Women Lawyers Must Retain the Law Profession’s Foundational Values

In case you missed my recent article in the ABA Journal, I am including some of it here.  The content is very important to all women lawyers as women rise in the profession to levels of supervision and management.  They must be cheerleaders for each other, and they must not give into temptation to right the sins of the past leveled by male practitioners against women in the profession.  To do so would be to unwise and shortsighted.  Here is some of what I wrote in the ABA Journal article:

The senior women need to remember the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she said, “There is a special place reserved in hell for women who do not support other women.” Remember it and post it in their offices for constant reminder.

But that is not all. The attitudes of women lawyers toward male lawyers also need examining. They are equally as divisive and harmful to the profession.

When senior women lawyers become exclusive in their preferences to work with women over men, it is harmful to the profession. When departments full of women lawyers “freeze out” male practitioners in other ways because of built-up resentments, it is harmful to the profession.

And when that kind of “not-female” exclusion also is targeted to unsuspecting young male lawyers—who have had nothing to do with historical grievances—there is potential for even greater harm.

Most of the female lawyers exhibiting these behaviors are motivated by past gender inequalities. They are still smarting from old wrongs. In their negative and divisive actions toward male colleagues, they are failing to recognize that the excuse of “cluelessness” articulated by past generations of male lawyers to explain wrongful attitudes about gender inclusion is no defense for the exclusionary behaviors of women lawyers today.

Today’s powerful women lawyers are not clueless. They are not naive. They have borne witness to the sins of the past, and they know better than to repeat them.

They know exactly what they are doing to their male colleagues and how harmful grinding the ax of resentment can be. They understand that the oft-heard rallying cry, “We don’t need the men,” is short-sighted, imprudent and potentially harmful to our profession. But they don’t seem to be able to help themselves.

We women lawyers must be willing to examine ourselves and our motives. We must be willing to critique our attitudes and change our behaviors—for the good of all lawyers and the profession.

Recently when I was speaking at a conference of the Federal Bar Association, a senior woman judge told me, “The women lawyers are smart, capable, determined and hungry. They are gaining. Soon the men will decide not to compete and will leave firms for in-house positions or businesses or early retirement.”

She said this as if it would result in improvement for the profession. She stated it as a wise, aspirational goal. She said it in a way that made me believe she thought it was what I wanted to hear.

But it did not strike me that way. It struck me as very shallow and unfortunate. It struck me as a way of evening the score, and I could not help but wonder whether that is what we want.

Do we want a reorganization of the profession that will send us back to majority class rule and little in terms of empathy and respect for the other foundational values of our profession?

Do we want a reorganization of the profession based on divisive behaviors and unwillingness to pull together as women and men working toward mutual goals?

I don’t think so, but we need to be careful.

Our lack of professionalism and petty natures may be showing.

For the complete article:  http://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/gaining_in_influence_women_lawyers_must_be_careful_what_they_wish_for/?fbclid=IwAR0AlXQ19-tU2GqlQ24zL93yCh-h9aebHq54tQIvaYtCRsCy8drWgQafsVI

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Let’s Hear It For The Women Lawmakers

Hallelujah!  A record 42 women will be sworn into the US Congress today.  That is something to celebrate.

Congress needs all the help it can get to overcome the partisanship and the log jams that have been created.  Log jams that are delaying the business of the people and taking a toll on Americans in significant ways.  The current government shutdown is an example of the kind of harm that should be avoided at all costs, and it should not be supported by any elected officials.  Essential government workers continue to serve the people without pay — living up to their obligations while the government is not.

So, let’s hope that the women in Congress can make a difference.  That remains to be seen, but we do know this.  Those women will bring the same excellent skills to the function of governing that women bring to the business of law.  Skills like:  A willingness to compromise when it is necessary; excellent soft skills that enhance communication outcomes; an ability to negotiate skillfully and effectively on behalf of others; and empathy and compassion for the less fortunate.  These skills have been missing in Congress in the near terms, and the result is deadlock.

However, women lawmakers cannot turn it around themselves.  It will take the cooperation of the male members of Congress to make that happen.  All the women can do is set good examples and hope that those examples will establish a trend in effective lawmaking.  If they do that, they will be doing the jobs they were elected to do.

And wouldn’t that be refreshing.

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Changing the Model of Big Law …. for Women Lawyers and Millennial Lawyers

I just listened to a podcast on Law.com that every young lawyer and law firm leader should hear.  It will confirm what young lawyers know they do not like about Big Law, and it will serve as a tutorial for law firm leaders.

The interviewee is Mitch Zuklie, who has been the chairman of Orrick for the last five years.  I have been following his leadership for a portion of that time, and that is why the podcast caught my attention.   The podcast also validates the messages of my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice.

