Women Lawyers and the Motherhood Penalty

Are you familiar with the “motherhood penalty?”  Well, you should be. 

According to an article published earlier this week, the “motherhood penalty” is identified in a recent study as one of the reasons why women make 81 cents of every dollar a man makes.  When, in fact, research also shows that having children raises wages for men, even correcting for the number of hours they work.

The gap between what mothers earn and what childless women and males earn is significant, and the gap between mothers and childless women has not narrowed since the 1980’s — even though the share of working mothers with young children has risen from 47% in 1975 to 70% in 2015.  The reasons cited for such slow progress are the lack of both paid parental leave and subsidized childcare.   

Sounds unfair, right?  But, maybe you think that it does not happen that way in the law profession.  Think again.  The example of a law firm was specifically cited in the article. 

 “You’re a female associate. Should you be considered for partnership at the end of your seven years, when you took nine months off?” 

The study came out of the University of Massachusetts and draws on research conducted by the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics.  That research tracked approximately 18,000 individuals from 5,000 families since the study began in 1968. 

And, yes, it is against the law to punish an employee for having family responsibilities.  But, employers know what to say and how to say it to remain within the law.  And although cases alleging discrimination based on family responsibilities have “skyrocketed” in recent years, the total number of cases still remains small, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lacks funds to proactively police the issue.

Sad but true.




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All Women Lawyers Need to Understand Pay Equity


It is time to revisit pay equity for women lawyers.  In this Buzzfeed article, you will read about a recently filed discrimination class action suit alleging pay inequity.  I take no position on the merits of the disputes described in this article.  My reason for including the article is that the issues you need to be familiar with are described well there.

I know that many of you think this never could happen to you at your firm.  You feel that you are being treated well and fairly in your current position, and the kinds of things described in this article are the furthest things from your mind.  This is how that sense of false security was described in the article:

“[W]omen lawyers often do well early in their careers. They now outnumber male students in law school, and men and women are recruited in nearly equal numbers by top firms.

But even though men and women attorneys bill roughly the same amount of hours, men are on average paid more at every level of their careers, according to a National Association of Women Lawyers survey. In 2007, women made up 16% of equity partners among survey respondents. By 2017, that percentage only rose to 19% — evidence that the glass ceiling is holding.”

Do not take anything for granted.  Become familiar with the issues and what to look for.  And, if you experience pay inequity, do not let an unsatisfactory situation languish.  Once you see a pattern of behavior that shows no signs of improving, take action.  Upon reading the article, you may conclude that the plaintiff in this lawsuit waited too long to act.  Too long to leave and too long to seek redress.

To learn more about the issues of pay inequity, I encourage you to read or reread my article in the DC Women’s Bar magazine.  As stated in that article, both women lawyers and law firms have their work cut out for them on this issue:

It is time for some real soul searching in law firms as they look to the future of the profession. Tolerating implicit gender bias and gender pay inequity will create adversity within the law firm ranks and increased competition among team members. It will discourage camaraderie and will undermine best practices. It also will have a negative effect on law firm succession plans as mid-level talented women lawyers leave because of unfair and unwise practices.

Always remember:  You have value.  You are worthy.  You must learn how to protect yourself.



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The January/February 2018 BFAB Newsletter


January/February 2018 Newsletter

Greetings from the doldrums of winter — at least for those of us in the MidAtlantic and Northeast.  We are so over winter here and hoping for spring.

But, when the sun shines on the glistening snow in the Rocky Mountains, it is stunning — even at 18 degrees below zero — and our family enjoyed a wildlife tour of Yellowstone National Park in January.  And, yes, we saw wolves!  It was awe-inspiring, and definitely worth braving the cold.

What’s Up at Best Friends at the Bar?

In November, I spoke at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in NYC, and in December I took my usual hiatus to spend holiday time with friends and family.

By January, I was back at my desk and working hard on the final draft of my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice.  I am happy to say that the book will go into production soon at Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, and I am hoping for a mid-summer release date.  I also am delighted that I will be joined by Linda Myers of Kirkland Ellis, who will write the Foreword to the book.  Linda and I agree that this book is important to Millennial lawyers, who bring a new set of values to the profession, and it is critical to law firm leaders, who must adapt to this new generation of lawyers to retain talent and safeguard succession plans.  To ignore these issues is to risk the future of the law profession.

In February I spoke to the Women Lawyers of Charlotte.   The event was held at the beautiful Foundation for the Carolinas and was a truly great afternoon, complete with a book signing and CLE credits.  Congratulations to the organizers for filling the room with such an enthusiastic audience.

