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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The High Price of Over Parenting for Millennial Lawyers

I have written extensively about millennials and millennial lawyers, including about how members of the Millennial Generation were shaped by societal influences as they grew to adulthood.  Those societal influences have limited their abilities to fit into traditional workplaces and, in some cases, have lead to anxiety and depression.

Societal influences like rapid advances in technology and social media, the impact of the 2008 recession, which resulted in insecurity and risk aversion, and helicopter parenting that sheltered children from disappointment, interfered with decision making, and put pressure on coaches and teachers to improve outcomes for their children, have taken a toll on our younger generations.  Those influences can be traced to unreasonable expectations and inability to cope with challenges.

Some of you may doubt that premise.  You may prefer to think that Baby Boomer and Generation X parents had nothing to do with it.  But, the research does not support that conclusion.  Research also shows that the children of Generation Z, those who followed the millennials, are experiencing similar limitations from over parenting.  Consider the recent arrests of certain Gen Z parents, who engaged in alleged bribery, fraud and racketeering in schemes to get their children admitted to elite colleges and universities across this country.

Since the release of my book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018), I have addressed many audiences about these issues in an attempt to make both young and more experienced lawyers understand the Generational Divide in our profession today.  The divide is real, and the solution must be shared to be effective and lasting.  Understanding and respect are the tools to finding a path to the future to include all members of our profession.

The risks are very serious if we do not.

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The Intersection of Motherhood and Partnership: What it Means for Women Lawyers

A recent edition of in the London-based Financial Times included a very thought-provoking article that is a must read for all women lawyers and those who lead them.  The sources are both UK and US based and there is no single geographic focus.

This is not just the “same old same old” you have read in the past.  Yes, the statistics will be recognizable because the percentage of women equity partners in law firms has not changed in recent history.  But there is much beyond those statistics for you to chew on and some new approaches that you may or may not agree with.

The article starts by taking on a giant, specifically the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, for the way that it frames the answer to the question, “Can you be a mother and a senior law firm partner?”  The Center’s emphasis on factors that are impossible to change is disputed on the basis that it fails to recognize the impact of unconscious bias and the effect of that bias on the upward mobility of women lawyers.

The issue of quotas for women partners is also discussed in a very balanced way, giving equal time to the pros and cons of that approach.  Although many women object to that kind of mandate and how it disadvantageously profiles them in the partnership, others argue that less radical approaches have proven unsuccessful.  You will have to decide where you fall on that spectrum.

Also included are some practical steps that firms can take to work out the maternity leave issues with women lawyers, who demonstrate the kind of talent and leadership skills valuable at the management level, and efforts that firms can take to keep women on maternity leave functioning as part of the team during that period of time.

The role of in-house general counsel and clients in reaching a more acceptable percentage of women at the top of law firms also was discussed.  This quote got my attention, “Those who until now have expected to be able to reach lawyers at any time of day or night need an understanding of what requests are urgent and what can wait until morning.”  This alone evidenced a new world order!

You also will see some interesting comments on the position of salaried partners, the marginalization that often results, and the critical role of achieving diversity at the top.   According to one source, “I’ve never heard of a balanced or diverse partnership underperforming.”  Amen to that.

Particularly interesting to me was the emphasis in the article that the issues addressed are not just all about women.  It is also about the new generation of young lawyers (millennial lawyers and the generation of lawyers to follow), who have embraced work-life balance issues that require a new approach.  With the additional emphasis in my work on issues related to millennial lawyers, I applaud the recognition of the broader view of what is needed to reform our profession.

I recommend this article for you and for you to share with the leaders in your firm.  The train is leaving the station, and we all need to get on board.

 

 

 

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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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Recruiting On-Ramp Employees

Today’s blog is courtesy of Rebecca McNeill, a founder of McNeill Baur in Cambridge, MA.  She addresses the importance of recruiting on-ramp employees.  I enthusiastically support these initiatives and the work of the OnRamp Fellowship.

Making the Case for Law Firm Recruiting of On-Ramp Employees

Law firms can access wider talent pools by creating on ramps for attorneys and support staff who have left the work force to care for growing families or for other reasons. While many law firms, including ours, offer part-time employment, sometimes an employee, such as a working parent, leaves the work force for a period of time. Whether working parents lean in, balance it all, or take a break from their careers, employers should cast a wide recruiting net. The number of open positions in law firms and corporate legal departments shows that finding and retaining legal talent presents a major challenge.

Our 100% woman-owned, life science patent firm has had tremendous success on-ramping. Our 28-person firm employs three on-rampers who had stayed home with children for from one year to more than a decade. By remembering on-ramp candidates and making some modest changes, law firms like ours can improve on-ramping success. While some of these suggestions apply only to attorneys, other suggestions apply to staff, as well.

