The College Admissions Scandal and the Importance of Values to All Young Lawyers

The current college admissions scandal.  How awful.

Not that we did not suspect lack of fair play in college admissions.  We all are aware of the legacy preferences and how the issues of societal inequities play out in this setting, but the magnitude of the alleged criminal behavior and its impact on applicants nationwide is nothing short of disgusting — and very predictable.  It was only a matter of time before the misplaced motives of helicopter parents reached such a low.

Coincidentally, my new book addresses the erosion of values in the legal profession, specifically the current toxic cultures of many large law firms.  In What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018, I discuss the respectable values that have been lost or seriously ignored in our profession for too long and the resurgence of those values in the most recent generations of lawyers.  I also discuss the destructive behavior of helicopter parents.

This recent scandal confirms my suspicions that the lessons of that book have a larger application beyond the profession of law.  The values discussed in What Millennial Lawyers Want include honor, respect, compassion, and service to others, values that are resurfacing in the Millennial Generation and in millennial lawyers today.  The recent scandal should serve to increase an awareness of the importance of those values.

Fortunately, the behaviors involved in the college admissions scandal are not typical of any generation.  The players in this scandal are from a tiny segment of society that most of us will never know.  They are from a small pocket of elitism and entitlement that most members of society do not identify with and cannot even imagine.  The behaviors are selfish and destructive on multiple levels and have so many offensive and reprehensible layers, including the layer of betrayal of what it means to be compassionate, honorable and responsive to the needs of others.

And now, as if to add insult to injury, students at Stanford and other schools with alleged connections to this scandal, have filed suit claiming that their educational experiences will be devalued by the scandal.  That somehow they are the injured parties instead of opportunists jumping in to take advantage of any benefit they see for themselves.

These new litigants have lost their way and display the same selfish attitudes as those caught up in the scandal.  They are not the harmed, but their attempts to portray themselves in that manner expose the degree to which the values in our society have eroded.

We must reclaim the positive values that once were the bedrock of our society.   We hear that message in the political arena on a daily basis, but too often we feel powerless to do anything about it.  But powerless in the political arena is different from being powerless in our own lives and professions.

So, let the effort to reclaim proven values begin with the lawyers, whose ethical considerations and cannons of behavior once meant something.  Let it begin with the lawyers, who are required to study ethics in law school and are tested on ethical behavior on bar exams because truth and admirable behavior is what we should expect of ourselves.

There is no need in our profession for devising an effective code of behavior.  We already have one.  All we have to do is dust it off and live up to it — and require that same commitment by our law firms and institutions.

Don’t waste your time on the super elite and entitled.  The criminal justice system will take care of them — at least until the next time.

There is plenty of work for all of us right here below the stratosphere.

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How Much Worse Can It Get for Millennial Lawyers?

Yes, we expect a lot of millennial lawyers.  And we should.  They are paid high salaries, and they need to accept that the early years of practice at law firms are taxing.  New job.  New specialization.  New culture.

But, millennial lawyers also should expect a lot of law firm leaders.  Career development.  Mentoring.  Inclusion as part of the team.  In other words, these young lawyers have a right to expect behavior with more than a touch of humanity.

My new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen, 2018)  is all about these concepts.  I explore questions that center around whether the law firm leadership or the millennials lawyers are responsible for the generation divide in law firms today.  So, after all the research I have done, I thought I had heard it all.

Until I read in this article that a law firm is suing an associate, who departed after one year, for breach of contract and damages that amount to at least $10,000.  Although it appears to be true that the associate had signed a three-year contract, this action by the law firm is still astounding.  I hope she has some strong defenses.

In the speeches I give about the millennial generation and millennial lawyers, I typically tell audiences of senior lawyers, “We are better than this,” in describing the way that law firms are failing young lawyers today.  So, I say here, “WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS.”

It is hard to imagine what lack of wisdom went into the decision to put an associate lawyer under contract in the first place and then to sue a departed associate for breach of that contract.   It is hard to imagine how the law firm could not understand that, no matter the outcome, the law firm will lose in the court of public opinion.  It is hard to imagine how the law firm thought this would end well.

This is not professional behavior.  This is not compassionate behavior.  This is not honorable behavior.  This is behavior that lends to the reputations of greed that abound in the profession. 

This is stupid.  Some times you just have to call it what it is.

Young lawyers beware.  There are predators lurking in the weeds.  I hope those predators have the good sense to put more money into the recruiting budget for future years.  Sounds like they’ll need it.

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All Lawyers Need to Celebrate International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day.  I hope you are celebrating being a woman or having a wonderful woman at your side.