Future engagements include Catholic University Law School, and I also am in discussions with other groups for the spring season.  The program “Owning Your Career” is especially popular, and now is the time to get on my speaking schedule.


Work Space and Time Flexibility:  This is a hot issue for both women lawyers and Millennial lawyers across the globe.  In an on-line article in Australia Financial Review, the author noted that the competition for talent will drive the need for flexibility and commented, “Another seismic shift [in the law profession] will come as flexibility is increasingly embraced by all regardless of gender or parental status.  But will millennials or their policy-embracing leaders force greater change?”

A Milestone of 50% Women in Law Firm Management: Congratulations to Drinker Biddle, which has achieved a 50/50 male/female split on its managing partners committee and its executive management team.  According to an article in Law.com, the firm uses a two-step process for selecting firm leaders.

First, eligible partners make their interest known.   To get a more diverse slate of candidates, the Drinker Biddle Women’s Leadership Committee reaches out to eligible women lawyers to assure that all interested women are included and that word of their interest is spread.  Second, the firm conducts a “simple” democratic vote.

It may sound simple, but it must not be if other firms have failed to achieve this milestone.  Hopefully, Drinker Biddle will set the pace for progress.

Women Empowering Women:  A February 2018 conference at Yale Law also addressed female leadership and the many ways that women can empower other women and achieve mutual goals.  The conference featured women leaders from a variety of professions, including law, academia, medicine, performing arts, and education.   The program recognized the importance of female leadership and that the rise of female leaders in America affects how leadership is defined.  Speakers urged attendees to move from “having a seat at the table to being at the head of it” and also noted the importance of men in the conversations about solutions for increasing women in leadership positions — a recurring theme of Best Friends at the Bar.  For more on the conference, see this article.

New York City Enacts Law That Will Help Bring about Pay Parity for Women Lawyers:  On October 31, 2017, a new law went into effect in New York City that restricts employers from asking job applicants about their salary history during the interview and hiring process.  NYC joins Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon and Puerto Rico in efforts to legislate bans on salary history inquiries, but NYC’s law was the first one enacted and will be a testing ground on how these kinds of laws will be applied.  Proponents of the new law see it as a means of creating opportunities for women, and particularly women of color, to earn wages based on their skill levels, productivity and market trends rather than past discriminatory pay practices.  For more specifics of the new law, see the discussion on LinkedIn.

Why Are Women Leaving the Law Profession?  Check out this article to get some answers to that question.  Most of the reasons you see there — like lack of flexibility, other work-life issues, gender discrimination, and pay disparity, among others — may not surprise you.  But you may be interested to discover that the ABA has launched a special study to dig deeper into the issues.

To get a different view, read Chapter 1 “Why Women Lawyers Leave” in my book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers.  Or, better yet, read the entire book!  You will find that negative law firm cultures and values, which are incompatible to women, are at the heart of the issue.


Dating in Law Firms:   This is always a thorny issue,  and it is not going away.  Most of us know participants in office-based romances, and most of us have seen some of those relationships go very bad.  However, it is a hard situation to address and enforce against.

In a recent article, Big Law Business.com recognizes the interplay between sexual harassment workplace issues and issues surrounding workplace romantic relationships and makes the following recommendations:

  • Law firms should refresh workplace dating policies to require notification, prevent favoritism and recognize conflicts of interest;
  • The best advice may be to avoid office-based romantic relationships altogether, but that is not realistic.  Lawyers spend most of their waking hours together in law firms, and team work is more important than ever.  As a result, preventing people from developing affection for each other is an impractical goal; and
  • Law firms should not go overboard in defining inappropriate relationships in ways that discourage male partners from including women in groups of men attending social events.

This is something that all law firms need to be thinking about and talking about.

That’s a Wrap!

Are you interested in an event at your law firm, law organization or law school?  Contact me for program descriptions and scheduling on subjects including:

  • Issues challenging women lawyers, which are in the public conversation more than ever these days.  You want to make sure your law firm, law school and/or law organization takes advantage of the most recent information and trends to keep up with the competition;
  • Programs for Millennial Lawyers for ALL young lawyers and those who lead them.  These programs are not gender specific and address issues that all law schools, law firms and law organizations need to be discussing; and
  • Soft Skills for ALL Young Lawyers.  Research confirms that soft skills are responsible for 80% of success in business.  So, it is time to make sure that young lawyers become skilled in these areas to make your law firm more competitive.

