The Trouble with Women Lawyers — OR Is There Trouble?

I have just returned from a reunion with 14 of my college girlfriends.  We get together as often as possible — traveling from both coasts and points in between — to make sure that our friendships remain kindled and that we provide support to one another as our journeys through life ebb and flow.   These times together never disappoint, and we always leave planning the next one.

This is my way of reminding you that I am and always have been an advocate for women, dating back to college when we all needed each other’s support dealing with our new-found independence and all it entailed.  However, along my road from law school to law practice, I have encountered women, who have tried hard to undermine me and negatively affect my professional progress.  And I am not alone.  I have heard similar stories from many of my female colleagues, and I have witnessed this kind of negative behavior among women professionals.

That is why I remind women lawyers as often as possible of the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she said, “There is a place in HELL reserved for women who do not support other women.”  I have met Secretary Albright and discussed those words with her in the context of women lawyers.  As the mother of women lawyers, she was a quick convert to the cause.

However, recognizing that some women do not treat other women well does not mean that I buy into all of the women bullying women stereotypes.  I know too many wonderful and supportive women lawyers to ever go down that road.  But others have, and it is a slippery slope.

In a recent blog from my friend Andie Kramer and her husband Al Harris, whose Andie and Al blog series addresses issues like gender bias that affect women in the workplace, it was not at all surprising to find Andie taking on other authors on the subject of women’s bias against other women.  Andie is a great supporter of women, and she is a contributor to two of my books in the effort to improve conditions for women lawyers.  The fact that she refuses to buy into alleged female stereotypes about women victimizing other women was predictable, and she does it so well.

Rather than rely on negative messages about the societal or evolutionary or internal antagonism behind distinctive female characteristics of hostility by women against women,  Andie and Al challenge those assumptions and beliefs by focusing on what they believe is the real cause for negative behaviors in the workplace —- the workplace itself.

Here is a sampling of what you will read in the blog:

Women’s and men’s behaviors depend not on distinctive female or male characteristics but on the situations in which they find themselves: what they are asked to do, the conditions under which they are required to do it, and the expectations of how they will perform while doing it. Women’s difficulties with other women in the workplace have little or nothing to do with women’s evolution, socialization, or internalized misogyny. They have everything to do with the dynamics of the environments within which women are working. In other words, it’s not the women, it’s their workplaces.

Women helping women and eliminating the toxicity of legal work spaces are major themes of the Best Friends at the Bar project.  I hope that you will join me in these efforts and that you also will keep up with the Andie and Al on their website  to gain perspective on gender bias and related issues.  And I am sure that their new book on these subjects will be illuminating for all of us.

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Thought For The Day: I close my eyes to old ends. And open my heart to new beginnings. NICK FREDERICKSON

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Thought For The Day: Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too. L.R. KNOST

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Young Lawyers Guide to Dealing with Stress

I read an article the other day on “Stress Free Law Practice.”  I laughed out loud.  There is no such thing.

Lawyers are professionals.  They have a lot of responsibility, and they should anticipate stress in their work lives.  From sole practitioners to law firm lawyers to in-house counsel, stress is part of the job.  Stress from client expectations.  Stress from managing other lawyers.  Stress from making budget.  Stress from the judicial process.

Even if you made widgets instead of practicing law, there would be stress.  How many widgets to produce?  How to make your widgets unique and competitive in the market place?  Is it time for a new version of the widget — say Widget 2.0?  So many widget worries.

How much stress is too much stress is another issue. Millennial lawyers know that they do not want the same degree of stress as their parent/lawyers experienced.  That much stress led to illness and drug and alcohol dependencies.  Young lawyers don’t want to go down that same road.