  • First, law firms can consider how they advertise positions and recruit candidates, whether for attorneys or staff members. As a first step, each of our job postings indicates that we welcome on-ramp employees. By warmly welcoming parents returning to the workforce, law firms open the door for those applicants. We do not penalize applicants for gaps in their resumes and, when applicable, we talk to them in the interview process about how they can refresh their skills and catch up on legal developments. We also actively target our networks to connect with parents who are home with families and invite them to consider reentering the work force.
  • Second, law firms should carefully revisit part-time employment policies as many on-ramp candidates desire a part-time schedule. Many firms have part-time options, but some offer only a few set options (1200 hours, 1600 hours, for example). Our firm has offered more flexibility to part-time employees in setting their own billable hour goal. Additionally, if part-time employees exceed their billable hour goal, we do not penalize them for initially choosing a lower hour goal. An attorney who selects a 1300-hours target, but actually works 1425 hours makes the same amount as if they had set 1425 as their original goal. We also compensate attorneys for every hour worked over their target, as opposed to only awarding bonuses on 50- or 100-hour increments. This encourages part-time attorneys to choose a billable hour goal that allows for intermittent challenges that many parents face, such as the winter when all the kids get strep throat (sequentially). Valuing each hour a part-time employee works equally to the same hour a full-time employee works helps demonstrate our commitment to part-time employees.
  • Third, law firms should carefully tailor assignments for on-ramp employees to meet their skills, interests, and time commitments. Our firm has both large and small patent prosecution portfolios. Giving a part-time employee a small portfolio, but letting them manage all of the work for a small client can offer more career satisfaction than taking only part of a large portfolio. Firm can also offer flexibility to employees contending with school vacation schedules by offering project work like opinions and application writing that will wrap up before the attorney needs to be out of the office.
  • Finally, law firms must recognize that not every smart, talented, and committed attorney wants a rainmaker role or their own book of business. Firms must reevaluate their up-or-out approach. Our firm has committed to retaining employed attorneys for the long term whether or not they develop their own book of business. Even though we do not set limits on our part-time employees, our firm offers long-term non-partnership roles at the firm for attorneys who prefer to serve in a supportive role.

Reaching on-ramp candidates can improve law firm diversity and allow access to new talent pools. Offering on-ramp candidates a way to reenter the work force on their terms also improves attorney happiness and retention.

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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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Millennial Men and Gender Bias

So what’s up with millennial males and gender bias?  For years, we have been hearing that millennial men (those born between approximately 1980 and 2000) are very attuned to equality between the sexes.  And, it makes sense if you know anything about the values of millennials.  (And if you do not, I recommend that you read my book, What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018.)

The value of respect is very high on the list of millennial generation values, and it also is at the heart of gender equality.  Gender researchers have contended for almost a half century that every generation has become more egalitarian — right up to the millennials.  And that would make sense, not only because of millennial values but also because comfort between the sexes in business seems to be on the rise.

So, I was surprised to read a recent article by Chris Haigh on the andieandal.com blog citing evidence from a variety of studies and polls to conclude that “discriminatory gender stereotypes and biases are just as pervasive and influential — if not more so — among Millennial men as they were among the men of earlier generations.”  Although the authorities cited were not as current as I would have liked, it was disturbing to read.

The author based his findings on research showing that, “Most people believe they are unbiased and egalitarian.  But when forced to confront specific situations and express their actual preferences, people’s implicit biases typically come out” and on a poll taken by Harris as early as 2014 showing that “young men are less comfortable than older men with women holding positions of power in traditional male fields.”  Accordingly, the author concluded that, “Expecting the pervasive biases against women to fade away as younger generations take control of our major organizations is foolish at best and counterproductive at worst.”

Whew!  That is not what I expected — after spending a considerable amount of time studying millennials and millennial lawyers and their values and behaviors — and I was hoping for more from the male lawyers of that generation.  I still am, in fact.

But, I also know from the young women lawyers I interface with on a regular basis, including the superstar variety who are on the fast track to partnership or have already arrived there, how implicit bias continues to play out in the workplace and interfere with their career advancement.  And I also know that it is not just about scheduling meetings early in the morning or late in the day, which disadvantages women lawyers with young children.  And it is not all about staging promotional and client events that are centered on testosterone-driven activities that give male lawyers a leg up in client development.

It is also about assigning detail-oriented projects to female lawyers because they are “so much better at details” than their male colleagues — while, at the same time, assigning strategic and conceptually-centered tasks to the male lawyers — disadvantages women and leaves them behind the power curve when it comes time to evaluate them for partnership.  And that is a really big problem.

It goes something like this:  “Oops.  Sorry.  She was so mired down in the details that she never got that highly-prized deposition and motions practice experience, and we just don’t think she is ready for prime time.”  Sorry indeed.  That’s a lot to be sorry for.

We must do better.  Implicit bias is insipid.  We need to begin by educating our sons — and our husbands and our fathers.  Research shows that most males do not think that implicit bias even exists.  Ask the men in your life.  See if they can even come close to being able to define it — or even if they care to try.

So, we have our work cut out for us.

Darn.  I thought those millennial males were going to save us the trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

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