You also are invited to Be My Guest! by contributing a column to a future newsletter.  It is a good way to connect with my readers.

Buy My Books from Amazon and Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers direct from my website.  All of my blogs are reprinted on my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, and most of them also are reprinted on the Ms JD website.  Click “share” and re-tweet to move them on to others and show your support for BFAB.

Keep up with me on:

My next newsletter will appear in April 2018.  Until then, turn to the Best Friends at the Bar website to keep up with recent happenings on the blogs and social media there.

See you in the spring!


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How Women Lawyers Perceive Men’s Behavior

It can be difficult to know how men and women are supposed to relate to each other in the workplace these days.  What is too much affection, and, God forbid, what is too much touching?  I have seen close colleagues in an office awkwardly come together for either a handshake or a hug or a cheek kiss, and it is not certain where the gesture will end up.  It resembles some kind of crane-like mating dance, and it is, of course, because they are uncertain about what is appropriate and not appropriate and what is allowed and not allowed.  It is painful to watch.

Everyone is a bit confused.  How much is too much is being addressed by many law firms today in the wake of the most open and candid conversation about sexual harassment that we ever have had in this country.  There is no right or wrong answer to many of the situations posited because firms will differ in their policies from one to the other.  And, most of that needs to be left to them.  They understand their cultures, and, presumably, they will create policies that are reflective of their people and those cultures.

But, there are a few standard responses to the “what is appropriate” question, and most of them fall better into the category of “what is outrageous” and clearly outside the realm of acceptable.  In an article this week by Patricia Hunt Holmes, retired partner at Vinson & Elkins, some of those standard responses are addressed.  In calling out “Men in Law,” Ms. Holmes lays out very clearly how women perceive men in the workplace and why the grades are low.   Here are some of the nuggets with a bit of my own commentary thrown in:

  • Don’t call women by names that you would use for a child — like honey, doll, sweetie and baby.  You laugh … but the evidence confirms that it still is happening.  Not ancient history like when I was an associate in a law firm and the FEDERAL JUDGE called me “honey.”  Definitely a “no no” then, and a “no no” now.  Miss or Ma’am will do.  It sounds stiff and archaic, but at least it is respectful;
  • Stop flirting with every woman in sight.  Most women are not interested, and the ones who are should not be — not in the workplace.  It almost never works out for them, and they should know it.  Keep it conversational and on terms that will allow you to continue to be colleagues without the baggage that comes from awkward sexual innuendo; and
  • Keep your door open when you are conferring with a female colleague in your office.  Only in situations where security is in question and information is very confidential should you ever close your door to the outside world when you are alone with a woman in your office.  It will lead to office rumors and can be very harmful to the woman’s career — not yours.  Years ago, when I was a much younger lawyer,  the managing partner of the firm always closed his door when he and I met in his office, and my secretary described for me what went on in the hallway outside.  Lots of speculating and twittering and a fair amount of jealousy thrown in.  That did me no good, and the men should know better.  They cannot be that clueless.

It is to her credit that Ms. Holmes takes the role of helping hand as it relates to the men she is addressing.  She calls them “good people” and reminds them of how their “missteps” can rob them of meaningful relationships with female colleagues.  She also cautions them not to allow the “current hysteria” to cause them to avoid working with women.

I know that the sweetie name calling, the flirting and the behind closed doors treatments sound like something out of a bygone era.  However, sadly, think again.  There is still a lot of bad stuff going on out there, and you need to have your eyes wide open.  These are the obvious ones.  It is the subtle ones that really will trip you up.







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Today, Valentines Day, is a day for celebrating love.  We buy cards with red and pink hearts and poetic verses expressing our love, we share classic red (the color of love) roses with our loved ones, we have intimate candle lit dinners demonstrating our love, and we thank the powers that be for the opportunity to love whomever we wish.

Oh, wait a minute …. you say you are caught in the office and not able to participate in the Day of Love?  You cannot see yourself clear to taking a few hours off in the name of love?  And I say, if that is the case, you are overlooking the most important love of all.  The love of yourself.

Your job is not limited to the office.  It also is your “job” to love yourself, and that begins with a recognition that you must take care of yourself to be helpful and effective and loving to the others in your life.  It all starts with YOU.

Take time out for pleasure.  Take time out for people.  Take time out for just plain doing nothing and staring at a beautiful sunset.  It will help you gain perspective and make the hours spent toiling at your desk seem much less of a burden.  It will give you things to look forward to.  That is essential for healthy living and the balance that we all need.

