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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What do RBG and Millennial Lawyers Have in Common?

RBG.  You have to love her!  And I do.  I loved the documentary about her life, and I love how relevant she continues to be.

I first saw Justice Ginsburg speak more than a decade ago when she was addressing an audience of law students and young lawyers.  Yes, her scholarship and her role as a breaker of glass ceilings amazed me, but it did not stop there.  Her sense of humor and her humble way of speaking was surprising for someone at her high perch, and it was heartwarming.  She knows how to get attention without hitting the listener over the head with her opinion and perspective.

So, last week when she was interviewed at George Washington University Law, I paid attention again.  Of course, I was not disappointed.  What I heard from her then that particularly moved me came in response to a question about the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  In her response, she expressed lament that the process is now so partisan, unlike the bipartisan hearings of the past, including her own.

“That’s the way it should be instead of what its become, which is a highly partisan show,” she said. “The Republicans move in lockstep, and so do the Democrats. I wish I could wave a magic wand and bring it back to the way it was.”

Indeed, I think all of us wish we could wave magic wands to bring things back to what they were and the way they should be.  However, the partisan behavior in congressional hearings is only part of the problem.  Other unfortunate behaviors are infecting our society and culture, and it makes all of us yearn for the good old days.

Take the good old days of practicing law as an example.  The loss of respect, cooperation, civility, emphasis on honorable and ethical and professional behavior is addressed in my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).  Millennial lawyers are reacting to toxic law firm cultures and yearn for a set of values that will help develop them as the leaders they want to be.  Leaders not only in their profession but also in their communities.

I long have contended that the degradations of law firm cultures and the negative behaviors of practitioners, which have led to disillusionment among lawyers young and old, is reflective of the disrespectful behaviors that have become common in our society at large.  You need not look further than social media and television coverage of controversial topics for proof.

Think Facebook comments.  Think Twitter comments.  Think the behaviors of high level individuals in media interviews.  Think panels of experts freely screaming at each other on cable television.

Think road rage.  Think finger pointing instead of civilized conversation and compromise.  And the list goes on.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the law profession lead the charge for elimination of these repugnant behaviors?  Wouldn’t it be nice for the law profession to stand up against bullying, disparaging dialogue, character assassination, and the full range of bad behaviors that have become common in our daily lives?  Wouldn’t it be nice to see lawyers take the initiative to address larger societal issues — as lawyers used to do?

The law profession has the opportunity to take up the mantle of living up to the values of past generations of lawyers.  That opportunity would go a long way toward responding to the disappointment of millennial lawyers to a profession gone awry by placing too much value on money and power.  It also would demonstrate that law firm managers can be the leaders they need to be during these transformative times.

What could be more important than bringing back civil behavior and respect for others? 

Like RBG, we only can hope that change is somewhere on the close horizon.  And we can hope that the first ones to take the hill are the lawyers.

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A Young Woman Lawyer Looks to the Past to Inform the Future

I have to share with you the story of a remarkable young woman lawyer.  I do not know her, although I wish I did.  It would be a pleasure and an honor.  Lina Khan is the kind of dedicated and passionate young lawyer who, undoubtedly, will make her mark on this world.

I read her story recently in an article in the New York Times, and it inspired me.  Not because I know anything about anti-trust law.  Not because I have a secret agenda involving busting monopolies.  Just because I admire the intellectual journey and passion of this young woman.

She is a Yale Law School graduate, who, as a law student in 2017, published an article titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal.  The article challenged current anti-trust principles and dredged up some former applications of law that got people’s attention.  The paper received 146,255 hits — a lot for legal treatises — and Lina Khan became a celebrity in the hallowed halls of government in Washington, DC.

She also has critics, as you might expect.  New discoveries and theories work that way.  But, she pushed forward on her theories with Amazon as the target.  Big target.  Hard to bring down.  She is now at the FTC doing awesome policy work based on her theories, and Politico just named her to its annual list of the people driving the ideas driving politics.

