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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The January/February 2018 BFAB Newsletter


January/February 2018 Newsletter

Greetings from the doldrums of winter — at least for those of us in the MidAtlantic and Northeast.  We are so over winter here and hoping for spring.

But, when the sun shines on the glistening snow in the Rocky Mountains, it is stunning — even at 18 degrees below zero — and our family enjoyed a wildlife tour of Yellowstone National Park in January.  And, yes, we saw wolves!  It was awe-inspiring, and definitely worth braving the cold.

What’s Up at Best Friends at the Bar?

In November, I spoke at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in NYC, and in December I took my usual hiatus to spend holiday time with friends and family.

By January, I was back at my desk and working hard on the final draft of my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice.  I am happy to say that the book will go into production soon at Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, and I am hoping for a mid-summer release date.  I also am delighted that I will be joined by Linda Myers of Kirkland Ellis, who will write the Foreword to the book.  Linda and I agree that this book is important to Millennial lawyers, who bring a new set of values to the profession, and it is critical to law firm leaders, who must adapt to this new generation of lawyers to retain talent and safeguard succession plans.  To ignore these issues is to risk the future of the law profession.

In February I spoke to the Women Lawyers of Charlotte.   The event was held at the beautiful Foundation for the Carolinas and was a truly great afternoon, complete with a book signing and CLE credits.  Congratulations to the organizers for filling the room with such an enthusiastic audience.

Future engagements include Catholic University Law School, and I also am in discussions with other groups for the spring season.  The program “Owning Your Career” is especially popular, and now is the time to get on my speaking schedule.


Work Space and Time Flexibility:  This is a hot issue for both women lawyers and Millennial lawyers across the globe.  In an on-line article in Australia Financial Review, the author noted that the competition for talent will drive the need for flexibility and commented, “Another seismic shift [in the law profession] will come as flexibility is increasingly embraced by all regardless of gender or parental status.  But will millennials or their policy-embracing leaders force greater change?”

A Milestone of 50% Women in Law Firm Management: Congratulations to Drinker Biddle, which has achieved a 50/50 male/female split on its managing partners committee and its executive management team.  According to an article in Law.com, the firm uses a two-step process for selecting firm leaders.

First, eligible partners make their interest known.   To get a more diverse slate of candidates, the Drinker Biddle Women’s Leadership Committee reaches out to eligible women lawyers to assure that all interested women are included and that word of their interest is spread.  Second, the firm conducts a “simple” democratic vote.

It may sound simple, but it must not be if other firms have failed to achieve this milestone.  Hopefully, Drinker Biddle will set the pace for progress.

Women Empowering Women:  A February 2018 conference at Yale Law also addressed female leadership and the many ways that women can empower other women and achieve mutual goals.  The conference featured women leaders from a variety of professions, including law, academia, medicine, performing arts, and education.   The program recognized the importance of female leadership and that the rise of female leaders in America affects how leadership is defined.  Speakers urged attendees to move from “having a seat at the table to being at the head of it” and also noted the importance of men in the conversations about solutions for increasing women in leadership positions — a recurring theme of Best Friends at the Bar.  For more on the conference, see this article.

New York City Enacts Law That Will Help Bring about Pay Parity for Women Lawyers:  On October 31, 2017, a new law went into effect in New York City that restricts employers from asking job applicants about their salary history during the interview and hiring process.  NYC joins Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon and Puerto Rico in efforts to legislate bans on salary history inquiries, but NYC’s law was the first one enacted and will be a testing ground on how these kinds of laws will be applied.  Proponents of the new law see it as a means of creating opportunities for women, and particularly women of color, to earn wages based on their skill levels, productivity and market trends rather than past discriminatory pay practices.  For more specifics of the new law, see the discussion on LinkedIn.

Why Are Women Leaving the Law Profession?  Check out this article to get some answers to that question.  Most of the reasons you see there — like lack of flexibility, other work-life issues, gender discrimination, and pay disparity, among others — may not surprise you.  But you may be interested to discover that the ABA has launched a special study to dig deeper into the issues.

To get a different view, read Chapter 1 “Why Women Lawyers Leave” in my book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers.  Or, better yet, read the entire book!  You will find that negative law firm cultures and values, which are incompatible to women, are at the heart of the issue.


Dating in Law Firms:   This is always a thorny issue,  and it is not going away.  Most of us know participants in office-based romances, and most of us have seen some of those relationships go very bad.  However, it is a hard situation to address and enforce against.

In a recent article, Big Law Business.com recognizes the interplay between sexual harassment workplace issues and issues surrounding workplace romantic relationships and makes the following recommendations:

  • Law firms should refresh workplace dating policies to require notification, prevent favoritism and recognize conflicts of interest;
  • The best advice may be to avoid office-based romantic relationships altogether, but that is not realistic.  Lawyers spend most of their waking hours together in law firms, and team work is more important than ever.  As a result, preventing people from developing affection for each other is an impractical goal; and
  • Law firms should not go overboard in defining inappropriate relationships in ways that discourage male partners from including women in groups of men attending social events.

