Postscript About Leadership Skills for Women

I have just become aware of a program on leadership for women that I want you to know about.  This Quorum Initiative program, Strategies For Negotiation:  Women in Leadership, may be just “up your alley.”  It is a virtual program scheduled for Thursday, June 13, 2024 from 12 PM to 1 PM EDT.  The presenter is an acclaimed assistant professor at UVA’s Darden School of Business and the author of The Rise of Corporate Feminism (Columbia University Press, 2022).  Her previous postings have been at Wharton School and the business schools at Vanderbilt University and Cornell University.

More information about the program and registration are available at www.thequoruminitiative.com.    The price is right, and, from my experience, any program sponsored by the Quorum Initiative is worthy of your time.

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Leadership Skills for Women Lawyers

Leadership skills are important for all lawyers, but I think they are particularly important for women lawyers. It has been my experience that, too often, women either underestimate themselves and/or are satisfied in secondary roles.  Both of those propensities can be career limiting.

In my own career, I was a very good Chief of Staff and an excellent second chair at trial, and, sometimes I was satisfied with those roles. But eventually I snapped out of my complacency and realized that being parked in my comfort zone was not going to move me forward in my career. I needed to stretch myself and do the things that scared me the most.

I remember clearly the first time I argued a motion in court,  the first time I took a deposition, the first time I interrogated a witness, and the first time I was called upon to give my opinion to a BIG client in a BIG case. All of those hurdles were scary, to be sure, but necessary to get me to the next level where I would be rewarded for my leadership skills.

I also remember how it felt to have others rely on me for those skills. It is heady stuff.  But it does not come without work and training from others who have experienced leadership and walked the walks. And it does not come without consciously letting managers know that you want to lead — that you want to serve on important committees, that you want to be on a pitch team, or that you think you are ready to move from team member to team leader.

Here are some principles that I have learned along the way to becoming a leader:

Principle #1 – Seek Greater Responsibility and Take Responsibility for Your Actions

Do not be satisfied with performing current duties.  Grow in your profession by seeking further challenges and being responsible for the consequences of your actions.

Principle #2 – Know Yourself and Seek Self Improvement

Develop a plan to further develop your strengths and improve on your weaknesses

Principle #3 – Make Wise and Timely Decisions

Growing in your profession involves many challenging experiences.  Learn to make wise decisions at critical times in your career.  Do not put off important decisions.

Principle #4 – Set the Example

No aspect of leadership is more powerful than setting a positive example. Personal examples affect people more than any amount of instruction or form of discipline.  Positive examples get attention from those who can help you reach leadership.

Principle #5 – Build and Develop A Successful Team

Law practice is more and more about teamwork.  Leaders develop a team spirit that motivates team members to work with confidence and competence. Know the proficiencies of your team members, and encourage team members to further develop their proficiencies to contribute to the success of the team.

Principle #6 – Develop A Sense of Responsibility In Your Team Members

The members of a team will feel a sense of pride and responsibility when they successfully accomplish a new task given them. When we delegate responsibility to our followers, we are indicating that we trust them and encourages loyalty in team members.  When individuals trust you, they will be willingly to work hard to help you accomplish the mission.

Principle #7 – Ensure That Each Task is Understood, Supervised and Accomplished

Because mission accomplishment is based on teamwork, it is evident that the better the team, the better the team will perform the task. Team members expect the leader to keep them informed about deadlines and explain the reasons behind requirements and decisions. Information encourages initiative, improves teamwork and enhances morale.   That kind of open dialogue lets  team members know you care about mission accomplishment and also care about them.

Principle #8 – Employ Your Team In Accordance With Its Capabilities

A leader must use sound judgment when working with the team. Failure is not an option. By employing the team properly, you insure mission accomplishment.

I  encourage all of you to take advantage of leadership examples in your work places but also to look into bar association leadership programs in your area. These experiences will give you opportunities to mix with lawyers and other professionals outside your work space where you may feel more comfortable exposing your vulnerabilities.

Whatever path you choose, get on the road to leadership.   Experience the positive effects it will have on your career.

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Great News for Best Friends at the Bar!

The Best Friends at the Bar Blog has been selected by Feedspot and its panelists as one of the Top 20 Women In Law Blogs on the web.

The Best Friends at the Bar Blog has been ranked #5 among 20 of the best blogs for women lawyers on the web!  Yes, #5.

I am really excited about this and hope that you will help me spread the word and increase the website  followers.  Read more about it below and see for yourself how the Best Friends at the Bar Blog has been recognized again as benefiting young women lawyers and helping them meet the challenges of a law career and reach success in the profession.

Like my posts on social media and support a winning project!

https://blog.feedspot.com/women_in_law_blogs/

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Happy Mother’s Day, Mother/Lawyers!

Mother’s Day is right around the corner.  It is the day set aside to celebrate the importance of motherhood, and it is an important day for all families.  For mother/lawyers, it also underscores the challenges of being the mother of young children and ALSO a lawyer.