Today we remember that we have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go in terms of equal opportunity, equal pay, implicit bias, and respect.  Even equal protection comes to mind as we are reminded of the recent disclosures by Senator Martha McSally — women are not protected adequately within the military ranks any more than they are protected in society at large.  Sexism is still baked in the cake of our culture, and we must keep our eyes on the prize of eliminating it.

Equal Pay is an important part of the goals for advancement of women.  It is key to women taking their places in the top levels of leadership and management.  Women at the top of organizations have a lot more opportunity than women at lower echelons to have significant influence on improving policies for women at law firms and in the public sector, as well.

And women must prove to be supportive of each other and push for the changes that are necessary.  Women cannot afford to be competitive and envious of each other.  We all must join together for the changes that are needed to take our profession forward and to bring about the equality that women deserve — no matter what our individual experiences have been.  Women supporting women is the only way it will happen.

We also must be careful not to make our male colleagues the enemies.  We must understand that it gets us nowhere.  We cannot do to them what they did to us, and we cannot assume that they did it intentionally.  But we will know that, if we discriminate against them today, we will be doing it intentionally — because we have benefited from years of education about discrimination and bias that many of them did not have.  I have written about this recently in the ABA Journal, and I recommend that article to you.

And, we need to be practical.  As the leaders at the top of most law firms and law organizations, our male colleagues are still in control of our opportunities and upward mobility.  We will gain nothing by playing into our desires to win the battle without caring about winning the war.

As we hope for greater advancement for women lawyers, we also must have perspective.  We must understand that we are part of a historical narrative that goes back a long way.  Those of us who entered the law profession as long ago as 40 and 50 years past, have needed to keep perspective to survive.  We are happy that women lawyers today are not forced to forfeit opportunities because male lawyers do not want to travel with them.  We are happy that women lawyers today do not forfeit partnership because they want to take time off to spend with a newborn, and we are happy that women lawyers today are not called “little girls” by judges at all levels of the judiciary.  That happen to many of us.  We do not forget it, but we also know that it was part of a historical narrative.

So, I hope you will celebrate women today and remember that we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.  Keep your eyes on the prize.

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Young Lawyers: Beware of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse are big problems in our profession today.  I call attention to these issues whenever I get the opportunity to speak to lawyers, young and older.  I did it at the event for the launch of my new book at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago on February 4th and also two days later at a program for law students in Michigan.  I implored them to be careful personally and to be vigilant on behalf of colleagues.

I noted at both events that the American Bar Association (ABA) has identified an initiative to address these issues and that studies show that these problems often start as early as law school.  They are issues that all of us in the legal profession need to take very seriously.

Consider these findings from the 2016 National Study of Lawyer Well-Being released by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation:

  • 25 percent of law students are at risk for alcoholism;
  • 17 percent of law students suffer from depression;
  • 37 percent of law students report mild to severe anxiety;
  • 6 percent of law students report having suicidal thoughts in the year of the study;
  • 28 percent lawyers suffered from depression;
  • 19 percent of lawyers had severe anxiety; and
  • 11.4 percent of lawyers had suicidal thoughts in the previous year.

And this additional remarkable and sad finding:  That law students will not ask for help because they are terrified of somebody finding out that they have a problem, which will result in not being admitted to the bar or not being able to get a job.

Recently, on January 26th, representatives from state and local bar associations and law schools joined ABA members in Las Vegas for an interactive program, “Getting on the Path to Lawyer Well-Being,” to discuss risk management and professional responsibility issues for legal employers and bar associations.   So, the focus on these problems continues, and efforts to reach as many lawyers and law students are on-going.

Please forward this to all of the lawyers you care about.  Protect yourselves and your colleagues.  Do not assume that the lawyers you love and admire do not need to see it.  Do not be deterred by stigmas.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for the help you need.  It is an act of bravery.

 

 

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Young Lawyers: Help In Transitioning to a New Firm

The legal field is very dynamic these days and has been that way for awhile.   Most lawyers change practice venues multiple times in their careers, and research shows that millennials will change jobs four times in their first decade out of college.

Up until the 1990’s, lawyers often stayed with one — or possibly two — firms most of their careers.  Sounds hard to believe now, but it’s true.  However, the boom economic days of the 90’s saw law firms grow in size and spheres of influence exponentially, and lawyers started moving around like bees in a hive to follow the money and the power.

So, you should not be afraid to change law firms or practice settings if you are not satisfied with what you are experiencing.  Sure, it is a big pain to research job openings and alternative settings, revise your resume, contact a headhunter, and to be “on” for one interview after another.  Exhausting, really.