The theme of the interview is this quote from Zuklie, “If we are going to convince the best talent to choose and stay in Big Law, we need to change the model.”  The changes that he identifies include:

  • Create a great place to work through training and identifying and inspiring talent;
  • Create models for early responsibilities as decision-makers;
  • Create increased interest in career paths and earlier promotion;
  • Create team-oriented problem solving and entrepreneurship models;
  • Increase flexibility to accommodate the needs of young families;
  • Increase periodic feedback and get away from the annual-only review model;
  • Increase the firm’s pro bono commitment; and
  • Increase diversity and inclusion by being mindful of the effects of bad policies and implicit biases.

There is a lot to think about there.  So, if you are wondering why you are not happy in Big Law, you likely will discover it by listening to the podcast.  And if you are wondering why so many associates are leaving Big Law and your law firm, in particular, you law firm leaders will probably discover it by listening as well. 

I hope so.

 

 

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For All Women Lawyers and Those Who Lead Them

As you leave your offices and homes to travel to the places where family and friends will gather on this Thanksgiving Day, I share with you this video.  It is worthy of your attention, both in giving thanks to those who support you and in giving thanks that the journey is made easier by their efforts.

The video was sent to me by a young woman lawyer friend of mine earlier this week, and I was so pleased to respond that I know the speaker, Alan Bryan, who is an enthusiastic supporter of Best Friends at the Bar.  I was present to hear him deliver these remarks at the National Association of Women Lawyers conference several years ago, and, like so many others in the audience, I was inspired by his words.  I know that you will be also, and I encourage you to watch the video.

Be sure you watch and listen all the way to the end.  It is there that Alan talks about his aspirations for his daughter, then a two-and one-half-year-old bundle of energy and determination.  You will be cheating yourself if you skip it.

This is my gift to you on Thanksgiving Day 2018.  I wish you and your families and friends well, including safe travels, tasty food, and love all around.

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Be Aware of Warning Signs of Instability in Young Lawyers

The facts shared this week via an open letter from the widow of a Sidley lawyer were shocking and heartbreaking.  The suicide of a 42-year-old partner in the LA office raised many issues of our responsibilities as lawyers to our colleagues.

It was discovered too late that this suicide victim suffered from a form of perfectionism that created so much pressure, anxiety and insecurity that the only way out seemed to be to take his own life.  If those facts came as a complete shock to everyone around him, that would give those of us in the profession some relief.  It would give us comfort to know that no one could have known.

But, that does not appear to be the case.  It has been reported that his behavior at the office had changed.  He had stopped laughing, he became more isolated, and he was showing outward signs of extreme stress.  Yet, no one looked further than to wonder about his behavior.  No one brought it to the attention of management to get him the help he needed.  No one understood the gravity of the situation.

And that is not to blame them.  It is just to say that they did not understand that it could end so badly.

We all must keep our antennae up for changes in behavior that could evidence deep-seeded and potentially harmful problems among those we work with and those we live with.  Ours is a stressful profession, at best, and most of us learn to deal with the stress. But that is not the way it works for some people, particularly young lawyers, who view getting help with issues of mental health and addiction as shameful and threatening to job security.  Stress is an insidious actor that brings out the worst in people.  We all need to be aware of our own well-being and the well-being of those we value.

It is because cases like this have become more common in our legal spaces that the American Bar Association recently identified an initiative centered on addressing mental health and addiction issues in our profession.  All law firms and law organizations should take advantage of the research and resources to raise awareness and be prepared to help those at risk among us to the greatest extent possible. 

We need to work together for a time when finding out too late is not the only option.

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New Article Published in Corporate Counsel

See my article about MILLENNIAL LAWYERS published recently in Corporate Counsel.

Here is the link:  https://www.law.com/corpcounsel/2018/10/25/what-millennial-lawyers-want-a-bridge-from-the-past-to-the-future-of-law-practice/?slreturn=20180926090755.

Millennial lawyers are going to like this, and senior lawyers are going to learn a lot!

 

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Women-Owned Law Firms As Practice Options

Have you considered the option of a women-owned law firm?  Even if it is not appropriate for this time in your career, you should file the information away for a time when it might make more sense.

I have written about women-owned law firms before, especially in my second book, Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2012).  In that book, I devoted part of the discussion about alternatives to traditional law firms to the concept of women-owned firms because I recognized the importance of that option to those women who found traditional law firm practice unmanageable for their life styles.  I wrote then, “If you can’t beat them, band together and beat them better.”  And that is exactly what some women need to do and are doing.

It was obvious to  me then that a women-owned law firm could be an attractive alternative because it gives women some of the flexibility they need for home and family and provides back-up from colleagues who understand the work-life struggle.  Those colleagues are all in the same boat, and they “get” the challenges.  Whether it is flexibility to deal with sick children, flexibility to pick up kids from school, flexibility to attend children’s programs and teacher meetings, flexibility to deal with aging parents, or just plain flexibility to unwind a bit, mothers “get” other mothers.  Or at least they should.