This is something that all law firms need to be thinking about and talking about.

That’s a Wrap!

Are you interested in an event at your law firm, law organization or law school?  Contact me for program descriptions and scheduling on subjects including:

  • Issues challenging women lawyers, which are in the public conversation more than ever these days.  You want to make sure your law firm, law school and/or law organization takes advantage of the most recent information and trends to keep up with the competition;
  • Programs for Millennial Lawyers for ALL young lawyers and those who lead them.  These programs are not gender specific and address issues that all law schools, law firms and law organizations need to be discussing; and
  • Soft Skills for ALL Young Lawyers.  Research confirms that soft skills are responsible for 80% of success in business.  So, it is time to make sure that young lawyers become skilled in these areas to make your law firm more competitive.

You also are invited to Be My Guest! by contributing a column to a future newsletter.  It is a good way to connect with my readers.

Buy My Books from Amazon and Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers direct from my website.  All of my blogs are reprinted on my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, and most of them also are reprinted on the Ms JD website.  Click “share” and re-tweet to move them on to others and show your support for BFAB.

Keep up with me on:

My next newsletter will appear in April 2018.  Until then, turn to the Best Friends at the Bar website to keep up with recent happenings on the blogs and social media there.

See you in the spring!


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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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Women Lawyers Beware: Social Media Posts Could Cost You Your Job

From time to time I write about the use of personal social media and the caveats for women lawyers.  In fact, my recommendation consistently has been that you get off personal social media all together.  But, I know how attached some of you are to instant feedback and gratification, so I continue to write about it.  You need to be reminded about the pitfalls of using social media on a regular basis.  Eyes and ears are everywhere.

Here is a scenario and question posed on a website addressing this issue.  The answer to the question may surprise you because many of you view your time away from the office and what you do on that time as completely personal and untouchable by your employer.  Well, think again.

“I posted something on my personal Facebook page that my employer found offensive and I was subsequently fired. It wasn’t about the company and was done during my own time. Isn’t that an infringement on my First Amendment rights? Can they fire me for expressing myself just because they didn’t like my message?”

Here is a summary of the answer provided on that website:

  • The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech in most circumstances, but that does not apply to private employers.
  • In most circumstances, a private employer can fire an employee for what he or she writes and says online and off.  Limited exceptions include protection by whistleblower laws if the employee is exposing unlawful or unethical activities within the employer company.
  • Many employers review the social-media profiles of prospective employees and may make decisions about whether to hire based on those posts.  Employers also can fire someone if the employer concludes that an activity undermines the employee’s role, authority or the company.

Please pay close attention.  As the website post points out, many careers are damaged by social media messages and advancement of those messages.  Beware of these far-reaching effects and post with caution — if you insist on posting.

Better to be safe than sorry.

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Not Just for Women Lawyers —- All Women Must Use Their Power Responsibly

If you have not seen the video of CNN journalist Ashleigh Banfield responding to the accusations from an anonymous source of sexual abuse by comedian/actor Aziz Ansari, you need to.  Here’s the link, as presented by newsweek.com.  The accusations and the response have given rise to a lot of impassioned discussion and controversy, and women across the globe need to sort out the facts.

The point of your inquiry should be not whether the events took place but whether the events amount to the kind of sexual harassment that is the benchmark of the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement that followed.  Those movements are founded on a recognition that women have suffered abuse in the workplace because of an imbalance of power where they were powerless to refuse unwanted advances and remained silent because their employment and financial livelihood depended on cooperating with the abuse by powerful men, who controlled their futures and their ability to work.

That is not what the anonymous blogger complained of.  Rather, she complained of a date gone wrong, albeit with raw and unsavory facts, but a situation where she had the POWER to walk out —- as in TO LEAVE a situation that had turned into something she did not want.  She HAD THE POWER and leaving would not have cost her a job or curtailed any of her future employment opportunities.  There are no facts presented to indicate that she was being forced in any way to stay and to continue to experience behavior that she apparently found abhorrent.  In fact, when she finally did leave, the alleged abuser did not stand in her way.  Far from it.

Why is this important, and why am I breaking with tradition by taking it on?

The answer is simple.  Because, as Ashleigh Banfield states in her open letter to the accuser, complaints like those of the accuser diminish the value of legitimate movements, which involve true sexual harassment and abuse of power.  Muddying the water with descriptions of dates gone wrong (rather than workplace abuses) and women who fail to use the power they possess to extricate themselves from objectionable circumstances serve to retard the progress of these legitimate movements rather than advance them.