There is no way of totally eliminating stress from our work or personal lives, but there are ways of reducing the stress.   So, I give credit to the article for identifying some stress reducers for lawyers.  The ones I give the most value to are the following:

  • Write things down.  I really can relate to this.  When I am lying awake at night thinking of important stuff I do not want to forget, I get up, grab my phone and write myself an e-mail.  Sounds crazy, but when that e-mail has been sent, I can sleep like a baby.  No more worries.  It will be waiting for me in the morning.
  • Exercise.  You all know that exercise is a great stress reliever, so why are you not doing it as a routine?  Because you do not have time?  Pshaw!  You have time to obsess over stressful things, but no time to exercise to relieve the stress.  Makes no sense.  Plus, you get all the extra benefits of the endorphins to make you happier.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.  They are addictive.  Enough said.
  • Enjoy the out of doors.  Take a few minutes each day to get outside and breathe the fresh air.  Take deep breaths.  Walk a little.  Stretch your legs.  No back-lit screens allowed.
  • Focus on your accomplishments.  You can count on the fact that others will find fault with you.  It is human nature.  Don’t you be one of them.  Herald your good works.  Take some time to look at your life in the rear view mirror and pat yourself on the back for all that you have accomplished.  Law school was no walk in the park and neither was passing the bar.  Don’t forget how far you have come.  Count your blessings.
  • Meditate.  I admit to knowing nothing about this.  Never did it.  But, I know others who cannot live without it.  So, it is worth exploring.

Stress is a killer.  Make these small changes in your life to avoid being the next victim.  Start early so that the changes become habit.  It is the gift you can give yourself.


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Senator Birch Bayh Helped Lead the Way for Women Lawyers

Former Senator Birch Bayh is someone I want you to know about.  He died last month at the age of  91.  If you are a young woman lawyer, chances are that the name does not ring a bell.

But, ring the bell for girls and women is exactly what the U. S. Senator from Indiana did when he championed passage of the federal law banning discrimination against women and girls in college admissions and sports.  Bayh was the lead sponsor of the landmark 1972 law, which is most often referred to as Title IX.

The law’s passage came at a time when women earned fewer than 10 percent of all medical and law degrees and fewer than 300,000 high school girls—only 1 in 27—played sports.  Today, thanks to Birch Bayh and other lawmakers, women make up more than half of those receiving bachelor and graduate degrees, including law degrees, and one out of every two high school girls plays sports today.

For some perspective, many of the articles lauding the contributions of Senator Bayh at the time of his death reflected that, in the 1970’s, a handful of states still restricted the way that high school girls could participate in the sport of basketball.  Instead of playing the game the way it is played today, with five players on each team and all playing full court, girls basketball evolved with six-player teams and the restriction that the three players on each team in the forward positions could not cross over the half-court line.  And the three guards on each team were not allowed to shoot.

If you are thinking that the game was not much fun to play, you would be right.  I was one of those middle school forwards standing at the half court line, and I know.  I could shoot around as an equal with the boys in my neighborhood, but when I got to school the rules changed.

Basketball played that way was not much fun to watch either.  Try to imagine March Madness with that set up!

Thanks to Senator Birch Bayh, young women today have a much improved chance of being admitted to law school —  and have a lot more fun playing basketball!

To read more about Senator Birch Bayh and Title IX, read the obituary.

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Attention Women Lawyers: Equal Pay Day

I am a day late in recognizing Equal Pay Day.  Regretfully because it is an important day.

If you are not sure what Equal Pay Day is all about, here is a blog from the past to help you out.  Although it is now two years after this blog was written, the statistics have not changed much.  Women are still not being paid equally for equal work.

Equal Pay Day — Yes, It Still Is an Issue for Women Lawyers

I also want to make it clear that flexible hours — when you do the work — has nothing to do with whether you do the work.  So, the reader, who misinterpreted my statement in an earlier blog on equal pay, should stand assured that I am 100% behind the concepts of flexible schedules and telecommuting.  Work is work.  No matter where it is performed and when.  Unfortunately, however, not everyone sees it that way, and I always acknowledge the other side in preparation for the debate.

