A Leadership Style For The Ages

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, passed the gavel last week — the gavel she had wielded so effectively for so long. She chose a peaceful transfer of power as she announced to her House colleagues that she would not seek a leadership role in the next Congress.

It was a thing to behold watching her handle those difficult moments with such remarkable aplomb. She combined her reverence for the work she has been privileged to do on behalf of her constituents and her Party with her own special sauce of intelligence, empathy, respect, dignity and humor. When you simmer those ingredients and add impeccable delivery and political savvy, the result is power and influence. Nancy Pelosi lead by an example that is worthy of your notice, especially you young women lawyers reading this blog. 

This is not a political piece. To those who say that they don’t like Nancy Pelosi and the principles of government she stands for, I respect those opinions. However, I respond that such reasoning is not the point.  My impression is that Nancy Pelosi cares far less whether you like her than whether you listen to her. And even those who do not like her have listened. They may have listened with the intent to criticize her, but they listened.

Nancy Pelosi understands her power as Speaker and as an elected official, and she has mentored many young women professionals in the elements of leadership and power. She understands that the power that women are capable of possessing does not have to be displayed in the same manner that men demonstrate power. Women can develop their own brands of power that suit their styles and also reflect high levels of confidence. 

Women, and also men I would submit, do not have to come to the discussion table with guns blazing. They can wield power with a scalpel just as effectively as they can with a sword. As her daughter once said, Speaker Pelosi could chop your head off before you even knew you were bleeding. Hers was a finessed approach. Witnessing her inimitable combination of charm and power and strength can take you by surprise. It sneaks up on you.

The example of Nancy Pelosi also teaches us that you don’t have to sacrifice the things that make you feel confident and powerful just because those same things are uniquely female. Meticulous dressing, including expensive designer labels, were part of the way that Nancy Pelosi presented herself, but they were not the substance of her.  They were the accents that finished off the attention to detail which defined her. 

The essence of Speaker Pelosi for me was not political. It was aspirational. Her effectiveness as a powerful leader is undeniable, and I am happy to have witnessed it.

For additional perspectives on Speaker Pelosi’s style of leadership, here is one I enjoyed from Robin Givhan of the Washington Post and another by Monica Hesse, also published in the Washington Post.

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Are You Interested in Becoming In House Counsel?

Most lawyers think about the option of in house counsel at some time(s) during their careers. So the question is how satisfied with the work are those who dispense legal advice from inside business organizations?

A recent survey by Leopard Solutions may answer that question and more. Here are the takeaways:

In-house attorneys are, overall, satisfied with their work-life balance. 76% of respondents cite being either satisfied or very satisfied.

A return to a law firm is unlikely but not impossible. 52% of respondents said they would not consider a return to a law firm, many citing the billable hour and work-life balance as key drivers. However, financial incentives may be enough for some. Similarly, the number of attorneys returning to law firms from in-house positions dropped in 2022.

Corporations should look for opportunities for career advancement. Nearly half of respondents expressed neutrality or dissatisfaction with career advancement opportunities. This area is key for retention. A lack of opportunity may be driving in-house attorneys to the door.

Overall, corporations seem to be committed to diversity. 46% of respondents (41% of diverse respondents) felt their organization had made the commitment.

Law firms need to be strategic partners to their clients. Respondents look for firms to act as a true, strategic partners to and valuable resources. Firms can do this by providing practical business advice, offering innovating solutions, and helping their clients create new business connections.

So there you have it. If you want more detail, read the survey. I wish this information had been released in time for my new book. But, alas, the book went to print earlier this week. New Lawyer Launch: The Handbook for Young Lawyers (Full Court Press, 2022) will be available for pre-order in the next few weeks. Just in time for holiday gifting. I will keep you posted!

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Update on Student Loan Forgiveness Program

Two weeks ago I blogged on the Student Loan Forgiveness Program announced recently by President Biden. Since that time, a law suit attempting to block the program has led to confusion.

Here is a recent article to bring you up to date on the facts..

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Let’s Talk Student Loan Debt Forgiveness

Student loan debt from the costs of college/university is part of the albatross around the necks of so many young lawyers. I write about undergraduate and law school debt often, and I am always looking for some good news to share. Finally, there may be some.

Yesterday, the Biden administration officially launched the application for its Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Program. The program forgives up to $20,000 of student loan debt for certain borrowers. Borrowers have until Dec 31, 2023, to fill out an application form which can be found on line.

Borrowers making less than $125,000 a year (or $250,000 for married couples) will qualify for loan forgiveness, and the Dept of Education will also provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to those who received Pell Grants.

For more information on this program, here is the Fact Sheet issued by the White House.

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When Women Lead: An Important Perspective

Women leaders in both general business settings and the business of law have a lot to teach us. Business leadership is not the exclusive dominion of men. Find out why.

Today I call your attention to a new book, When Women Lead: What They Achieve, Why They Succeed, and How We Can Learn From Them. The author, Julia Boorstin, Senior Media and Tech Correspondent at CNBC, has put together a primer for women who aspire to become leaders throughout business, and she has gathered an impressive group of women leaders to describe their journeys to successful business leadership positions. Although most of those leaders are engaged in the business of raising venture capital to aid in the production and promotion of innovative products and processes, the content is very instructive for all young women in business and law as well as their male counterparts.