Work-life balance for mother/lawyers is critical.  That does not make it easy, and it also is not conducive to cookie cutter solutions.  It is a very personal thing and, in part, depends on the type of law those mother/lawyers practice and the degree of child care help available to them.  It means deciding what works best for the woman and her family and for the woman and her career.  It means protecting objectives on both the personal and the professional sides.

I made these arguments in an ABA Journal article several years ago, and the y0ung women lawyers on Twitter were offended to hear my advice about paying attention to both personal and professional lives.  They said that I had no right telling them what to do because they already were doing it and they were very successful.  That made me wonder why they were offended because clearly what I was suggesting was working for them.  But it was the mere fact of being told what to do that offended them.

Those young women lawyers also wrote in their tweets that I must not have children if I was emphasizing being a reliable team player at the office.  They even opined that I had sold out to male management and that I was telling women lawyers not to have children.  Because I do not engage with cancel culture, I did not engage in a dialogue with unidentified Tweeters.  If I had responded, my response would have looked something like what is included in this current Forbes article.

Considerations like setting boundaries, prioritizing tasks, delegating responsibilities, and seeking flexibility  are addressed well in the article.  Pay attention to them.  They are critical to your success and how you look back on your performance as a lawyer and as a mother of small children.

I know a little about this.  I, indeed, do have children.  Two of them, both of them successful lawyers.  And I am very happy with the images in my rear view mirror.

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Young Lawyers Need to Understand the Limitations of AI

I am a member of the District of Columbia Bar, and I, therefore, receive a copy of Washington Lawyer magazine six times a year.  I enjoy the stories, and, on occasion, I have an article published there.

The May/June 2024 magazine includes an article titled “The Client Needs You, Not AI” that I wish all of you could read.  There are many applications of AI in the practice of law, some good and some not so good.  For young lawyers, this can be very confusing — and very dangerous.

Not all of you will have access to this article.  For those of you who do, I hope you will read it.  For the rest of you, I have quoted below from the article to highlight some of the things to be wary of when relying on AI.

From the article by Josephine, M. Bahn, associate at Cozen O’Connor, immediate past chair of the ABA Young Lawyers Division:

AI can be a tool for young and new lawyers to strengthen their repertoire, but it should be used with caution.  We’ve heard the horror stories of lawyers using ChatGPT and nonexistent case law, or of attorneys utilizing AI to produce discovery requests without checking local rules requirements.  It behooves young lawyers to familiarize themselves with the technology they want to use — how it works, what others in the field might use it for, and, most importantly, what its potential pitfalls might be.

Adoption of new technology should not replace the human elements of law practice.  Knowing an individual client’s goals and preferences is not something you can readily feed into an AI platform if, for example, the client hates passive voice or will strike any in-line citations. Without knowing the “people” part of the profession, new technology tools may actually hinder young lawyers’ growth.  Remember that you are the reason the client hired you in the first place, not your ability to use AI.  

Lawyering is a technical profession where words matter and delivery may [matter more than] all else.  Our clients can see through discovery requests formulated using AI that fails to consider prior pleadings, specific facts, and the nuances of the case.  Young lawyers must remember that they are the human element needed to bring a case toward a desirable outcome for the client. …. If you remain the clients’ trusted advisor, then you remain indispensable to them. (emphasis added)

It is not often that I quote so extensively from an article.  In this case, it is important to me that you get this information straight from another associate lawyer, who is confronted with these issues in the same way you are.

It is very good advice.  Heed the warnings.

 

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The Importance of Active Listening for Young Lawyers

Good communication skills are very important to lawyers.  We typically think of those skills in terms of good writing skills, good speaking skills, and good advocacy skills.  Although those skills are very important and you should strive to perfect them, another very important communication skill is often overlooked.  That is the skill of active listening.

Effective communication is about more than expressing thoughts and opinions.  It often determines how we receive information and interpret the messages of others, and it is necessary to a deeper understanding of another’s thoughts and demonstrating empathy and building connections.

Active listening is critical in many legal practice settings, from interviewing witnesses to negotiating billion dollar deals.  It requires attention to what others are saying — really focused attention — in order to gain information and to develop relationships with the speaker that can benefit you in myriad ways.  When you give your full attention to a speaker, you send a message that what is being said is important and worthy of  your time.

In a recent article, “Unlock the Power of Active Listening,” the writer, Tomer Rozenberg, suggests that active listening also includes involvement with a speaker without judgment and which goes beyond simply hearing words. Active listening also can improve problem solving, by ensuring that you fully comprehend what you are hearing, and can lead to more effective solutions.  And it can cut down on misunderstandings that often are very time consuming.

Recall how annoying it is to be in a conversation with X, who is not listening and is concentrated on other things and other people.  X is scanning the room over your shoulder, clearly not engaged with you, and likely anticipating a next conversation before completing the conversation with you.  Chances are that you form harsh opinions about X, the kind of opinions that you would not want others to form about you.