I have been talking about and writing about women lawyers using their power to control and manage their careers for over a decade.   Now, I want to send that same message to all women.  Although you may encounter an imbalance of power, you must use the POWER YOU HAVE to change your circumstances and protect your futures.

You have VALUE, and you have POWER.  Understand it and use it.  To do anything else is to join the abusers.



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The Best Friends at the Bar Mission For Women Lawyers — A Look Back at 2017

The Best Friends at the Bar year is about to come to a close.  Yes, I know that the entire month of December lies ahead before the Big Ball drops in Times Square and that you still have time for holiday shopping, holiday cards, holiday decorations, attending parties, giving parties, baking and cooking … and the list goes on.  Do not panic, you have plenty of time to accomplish all this and more.  You are young and energetic and incredibly resourceful.  I have complete faith in you.

I, on the other hand, have the luxury of taking the month of December off each year to address my work-life balance.  December is when I concentrate on family and friends and help make memories.  It is when I listen to music, play the piano, read books, take long walks, and watch all the movies that I have missed earlier in the year.  It is when I stick close to home and don’t travel on business.  It renews me and gets me ready to jump into the new year with gusto and enthusiasm to connect once again with you, my readers.

So, this is my last blog of 2017, and it seems appropriate to look back on the year and see where the mission on behalf of women lawyers has taken Best Friends at the Bar.  Here is the retrospective:

  • I have delivered key note addresses at bar associations, including the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Tampa, Florida chapter of the Federal Bar Association;
  • I have spoken at law firms in Washington, DC and New York City and to other industry groups across the country;
  • I have served on panel discussions and written over 50 blogs on subjects from Advocacy to Zero Tolerance;
  • I have written the draft manuscript for a new book for Millennial lawyers; and
  • I have perfected a program on Soft Skills for Lawyers, which will be available in 2018.

This has kept me very busy, and I have enjoyed it all.  Best Friends at the Bar is a gratifying project that positively affects the lives of so many women lawyers, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to carry out this mission.   I hear from many of you, and your comments make it all worth while …

Like the young woman standing in the back of a ballroom at one of my speaking engagements earlier this year.  She was holding a baby and doing the “mommy rock” as she listened intently to my remarks.  I met her later and she told me that she has a two-year-old at home and this new baby.  She said that she doubted whether she could continue in law practice until she heard me speak about the many faces of success.  She smiled broadly and said that she had called her husband and told him, “I just heard this woman speak, and I know I’m going to make it now.”

That says it all …. except Happy Holidays to all of you.  See you next year!



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Advice for Women Lawyers — A Variety of Perspectives

Today I am speaking at Gibson Dunn in New York City, in the heart of BigLaw.  (OK, so I am not writing this blog as I prepare to take the stage to keynote the luncheon, but my preparation of this blog coincided with my preparation for my remarks at Gibson Dunn.  Close enough.)

As I prepared my remarks for “Owning Your Career” for the Gibson Dunn Women’s Mentoring Circle, I recalled  an article that I recently read titled “Advice (I wish I had been given) for Women Starting Careers in BigLaw.”  The author has been practicing for eight years in Big Law, and she claims to have had an “overwhelmingly positive experience.”  I always am happy to hear that.  I also am happy to hear that she appreciates the unique challenges to women lawyers that can make or break a career.  Certainly she is likely to encounter a lot of them along the road to partnership if that is what her goal is in Big Law.  Here are the highlights of the article:

  • Don’t let yourself get siloed into ministerial tasks;
  • Learn to delegate and don’t feel guilty about it;
  • Make your voice heard; and
  • If there is an issue, speak up for yourself.

The advice is good, and I especially like the author’s treatment of the last bullet where she states,

If you feel you are not getting the opportunities to which you are entitled, you have two options:  (i) you can sulk, blame the firm, complain incessantly over snacks in the associate lounge, anonymously post on ATL and/or quit the firm; or (ii) you can speak up about it.

I compared this to the advice that I gave in this article for Huffington Post a number of years ago.  A fundamental difference between the two articles is that I write for all young women lawyers — not just those in Big Law — so my advice is more about career planning and execution that is common to the experience of most women lawyers.

Here is the advice that I offered in that article and that I would offer today — to all women lawyers:

  • Embrace the novelty of being a woman lawyer in a field full of men but do it right;
  • Recognize that male lawyers and female lawyers think and interact differently;
  • Support other women lawyers;
  • Create a life balance that includes paying attention to personal needs and health — even while being an excellent lawyer; and
  • Craft your own definition of success in the law.

Here also is an interview that I gave to The Muse years ago about why women leave the law.  That is looking backwards to see where it all went wrong — something that is helpful to know as well.

And for those of you thinking about a career in the law, here is another advice piece that I did for Girl’s Guide to Law School.

I believe that there is a lot of room for advice from seasoned veterans of the profession, and I also believe that you need all the good advice you can get.  So, go ahead and help yourself!





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