Hopefully I will be able to report more progress in future years.  The wheels of progress grind slowly.

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Salary/Benefits Negotiations for All Young Lawyers

Last week I attended the Georgetown University Women’s Forum, an expanded version  of the Georgetown Women’s Law Forum.  As a Georgetown Law grad, I am a big fan of this conference.  Keep your eye out for it next year!  You don’t have to be a Hoya to attend.

Here are some tips that I picked up on salary/benefits negotiations, and they apply to all young lawyers.  Think of it as your Ten Step Method to Greater Job Satisfaction.

1.  Set the stage.  In preparation for a meeting to discuss more salary or benefits, ask your supervisor for time to discuss your career development.  Thank him/her for taking the time for this important discussion and compliment past mentoring efforts if possible.

Then get prepared!

2.  Know your value.  Begin the conversation with your pitch so that you accomplish your goal for the meeting.  Focus on your accomplishments and the skills that you bring to the organization.  Include seminars and conferences you have attended, papers you have published, and initiatives you have helped launch.

Numbers matter, so create data.  Everything counts, but do not fall into the pattern of taking on responsibilities just for the reporting value.  Always be strategic and learn to say no to things that are not you.  Be authentic.

Practice, practice, practice your presentation — out loud or with partner.  Welcome comments and criticism to improve the product.

3.  Know your target salary.  Determine a salary range, both high and low, and know your walk away point.

Do your research.  Comparable firms and office locations are key.  Firms pay different salaries in different locations depending on the market and cost of living analyses.

Make the ask.  More money.  A new title.  A new responsibility to enhance your career.  All of these are important, but you HAVE TO ASK.

4. Know what benefits are important to you.  Understand that sometimes benefits can be more important than salary.  It is all about what improves your individual situation.  Examples of benefits to consider are:

  • Flex time and commuting;
  • Health insurance;
  • Life and disability insurance;
  • Retirement investment plans;
  • Medical, personal and family leave;
  • Tuition reimbursement;
  • Vacation time; and
  • Work-life balance.

5.  Have a strategy going into salary/benefits negotiations.  Be positive and flexible, and don’t got too personal.  Treat it like a business discussion.

Deflect some questions that you do not feel comfortable answering.  Salary history, for example, is against the law in five states.  If an application form asks for that information, put N/A if you do not think the answer benefits you.

If you are asked about salary expectation, answer with a salary range and follow up with your desire to learn more about the position and responsibilities.

Or turn the question around, as in, “What do you usually pay for this position?”

6.  Timing is critical.  The best times to ask for more salary or improved benefits is after a big win or a very successful event or when you know a new budget is being rolled out.

Do not wait until an annual review and lose the advantage of the moment.

Do not ask during a crunch time in your business or when your boss is under stress either at office or at home.

7.  Be patient.  Give time for a thoughtful response.  Be ready for the back and forth.  Be prepared for counteroffers.

8.  Anticipate possible responses.  You may hear:

  • “We don’t have the budget.”  Your response could be, “How about increasing my salary by half that amount and talk again in six months.”  A classic negotiation technique.  Half a loaf often is better than none and might work for you.
  • OR, “You would be the highest paid member of the team at the salary you are suggesting.”  You may want to respond by distinguishing your accomplishments from those of the rest of the team.
  • OR, “Is there anything besides more money that would be important to you?”  If more money is out of the question, ask for a benefit that does not come out of your department budget—- like an educational benefit.  Try not to leave without gaining something to enhance your position.

9.  Get it in writing.  Don’t risk your conversation getting lost in the shuffle or not being communicated to others when your supervisor leaves.

10.  Become comfortable with the process.  You will be using it throughout your career.

I hope this is helpful.  I know that it would have been helpful to me so many years ago.

Good luck negotiating for yourself!


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Thought For The Day: It’s OK to have an unexpressed thought. JOHN KENNEDY, CURRENT US SENATOR

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