as important as your own;
  • Delegate well — both at the office and at home.  It is especially important to delegate things that the other person enjoys doing more and can do better; and
  • Do not assume to know where all responsibilities lie within the couple.  With too much to do and too little time to do it, couples must remain flexible to provide the support that is critical for mutual success.  “Find your domain and share the load.”

You can learn a lot from the excellent example that the Ginsburgs set for you …  and for me …  and for all of us to follow.  Theirs was both a great love and a great success story, which included two remarkable law careers and a cherished family history.  It has been memorialized in the film “RBG,” and I hope you will find it soon in a theater near you.




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Retaining Valuable Associate Lawyers — But for How Long and Why?

For those of you who care about what is going on in Big Law, here is a new development worth checking out — and with critical eyes.

Weil Gotshal & Manges announced last week that the firm “hopes to improve associate retention by cutting the wait for partnership” from 9 1/2 years to 7 1/2 years.  Sounds good, right?  Still a long time to wait for partnership, but better by two years.  The firm also stated that “substantially all” of the 7 1/2 year associates will be promoted to partner or counsel.

That takes a little more explaining. 

  • New partners will be fixed-income and not equity. 
  • New counsel will be in one of two categories:
  • Some counsel “in specialty practices” will remain counsel for as long as they stay at the firm.
  • Other counsel (presumably in non-specialty practices) can stay in those positions for up to three years.  During that time, they may be promoted to partner.  If they are not promoted, they will be transitioned from the firm.  As in OUT.  “Transition” is described this way by the executive partner of the firm:  “If  they don’t become partner, they will have a title and more money to then go out and look for a job.”

Sounds well-meaning, right?  Doing what’s best for hard-working young lawyers, right?  The final statement in the article, further quoting the executive partner, is telling, however.  “We expect to retain significantly more senior-level associates, which will clearly improve leverage, increase revenue, decrease the cost of hiring laterally.”

The operative word there is “leverage.”  To fully understand what may be the motivation behind this move by Weil Gotshal, you need to know that law firms REALLY do not want to lose senior associates — because they are VERY profitable to the firm.  In fact, it is widely-recognized by Big Law and former Big Law lawyers that firms will heap praise on most 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th year associates just to keep them around for a few more years of this kind of high profitability.  But, when partnership decisions are made, only a select few of those associates will be promoted to partnership.

You also need to understand that replacing departed senior associates is very expensive for law firms.  Statistics show that it can cost up to $500,000 to replace a single senior associate.  If that sounds like a lot to you, consider the costs associated with attorney search firms, revenues lost interviewing instead of billing hours, and revenues lost while transitioning work to avoid double billing.  It all adds up.

There is a lot to think about here.  You can expect other Big Law firms to follow with similar programs to be competitive in the market.  Don’t forget to look behind what may be paternalistic declarations in press releases.  Sometimes things are not exactly what they seem.

To learn more about the new Weil Gotshal program, check out the article.

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Seasoned Lawyers are Critical as Mentors for All Young Lawyers

Sometimes you just read something that you know is wrong.  Not just wrong, but Wrong, Wrong, Real Wrong.

Well, that happened to me just the other day.  I was reading the Above The Law blog, and I came upon an article captioned “Why Today’s Seasoned Lawyers Shouldn’t Mentor Newbies.”  Because I have written so much on mentoring, including in my new book to be released this summer, the article immediately interested me.  In that new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers), I argue that young lawyers want more  — not less — attention from senior lawyers.  I argue that it is the isolation and lack of community on the job that plagues young lawyers the most and that it can so easily be remedied by senior lawyers showing interest in the practices and lives of the young professionals around them.

So, what possibly could lie behind the proposition that seasoned lawyers shouldn’t mentor “newbie lawyers”?  Where else are newly-minted lawyers going to get information on proper courtroom decorum, how to conduct themselves at the settlement table, what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a deposition, when it is OK to call the judge’s chambers, what is appropriate interaction with clients, how the law firm makes profits, what are the most effective ways of generating new clients …. and the list goes on and on and on?

Those things are rarely taught with any degree of effectiveness in law school — and typically only to those students, who are brave enough to take a trial practice clinic.  For most students it is just too risky and humiliating to have a judge scream at you in the courtroom when your trial practice advisor is watching and you have eight credits on the line.  It is much easier to concentrate on memorization and writing a killer exam in a traditional classroom course.

Even law firm summer associates have little time or opportunity to learn much about the actual practice of law because time in those positions is fleeting and the law firms are far too busy wooing the law students to come over to their side.  Acceptable  behavior during a deposition is frowned on as good conversation at pool parties and concerts.

And mid-level associates are too busy billing hours and proving themselves worthy of selection to partnership to have any time to impart knowledge to “newbie” lawyers.  Add to that the problem that a lot of mid-level associates also do not have the necessary level of knowledge to impart.

So, by my calculation, that leaves seasoned lawyers as the desirable mentors.   It seems so obvious.  The flimsy support for the proposition of the Above The Law article is that seasoned lawyers are so out of touch that they still are recommending that young lawyers get involved with bar associations for networking opportunities and that seasoned lawyers cannot possibly relate to a world where women’s issues and work-life attitudes have evolved and where commoditized work has an appeal.  Really.

Even if some seasoned lawyers prove to be a little out of touch on a few of these issues, the premise of the article is much too broad.  Seasoned lawyers have a wealth of knowledge on substantive, procedural and business issues, and there is no reason to stridently throw the baby out with the bathwater by dismissing them as unfit mentors.  In fact, most young lawyers should be so lucky as to have seasoned lawyers take interest in them and their careers.

The Above The Law article goes too far.  You can skip it!  Maybe Above The Law should have skipped it, too.



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Career Tips for Women Lawyers

Recently I attended the Georgetown Women’s Forum, which expanded the Georgetown Law Women’s Forum to Georgetown University graduates in celebration of the 25th year of the Forum.  As in years past, the program was inspiring.  Having attended the Forum for many years and also participated as a panelist, I take great pride in the quality of the programs.

From the welcome by Savannah Guthrie, a Georgetown Law graduate, to the keynote address by Sally Yates, who briefly joined the Georgetown Law faculty after departing the Justice Department last year, to the final moments of dedication to careers, the program was filled with helpful and hopeful messages for women in law and business.

Here is some career advice from that program:

  • Having a career plan is important, but you also must be willing to take risks to capitalize on opportunities that may not be anticipated by your plan;
  • Being a good team member is essential.  Work hard to make your fellow team members look good;
  • Be who your are by staying true to your values.  If your work environment challenges who you are, don’t be afraid to make a change;
  • Networking is just like making friends.  Being curious about what others do makes it easier.  Showing your commitment to a group or cause goes a long way toward making strong connections;
  • Ask for what you want;
  • Ask for feedback.  It is the way you grow;
  • Men are still in control of most law firms and large businesses.  You must engage them on change to achieve change;
  • Stop thinking about childcare as a women’s issue.  Make it a non-gender issue to achieve the progress we need;
  • The only real work-life balance is to give everything to work while you are there and everything to home while you are there — at least until the kids are in bed!;
  • Strive to become a good leader by emphasizing relationship building;
  • Create your brand and market it; and
  • Support women colleagues.

Now get busy!  See how much of that advice you can incorporate into your professional life and your career plan. And, if you are a Georgetown University or Georgetown Law graduate, be sure to sign up for next year’s program.

See you there!


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Thought For The Day: Courage is grace under pressure. ERNEST HEMINGWAY (Think the new Duchess of Sussex!)

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