To avoid that result and develop active listening skills, start your conversations by maintaining eye contact, avoiding interruptions, and responding by paraphrasing what has been said.  An occasional nod or favorable facial expression also can go a long way toward achieving active listening.  My guess is that you are an active listener in conversations with your supervisor or manager because you think your job depends on it.  And you may be right about that.  Most managers and supervisors do not relish repeating themselves because someone is not listening.

Practice active listening in your personal life and move on to conversations in your professional life.  Active listening has no downsides and can be very important for career success and satisfaction.  And don’t you want to use all of the skills available to you to achieve those objectives?

 

 

 

 

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Balancing Lawyering and Caregiving

Being a woman lawyer still presents challenges — even in 2024.  And being a lawyer/mother ups the ante on those challenges.  But, consider how much harder it must be for lawyer/mothers of special needs children.

I recently read an article that addressed those challenges in a way that especially resonated with me.  The title is “Balancing Lawyering and Caregiving in the Sandwich Generation — A Woman’s Perspective.”   As  the  second article in a series, it focused on tips for lawyering and parenting a special needs child.

Even if you do not have to struggle with issues related to caretaking for a special needs child, I encourage you to read the article because of the good, solid practical advice about trying to balance your personal life with your professional life.

In this article, you will not read complaints and testimonials from young women lawyers, who believe that the challenges for lawyer/mothers is the responsibility of employers to solve.   You will not read about lawyer/mothers, who believe that they are entitled to work only between 9 and 5 with no further responsibilities after 5 at night and until 9 the next morning.  You will not read complaints that make you wonder whether those women lawyers understand that the practice of law is a personal services business with the emphasis on client service — because that is the way the profession of law works.

To be clear, I understand the challenges that women lawyers face, but I am confident that women lawyers, including lawyer/mothers, can overcome their challenges without relying completely on others to come to their rescue.  To do that, women lawyers need to be realistic about their responsibilities and know how to take the long view.  They need to access help when they need it to fashion good solutions.  They especially need to remember and respect that they are women — and women have always leaned into the issues and relied on their remarkable flexibility and talent for problem solving.

Don’t get me wrong.  This kind of advocacy from women lawyers does not relieve employers from the responsibility of working with women lawyers toward more flexible schedules and other solutions to make caretaking and lawyering more compatible.  Meeting those challenges will require communication and cooperation and a recognition that both the women lawyers and the law firms have reasonable concerns.

This article includes the kind of advice that helps young lawyers persevere and take tremendous pride in their accomplishments.  It is the same kind of advice that you will find in my books for women lawyers and is at the core of my many speeches to law schools, law firms and law organizations, and it represents the essence of the Best Friends at the Bar program.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

By embracing flexibility, building a solid support network, prioritizing self-care, advocating for us and our children, delegating tasks, seeking professional guidance, and staying committed to our goals, we can thrive both in and outside our careers. Finally, also remember that our dedication and strength also make us role models for other women navigating similar challenges, which can prove both rewarding and encouraging as we continue to navigate our own paths.

Now, that makes a lot of sense.

 

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Where Do Women Stand in the Practice of Law Today?

As you may be aware, this blog started out in 2009 for women lawyers.  My first three books were for women only, so that made sense.  I am happy to say that the status of women in the legal profession has improved significantly since that time, and I like to think that projects like Best Friends at the Bar and others have helped make that difference.

So, just exactly how are women lawyers faring in the profession today?  Forbes has published an article with some interesting statistics, which I think will interest all of you — even my male readers, who may be married to women lawyers or have women lawyers as members of their teams.  Here are some excerpts, which I found particularly interesting.

Between 2013 and 2023, the Percentage of Female Lawyers Increased From 34% to 39%

Women have been making great strides within the legal field. The percentage of male lawyers declined from 66% to 61% over the past decade as the percentage of female lawyers increased from 34% to 39%.

With women increasingly outpacing men in educational achievement—more females than males earned college degrees according to recent Census data—this comes as no surprise.

27.76% of Law Firm Partners Were Women in 2023 Compared to 20.22% in 2013

Achieving partnership in a law firm is the ultimate goal of many legal professionals, and it is one of the highest levels of professional attainment for those within the legal industry. Women are increasingly reaching this level of professional success.

More than a quarter,27.76%, of all law firm partners were women in 2023. This is a significant increase compared to 2013, when women accounted for just 20.22% of law firm partners across the United States.¹

One-third of Active Court of Appeals, District Court, Magistrate and Bankruptcy judges are women

Women are also playing an increasing role in interpreting the law rather than just practicing the law. Women now make up one-third of all active U.S. judges serving in Courts of Appeals, District Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, and as magistrate judges.

Although these statistics demonstrate significant gains for women lawyers, there is still important work to be done to achieve parity.  For lawyer/mothers, this is particularly true and important for their professional growth.

But we must celebrate success where we find it.  So, bravo to the women behind those statistics!

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