Now, years later, it appears there are more reasons than work-life that make women-owned firms appealing.  According to a recent article,  a growing number of women are establishing women-owned firms more for reasons of frustration with gender inequality in the profession than for reasons associated with raising children or having more time for family.

One of the founders of a women-owned firm is quoted in the article as saying, “If women were feeling valued, were getting properly rewarded for their efforts, were getting their fair share and it wasn’t a constant struggle to get your origination credit, and feel you are part of the team — then you would stay.” Makes perfect sense.

As evidence of the growth in women-owned law firms, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council reports that 16 per cent of newly-certified law firms in the recent five-year period are women-owned.  Similar statistics are reported by other trade associations, including the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Firms.

New rules are a part of these new firms.  The emphasis is on fair compensation, equal promotions, full inclusion and better career development opportunities.  The option of a women-owned law firm also allows “Big Law refugees” to have control over their lives, pursue entrepreneurial business ideas, and be compensated properly for their contributions.  According to one woman partner quoted in the article,  “They get control over their practices, treat their clients how they want to treat them, make more money, while also gaining some flexibility for work-life balance.”

There was a particular emphasis in the article that I loved — that lawyers’ outside lives must function well enough for them to do their best work at the office.  Bravo!  It is so fundamental.

There is much more in this article for you to chew on.  Check it out.  File it away.  It may  become important to you one day.

 

 

 

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Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment — Subjects Du Jour That Need Your Attention

The last two weeks have been exhausting.  Hearing allegations of sexual assault against a nominee to the US Supreme Court is exhausting — no matter whether you believe them or not.  It is completely exhausting — exhausting to hear the allegations and exhausting to process arguments that no investigation of those allegations is necessary.  Exhausting to watch a TV interview/promotion of a Supreme Court nominee regarding issues of sexual assault.  It all seems surreal.

Allegations of sexual harassment are shocking enough.  Allegations of sexual assault are something else entirely.  Since when do we just let it be “he said, she said” about things that may be crimes without looking into it further — as in a formal investigation by the FBI.  That is mind boggling to me. 

Theoretically, nominations to the Supreme Court of our land should be about excellent jurisprudence, awesome qualifications to make decisions that control our daily lives, and impeccable character.  But that is not happening today.  Instead, the confirmation hearings are infused with politics and polling.  Politics is seeping into everything these days and pushing “the right thing” far to the side and even farther out of view.

I typically do not get into politics at Best Friends at the Bar, and I am not taking political sides here.  What I am doing is reminding you that sexual harassment and gender discrimination are things that you will be lucky if you can avoid in the workplace today.  As women lawyers, you are still in the minority, and there still are gender stereotypes that will plague you throughout your careers.  The standards of acceptability in terms of behavior are different for you than for your male colleagues.  If you want to test it, try being strident and outspoken during your next law firm meeting or before a male judge in the courtroom.  That will be a life lesson.  And you will not forget it.  I know I didn’t.

These are important issues, and you need to pay attention to them.  Gender discrimination can be obvious and easy to spot or it can be nuanced and sneak up on you.  The most harmful is the implicit bias that affects your upward mobility and your earning power — and which you discover too late.

I include the subjects of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and implicit bias in almost every speech I give.  I do not obsess about it, but I make sure my audiences know enough about it to beware of its harmful effects.  I have discussed it in my books and on this blog before, and I will continue to do that.

Most of my audiences are receptive to this information.  I am grateful for that because it means that you young women are learning and arming yourself to protect your futures.

Every once in awhile, however, I am amazed at denials of the importance of these issues.  Consider a VERY VERY prestigious Big Law firm pushing back on my remarks about reporting issues of gender discrimination and implicit bias to HR and, if there is no satisfactory resolution at that level, to keep notes and consider a resolution outside the law firm.  Also consider that the push back was not from male lawyers.  The push back was from senior women partners.  I guess their loyalty was to the organization and not to women.  Sad.

I pushed back, too.  I reminded those women that I am an advocate for women lawyers not for individual law firms.  I applaud HR processes that are fair, thorough and invested in exploring the facts, discovering the truth, and redressing wrong.  However, not all law firm processes meet those standards.  In those instances, I want women to know their options. Even if XYZ law firm has a process that does meet those high standards, many of the women I speak to today at such law firms may not be there in the future.  They may find themselves at law firms with processes of much lesser quality and dedication to fairness.  They will need the information I have for them.

It is as simple as this.  Take these issues seriously, whether you are a young woman lawyer or a law firm leader.  You do less at your peril.

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