Full disclosure. I have yet to read the book. The fifth book in the Best Friends at the Bar series, scheduled for release later this Fall, has my full attention these days. You can be sure, however, that I will get to When Women Lead as soon as possible after my editorial/ marketing responsibilities to my publisher are met.

Like me, however, you can examine the Index and preface to the work and, particularly, the content titled “Concepts and Skills” included in “See Inside” on the Amazon description of the book. Then you can decide if it sounds like something that will be valuable to you. And, if so, you can put the title on your holiday gift list. What a meaningful gift for friends and family to share with young women business leaders in training today.

And think about doing the same for my new book. New Lawyer Launch: THE Handbook for Young Lawyers will be very worthy of your attention and will also make a great holiday gift for the young lawyers in your life.

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Personal Definitions of Success Revisited

I really enjoy spending time with young people. The are fun, and they teach me a lot. I always walk away from them with something important to ponder. I don’t always agree with them, but I don’t have to. It is enough that they make me think.

Young lawyers are no exception.  Recently, when I was talking to a couple of young lawyers about their career objectives, I heard one of them say to the other, “You do you.”  It resonated with me, and it also reminded me of the similar messages I have been sending to young lawyers for more than a decade. 

I coined the phrase Personal Definitions of Success in my first book for young women lawyers, which was published in 2009. In those days, my focus was exclusively women lawyers because of the unique challenges they faced. It still was a bit of a Wild West for women lawyers in those days, and the playing field was very uneven for women as compared to men.  Although I was aware that all young lawyers needed help in those days, it was the women who got my attention. I had experienced those challenges firsthand, and I wanted to throw out a life line as best I could.

That does not mean that there are not special challenges for women lawyers today because there certainly are and always will be as long as women continue to be the primary caretakers of children and elderly and needy family members. But, after three books and scores of programs for women lawyers, I felt comfortable broadening my focus to include all young lawyers. I did that in my last book for and about millennial lawyers, and I am doing it again in a handbook for young lawyers, which will be released later this Fall. 

So whether you call it Personal Definitions of Success or “You do you”, it means the same thing. There is no one definition of success. Success does not mean full time work and partnership any more than it means part-time work and something less than partnership. It means what matters to YOU within your own definition of ambition and your values. It means different things to different people.

The most important thing that we can do as a profession is to respect all choices. Every single sincere Personal Definition of Success and career satisfaction is worthy of respect. 

So remember, you do you.

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It’s All About Law Firm Culture

I have been writing about toxic law firm cultures since 2016 when I addressed that issue in an article I wrote for Corporate Counsel magazine. That was early in terms of the seriousness that law firms attached to firm cultures. And, since that time, I have continued to sound the alarm about toxic law firm cultures and the disastrous effects of negative practices on the profession.

Here is a very recent update on toxic workplace cultures based on research conducted at MIT examining workplaces in general. The findings translate well to law firms and identify powerful predictors of toxic workplace behaviors, including toxic leadership, toxic social norms, and toxic work designs. The report also explores the ways employers can dramatically improve employee experiences and minimize unwanted attrition, employee disengagement, and negative perceptions in the business community.

Perhaps most important, the authors of the study have identified toxic culture as the primary driver of the Great Resignation, which has been experienced recently throughout the workforce. In fact they believe that toxic workplace culture is more than 10 times as powerful a factor as compensation.

Now that is worth some very serious consideration — for both legal employees and legal employers.

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Is Multi-Tasking Such a Good Idea?

Most lawyers, especially women lawyers, pride themselves in their ability to multi-task. And, yes, they are pretty good at it. They have had to juggle family and profession under challenging circumstances, and they have done it very well. I am in awe of women lawyers who manage to multi-task and keep their wits about them.

And some male lawyers do it, too. They multi-task. Kudos to them as well.

The truth about multi-tasking is complicated, however. No matter how you do it, the important question is whether multi-tasking is a good idea at all. Young lawyers need to think about it.

Here is an article that argues against multi-tasking. The author is an in-house lawyer, and has additional advice for all of the in-house lawyers reading this.

My advice to all of you is to pay attention to this article. Many of you have very complicated practices, and the ability to hone in on the subject matter and give it your entire attention at times can mean the difference between success and failure. I am aware that taking a more nuanced approach to multi-tasking complicates the balancing act, but it could very well be worth considering.

I am not saying that you should neglect your family and personal responsibilities in favor of your professional life. That is not what I am saying at all. I believe that an effective balance means that some times your focus has to be on family, and some times your focus has to be on profession. Each day is different, and sometimes each hour is different. That is what you should expect, and handling it means staying flexible and keeping your objectives clear.

I am a lawyer/mom. And I can relate. My kids are grown now, but I remember those challenging days of balancing family with profession like it was yesterday. Some days I felt like a failure as a mother, and some days I felt like a failure as a lawyer. All days I had to stay focused and have the confidence that I could pull it off. And I did. Those two kids now are lawyers and doing their own balancing.

Some things never change. And we don’t really want them to. We value both sides of our lives, and we are capable of creating balance that protects both sides of our lives. It might take a little help from the outside from time to time, but we know how to get that. We just need to be willing to accept the help.

My money is on you. You are smart and capable, and you know your limits. Respect them, and the rest will all fall into place.

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