But it is far better than staying at a job that makes you miserable.  And, I think more of you are miserable than want to admit it.

I heard a law firm partner quoted recently saying, “I would not want to be an associate lawyer today.”  There is a reason for that.  The practice has become so specialized that entry level law jobs too often consist of being tethered to a computer reviewing complex regulations and documents and little else — until eyes begin to bleed.  It bares little resemblance to what recent law school graduates thought “acting like a lawyer” was going to be like.  It can be a huge disappointment after paying a fortune to become one.

Law firms should not let this happen to their employees, but they do.  Somebody has to do that work, and most law firms do not care enough to add variety and interest to those boring and tedious tasks.  Too often they treat entry level lawyers as fungible goods.  The result it that lawyers leave for what they hope are greener pastures.  Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it does not.

And sometimes it is absolutely necessary.  If a job starts changing who you are, get out.  No job is worth changing your personality and using coping mechanism that are not good for you.  Move on.  Save yourself.

If you fall into any of these categories, get busy.  Research shows that February to April are the best hiring months for law firms.  So, if you are thinking of making a change, it might be time to dust off that resume and get started.

Once you transition to that new job, you will need some help in adjusting to new leadership and a new culture.  This article will help you get through the first critical weeks.  Some highlights are:

  • Be Friendly/Make the Effort;
  • Be Open to New Procedures;
  • Ask Questions and Get Advice;
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Give Your Opinion; and
  • Be Confident.

And, most important, understand that transitions take time.  Don’t judge the job by the first few weeks.

The aging process works great for wine and cheese.  It may be the same for new jobs.

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Do Women Lawyers and Other Women Leaders Have to be Nice?

A lot has been written in the last few days about what makes a good woman leader.  Those discussions have been within the context of the political arena, which is not too surprising because the Speaker of the House of Representatives is a powerful woman, and the roster of persons announcing to run for POTUS in 2020 is full of powerful women.

So we have read here how Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota and proclaimed presidential candidate, is perceived by some of her staff as “not nice” and even “mean.”  And today we read here  that Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, uses her experience as the mother of five and grandmother of nine to guide her in keeping the House of Representatives and her caucus moving forward, deal successfully with divergent opinions, build consensus, and avoid chaos among elected officials.

Reading these articles will be very helpful to you in fashioning yourselves as effective female leaders.  I don’t just know that from reading the articles myself, but I know that from my own experiences as a mother, as a chief of staff for an elected official, and as a trial lawyer.  Those experiences have a lot in common.

Those experiences taught me that you should not always want to be liked.  You should not need to have everyone think you are nice.  It is not necessary to make a friend out of everyone.  Sometimes it has to be enough to get the job done well. 

If I had wanted to be a friend to my children and always be perceived as being nice, I would have very different children today than the ones I have, who learned to buck adversity and plow through challenges.  I would have very different children today than the two young lawyers, who make me proud every day of my life.

Instead, I made the tough calls and told them that my job was not to be liked by them.  My job was to make them into responsible and valuable members of society.  Ask them.  They will tell you.  They will remember telling me that they did not like me because I would not let them do X, Y or Z and hearing me answer, “Good.  Then I am doing my job.”

As a trial lawyer, I had to carry on before judges, who I knew did not accept my presence in the courtroom and probably did not like me.  They surely did not approve of me.  The early 1980’s were a lot different for women lawyers than current times.  Judges called me “little girl” — even a federal judge — and, after a week’s trial, the judge still only referred to me as “she” and “her.”  No place for “counselor” for the women lawyers in his courtroom.

But, that could not matter to me.  I was not in that courtroom to be liked.  I was in that courtroom to make my case.  End of story.

As the chief of staff to an elected official, I had to demand a lot of our staff.  I had to critique them, dismiss their ideas, refuse to listen to their complaints about each other, and return work to them replete with edits in green ink.  (I learned as a teaching fellow in law school never to edit in red because the result looked like a leftover from a bloody war.)

Creating the best possible product, whether it was a letter, a public policy piece, proposed legislation, or a television show, was what my job was all about.  I hoped that the people I managed saw it that way, but if they did not, it could not concern me.  There is plenty for me to look back on and know that I did a fine job, the staff acquired improved skills, the boss got re-elected, and I did not step too far outside the bounds of being a nice person most of the time.

So, I can only imagine that a lot of what the staffs of really powerful women — like Amy Klobuchar and Nancy Pelosi — have to say about them derives from the frustration of being on the other end of agendas that they may not understand.  Agendas to do the best for the most.

Anyway, that is the way I see it.