So, love yourself.   Today is the perfect day to start.  Happy Valentines Day!

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If Notorious RBG Is Encouraged about the Future For Women Lawyers, I’m ALL IN!

By all accounts, the appearance of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday at NYU Law was a huge success.  As always, she had interesting perspective on the past and future of women lawyers and on workplace dynamics.  Here is a link to coverage of the event.

I heard Justice Ginsburg speak at a law banquet years ago, and I found her completely believable, entertaining and without a scintilla of hubris.  What you see is exactly what you get with her.  Her sense of humor alone is so charming when combined with the realization that she is one of the most powerful legal intellects of our time.

My daughter drew a long straw when she was a law student and was chosen to attend an “intimate” conversation with Justice Ginsburg at the law school.  I remember the collective comments from the ten students chosen for this privilege about what an “adorable” woman the Justice is.  That was before she became notorious, and I had to remind them that she can slice and dice like no one else when a legal argument does not hold water.  But, I guess it is fair to say that she does it in an adorable way, and she dresses the part.  Who can resist the lace jabots?  And what a collection she has.

Some highlights from the report of the event are as follow:

  • Her support for the #MeToo Movement;
  • Not letting the bad behavior of others influence the good behavior you expect of yourself;
  • The importance of having strong female colleagues;
  • Her proposed “equal legal treatment” amendment to the Constitution; and
  • The importance of laughter in relationships and work environments.

Read the full article and see for yourself. 

You go, Notorious RBG!  Long may you reign.






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Women Lawyers Beware: Social Media Posts Could Cost You Your Job

From time to time I write about the use of personal social media and the caveats for women lawyers.  In fact, my recommendation consistently has been that you get off personal social media all together.  But, I know how attached some of you are to instant feedback and gratification, so I continue to write about it.  You need to be reminded about the pitfalls of using social media on a regular basis.  Eyes and ears are everywhere.

Here is a scenario and question posed on a website addressing this issue.  The answer to the question may surprise you because many of you view your time away from the office and what you do on that time as completely personal and untouchable by your employer.  Well, think again.

“I posted something on my personal Facebook page that my employer found offensive and I was subsequently fired. It wasn’t about the company and was done during my own time. Isn’t that an infringement on my First Amendment rights? Can they fire me for expressing myself just because they didn’t like my message?”

Here is a summary of the answer provided on that website:

  • The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech in most circumstances, but that does not apply to private employers.
  • In most circumstances, a private employer can fire an employee for what he or she writes and says online and off.  Limited exceptions include protection by whistleblower laws if the employee is exposing unlawful or unethical activities within the employer company.
  • Many employers review the social-media profiles of prospective employees and may make decisions about whether to hire based on those posts.  Employers also can fire someone if the employer concludes that an activity undermines the employee’s role, authority or the company.

Please pay close attention.  As the website post points out, many careers are damaged by social media messages and advancement of those messages.  Beware of these far-reaching effects and post with caution — if you insist on posting.

Better to be safe than sorry.

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A Woman Judge Steps Up to Protect Women

Justice was served today when Larry Nassar, an Olympic Team USA doctor, was sentenced to over 100 years in prison for sexual abuse of young women gymnasts over decades.  If you have not seen the remarks of the sentencing judge in a Michigan court, here is the link.

She was powerful and everything you want a judge to be in facing off against a sexual predator, who at no time fully embraced his wrong-doing and the harm he had caused to young women and their families.  This judge was relentless.

This is yet another chapter in the growing movement against abuse of women by powerful men, who use their power to gain personal pleasure and control over powerless women.  From the #MeToo movement to a courtroom in Michigan, women are finally being believed and given the respect they deserve, and powerful institutions are being forced to ask questions and examine policies and procedures that have been ignored for too long.

It is not just about women.  It also is about men.  Men often are victimized as well, and women need to have empathy and understanding for their plights.  And we hope that making strides toward equity and justice for victimized women will have the effect of also gaining equal and compassionate treatment for men who become victims.

Make no mistake, however.  Today, it is about WOMEN.  Today we celebrate the 150 plus women, who were victims of Dr. Nassar and who had the strength and wisdom to appear in the courtroom and tell their stories and the stories of their families.  They are examples of what all women should aspire to be.  They spoke truth to power, and they have contributed to a lasting difference in our society and in our lives. 

Bravo and thank you to these brave women.  They all deserve Olympic medals.

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