She had setbacks, but she soldiered on.  Just months before she was to assume a clerkship on the prestigious 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the judge who had hired her died suddenly.  So, she quickly changed course.  I think she grew up knowing it is what you do.

Take a few minutes to read the story.  It may inspire you as it inspired me.  All of us will not take journeys involving this kind of commitment, but we can marvel at the journeys of the ones who do.

What drew me to this story was Lina Khan’s notion that the past can help rescue the future.  “These are new technologies and new business models,” Ms. Khan said. “The remedy is new thinking that is informed by traditional principles.”

And the reason this resounds with me so emphatically is that it is the same thought process that runs throughout my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018).  The past can help rescue the future.  The remedy for an arguably failing law profession is a new way of thinking that is informed by traditional principles.

Being informed by the past to rescue the future is the bridge that millennial lawyers have been looking for without even knowing it.  It is the bridge that one bright and shining Yale Law student, turned millennial lawyer, took.  It is a journey of passion.

Bravo to Lina Khan wherever her passion leads her.  I hope I run into her on the streets of DC to witness her commitment and passion.  It would be a pleasure and an honor.

 

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Women Lawyers Are Not Equal

Women lawyers are not equal — at least not in the private sector.  Plain and simple.  I know that you do not expect to hear this from me nor do you want to hear this from me, but it is true.

Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.”  If you compare private sector female lawyers to private sector male lawyers on issues of status and opportunities, you begin to see the inequality.  (“Rights” are derived from constitutional law and legislation and are not addressed here.  But, if you want a history of women’s rights in America, watch RBG.) So, let’s talk status and opportunities:

  • On status:  Women have the babies, and tradition and implicit bias too often drive the conclusion that it is the woman’s responsibility to be the primary care taker of her children.  As the result of health considerations for women and their newborns, women lawyers typically take the maximum allowable maternity leave after childbirth.  More likely than not, when she returns to work, the woman lawyer is treated differently from her male colleagues because implicit bias drives the further conclusion that young mothers are no longer dedicated to, committed to, and serious about their jobs. And because this attitude prevails, many young women lawyers are denied equal consideration for partnership, thereby doing irreparable damage to their professional status.
  • On opportunities:  Repeat the above.  Once law firm management and leadership presumptively conclude that a young mother/attorney lacks dedication and commitment to her career, the opportunities for advancement dissolve.

So, what can be done about it?  A lot, according to a recent article in The American Lawyer.  This article is a group effort of the young lawyers editorial team at the magazine, and it is very ambitious in terms of the recommendations to law firms.  However, it includes some excellent starting points for firms to consider and implement.  Although I do not realistically expect that firms will implement all of the recommendations at once, most of them are possible over time.

Law firms need to take these issues very seriously for some very good reasons.  In fact, the title of the article, “Law Firms Benefit by Showing Attorneys that Family Matters” implies benefits to law firms from instituting the recommended policies.   Benefits not only for reasons of retention of talent, competition in the market place, and related self-serving profit motives, but, more importantly, because we are a profession that was founded on issues of fairness, respect and honorable behavior.

Simply stated, it is not nice to punish women professionals for having babies.

 

 

 

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New Book for Best Friends at the Bar Project

Read excerpts from the new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018), to be released on September 1st, in the July/August 2018 Best Friends at the Bar Newsletter:

https://bestfriendsatthebar.com/newsletter/2018/08/30/julyaugust-2018-newsletter/

Millennial Generation lawyers are the future of the law profession, and current leadership needs to know how they think and how to develop them into effective leaders.

The emphasis is on respect, civility, honorable behavior, reaching out helping hands to communities and those less fortunate …  and more.  Those themes — very much in the national conversation today — are driven home by stories from a day when the underlying values were paramount in law practice.  The hope is that they will become part of our own experiences today.

What Millennial Lawyers Want:

  • Expands the Best Friends at the Bar audience beyond young women lawyers to ALL young lawyers and those who lead them;
  • Presents extensive research about millennial lawyers and by millennial lawyers; and
  • Regales readers with inspirational stories of lawyers from a generation past to demonstrate a healthier path forward for a profession in transition.