 

 

 

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Women Lawyers Need Men to “Step Up” Like They Did

It was reported in the NY Times and other news outlets recently that male managers are afraid of mentoring women in the #METOO Era.  Maybe you read about it.  Or maybe you were watching the discussion between Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC and her guests last week about those reports.  I was watching, and it was incredible.  If you did not catch it, check it out here.

Or maybe you were at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January and heard the buzz about it there.  Apparently lots of males from around the world were sharing their fears.

I have empathy for these men.  Really I do.  I know that they are uncertain these days about whether their words and actions will be taken wrong and they will be judged harshly.  Women also know this feeling.  We know just how uncomfortable that kind of uncertainty can be.  We have lived it.

When men say that they don’t want to go to dinner alone with a woman or travel alone with one, some of us can relate to that.  Some of us have been on the other side of it.

As an associate lawyer in the early 1980’s, I was told by a partner that he was taking me off a case because I was “a temptation” to him and he did not want to travel with me.  We were weeks away from a trial in a case that I had devoted a large part of a year’s effort to.  He was uncomfortable, and I was about to get one of the biggest opportunities of my budding career taken from me because of his discomfort.  So, I had to get over my own discomfort in speaking truth to power, as I stared him down and told him there was no problem.  He was not a temptation to me.  And we got on the plane and won the case.

Women have been outnumbered in business for decades and misunderstood.  We have been told that it was our fault for wearing the wrong clothes or looking one way or another.  In other words, we did not look like men.

We have been judged for being too feminine or not feminine enough.  We’ve been overlooked and sidelined.  Our careers have been put on hold.  We just did not fit in.

But, we continued to show up.  We took the risk of continuing to look and dress like nothing was wrong with us and power through.  And now we have accomplished critical mass, and they want to take it away from us again.

Now it is time for the men to power through.  The leadership in professions like law is mostly men, and we need those men to mentor young women lawyers and help turn them into the leaders of the future.  We need the men to be as careful with their behavior as we had to be with ours and to stop punishing women for their own bad choices.  We need them to step up to the responsibility of creating the culture of care that is desperately needed in this profession.

And we need it now.

Hopefully they have the right stuff to deliver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Diversity in Big Law — An Ultimatum from Corporate America

A very large group of general counsels (170 to be exact) posted a letter and signatures on a LinkedIn group page this week in support of diversity of women and minorities in law firms.  The letter was a direct result of discussion after the Paul Wise law firm announced a new class of partners in December, complete with photos of them all.  That would be all white males and one white female.

The reaction to the lack of diversity was harsh throughout the profession and in the media, and the LinkedIn effort soon was launched by Michelle Fang, chief legal officer of car-sharing company Turo.  It has since been reported that many general counsel, who signed the letter, also intend to send copies to the firms they work with and ask that it be shared with all the partners in those law firms.

“We applaud those firms,” the letter stated, “that have worked hard to hire, retain, and promote to partnership this year outstanding and highly accomplished lawyers who are diverse in race, color, age, gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, and without regard to disabilities.”

“At the same time, we are disappointed to see that many law firms continue to promote partner classes that in no way reflect the demographic composition of entering associate classes.  Partnership classes remain largely male and largely white.”

What this represents is an ultimatum to law firms to hire, retain and promote diversity within their ranks or suffer the financial consequences.

It is deja vu.  As recently as 2006, large US companies like Dupont, General Motors, Sara Lee, Shell Oil and Wal-Mart announced that they had undertaken a multifaceted initiative to increase inclusion of minority-owned law firms among those serving corporate America.  The five companies made a pledge to place at least $16 million dollars of business with minority-owned law firms during calendar year 2006.  The initiative was targeted to increasing the presence of minority lawyers in law firms, and the participating companies were putting their money where their mouths were.

Similarly, the current effort is designed to be a change agent to promote greater diversity in law firms.  Hopefully, by calling out feeble attempts at diversity, this new effort will be more successful than the effort in 2006.  That effort did not bring about the change that many had hoped for, and it is very likely that the recession of 2008 had the unfortunate effect of chilling efforts by the change agents.  It is commonly recognized that, during economic downturn, businesses often turn to issues of survival rather than issues of social significance.

So, I hope for healthy economic times ahead and greater attention to these issues of diversity this time around.  The time certainly has come for this kind of pressure on firms.

The lesson from Paul Weiss is that the diversity challenge has not been overcome — even for those firms with a reasonable track record on diversity.  There is still a long way to go.

Whatever happens, I am anticipating fewer new partner classes being featured in photos on social media.  Really.  Lawyers did that?

For more on the Paul Weiss fallout, see this New York Times article.

 

 

 

 

 

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