With a Foreword and in-book endorsements by leading lawyers at some of the world’s most prestigious law firms, this book has been recognized as a game-changer for the legal profession.  The message is that bad habits and toxic environments are not beyond repair if we listen to the voices of a new generation of lawyers and help them — and us — find a better way forward.

Available soon on Amazon.  Get it and read it NOW!

 

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See You in September!

Great song. Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.  For those of you who did not — shame on you—catch Jersey Boys on stage, there is always YouTube to get the flavor of great music of bygone years.

But, I digress! 

As some of you may remember, August and December are the times when I step back from blogging to focus on family.  So, you won’t be reading my blogs again until September — when I will return to help move the needle forward for women in law.  However, when I see a tidbit that you need to focus on between now and then, I will make sure you can find it on the Best Friends at the Bar Facebook page.

But it will not be all fun and games for me this August.  I will be spending a lot of time promoting and marketing my new book for ALL young lawyers.  What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers) goes to print next week and will be released on September 1st.  I am very excited about the possibilities of this new book, so please watch for it.  It is a quick read and one that I know will interest the young lawyers in my orbit — and hopefully the seasoned lawyers who reside where change begins.

Best wishes to all of you for end of summer bliss.  Take time off for yourself and friends and family while work is slow.  Remember the importance of balance. 

And have some fun!

 

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Perfect Pitch for Women Lawyers

Are you musical?  Have you had experience singing in a choir?  If so, you probably are familiar with the concept of “perfect pitch.” 

For the rest of you, perfect pitch is the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.  Perfect pitch results in great vocalists, who can land a note on the musical scale exactly and in a way that is pleasing to the ear, leaving the listener with the desire to hear more.

Oddly, perfect pitch works the same in business — and especially for lawyers.  Delivering the perfect pitch for legal services to a potential client can be a great asset to a career.  In many businesses, the perfect pitch involves a physical product that speaks for itself.  The widget, for example.  But, it is different for lawyers.  The perfect pitch to your potential client will have no physical product to make the case, and you will have to depend on the power of your words and your delivery.

The pitch happens when you have the opportunity to communicate your professional worth to a would-be client, and the best pitches are in person and verbal.  Hopefully, you will have mentors who will include you on client pitches long before you are expected to pitch alone.  But, that presumes good mentoring, and we cannot assume that these days.  So, I have found you a helpful resource.

Jezra Kaye is a friend of mine.  Her website, Speak Up For Success, demonstrates how  she has made a career of helping speakers and presenters hit all the high notes.  She also is musical, a former jazz singer, so maybe that is why she considers pitch so important.  Her recent blog, “The Three Rules of Great Pitching”, is a valuable resource for you.  The analogy there is to baseball, but, knowing Jezra, I prefer the music metaphor.

Here are some highlights from the pro (as always with my interpretation):

  • The pitch is not about you.  Yes, you want to communicate credentials about yourself, briefly, but the focus should be on discovering what the potential client needs;
  • Focus on solving your prospect’s problem.  What is the goal?   What are your ideas and approaches to problem solving?  How do you get to a solution?  Let your skill, experience and creativity show.
  • Be relaxed and have fun.  Deliver your messages with confidence.  Be likeable, and use humor whenever possible.   Yes, humor.  Clients are looking for competent counsel, to be sure, but the attorney/client relationship is a whole lot more enjoyable if parties look forward to each other’s company.  So be engaging, have a chat, look for common ground, and LISTEN to what the other person has to say.  (Check out my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, to be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers on September 1, 2018, for more on these subjects.)

Jezra’s blog also takes the pressure off by making it clear that you can’t control the outcome of some pitches.  Pitches often fail for reasons that have nothing to do with the effectiveness of the pitch.  Inside politics.  Budget considerations.  Timing.  Negative risk assessment … nothing to do with the pitcher.  

So stand tall, throw your shoulders back, smile, and have fun with the pitch.  Remember that it is just a conversation.  And practice makes perfect. 

Make sure the perfect pitch is in your future!

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