Be Aware of Warning Signs of Instability in Young Lawyers

The facts shared this week via an open letter from the widow of a Sidley lawyer were shocking and heartbreaking.  The suicide of a 42-year-old partner in the LA office raised many issues of our responsibilities as lawyers to our colleagues.

It was discovered too late that this suicide victim suffered from a form of perfectionism that created so much pressure, anxiety and insecurity that the only way out seemed to be to take his own life.  If those facts came as a complete shock to everyone around him, that would give those of us in the profession some relief.  It would give us comfort to know that no one could have known.

But, that does not appear to be the case.  It has been reported that his behavior at the office had changed.  He had stopped laughing, he became more isolated, and he was showing outward signs of extreme stress.  Yet, no one looked further than to wonder about his behavior.  No one brought it to the attention of management to get him the help he needed.  No one understood the gravity of the situation.

And that is not to blame them.  It is just to say that they did not understand that it could end so badly.

We all must keep our antennae up for changes in behavior that could evidence deep-seeded and potentially harmful problems among those we work with and those we live with.  Ours is a stressful profession, at best, and most of us learn to deal with the stress. But that is not the way it works for some people, particularly young lawyers, who view getting help with issues of mental health and addiction as shameful and threatening to job security.  Stress is an insidious actor that brings out the worst in people.  We all need to be aware of our own well-being and the well-being of those we value.

It is because cases like this have become more common in our legal spaces that the American Bar Association recently identified an initiative centered on addressing mental health and addiction issues in our profession.  All law firms and law organizations should take advantage of the research and resources to raise awareness and be prepared to help those at risk among us to the greatest extent possible. 

We need to work together for a time when finding out too late is not the only option.

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Women Lawyers and Millennials Among Big Winners in November 2018 Election

Women and millennials were some of the big winners in congressional and gubernatorial elections yesterday.  Record numbers of both women and millennials participated at the grass roots of campaigns and added energy to the political process that has not been seen in recent elections.  They organized, they knocked on doors, they canvased, and they showed up at the polls.  It was exciting — no matter what side of the aisle you support.

And at least 30 women were elected to congressional seats for the first time.  Similar to millennials, the newly-elected women lawmakers, display very diverse backgrounds.  There are women of color, women of varying religious and cultural backgrounds, a native American woman, the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives, and at least one lesbian.  In addition to these future congresswomen, women made historic strides in gaining governorships throughout the country.

In all, more than 115 women won their races out of the 276 women on ballots handed out to voters at polling stations yesterday.  Ninety-five of those 115 will be seated in the House of Representatives in January 2019.  Eleven of those women won seats in the Senate, and nine of them won gubernatorial races.  That is a lot of woman power!

And some of these newly-elected women also are lawyers.  Jennifer Wexton gained a seat in the House of Representatives in my own district in Virginia and was joined by other first-time lawyer/congresswomen in Michigan, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.  They will add to the approximate 38% and 57% of the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, who also are lawyers. And women/lawyers also were elected governors in Michigan, Maine and New Mexico.

A legal education is an excellent foundation for lawmakers.  Not only do lawyers understand the legislative process, but they also are very effective advocates for the less fortunate and the wronged.

That is why women lawyers make great leaders in Congress and in Governor’s mansions and in state legislatures.  Bravo to all of these women.

And bravo to the millennials, young people who have discovered that they can make a difference — and are doing it.

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New Article Published in Corporate Counsel

See my article about MILLENNIAL LAWYERS published recently in Corporate Counsel.

Here is the link:  https://www.law.com/corpcounsel/2018/10/25/what-millennial-lawyers-want-a-bridge-from-the-past-to-the-future-of-law-practice/?slreturn=20180926090755.

Millennial lawyers are going to like this, and senior lawyers are going to learn a lot!

 

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LSAT Haters: Listen Up

Everyone hates the LSAT, and that is the way we like it.  Hating people is not good — in fact it is very, very bad — but hating tests is OK.  So many former LSAT takers are very happy hating this ridiculous test (which only predicts success in the first semester of law school), and we want our bad memories left in tact.

But, now we are told that the LSAT has a benefit beyond giving some people an edge toward law school acceptance.  The benefit approach is just plain not fair or productive in the hating process.

Here’s the scoop.  A recent article cites research to support that the LSAT can actually make you smarter.  Yes.  You read that right.  Smarter.  Apparently neurons start firing better and more effectively when studying for and taking the LSAT, and response times are reduced while answering the many annoying questions during the test and test review.

You would think it would be just the opposite and that the neurons would just doze off and try to sleep through the entire miserable experience.  These researchers must be looking at some really tough or really bored neurons.

So, all you LSAT haters need to listen up.  You may need to mend your hating ways.  In fact, if you want to get really smart, study for and take an LSAT several times each year.  Even if you are already through law school and practicing law.  You either want to get smarter or you don’t.  No pain, no gain.

Study those fact patterns 24-7, and see how smart you get.  The results will be so impressive.  You will walk taller, talk smarter, and feel superior to almost everyone.  You may even want to have a t-shirt made with your highest LSAT score and your IQ printed on both the front and the back.  That way, no one will miss this important message.

Of course, be ready for the dark side.  Really smart people are not that much fun to hang with.  So, your friends, who do not want to indulge in deductive reasoning while sitting at a jazz bar, will abandon you.  You no longer will be invited to join the gang at sporting events because they will remember you screaming “The answer is definitely the inverse” the last time when everyone else was cheering “Go Bears.”

And, it does not stop there.  Your family will forget the “family first” policy, and there will be no chair for you at Thanksgiving dinner.  And the people at the office … well, they thought you were weird to begin with, so no hope there.

Or you could be satisfied to be an LSAT hater.  For ever and ever.  The percs are great.  Fun people.  Fun times.  Fun life.

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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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In Praise of Lawyer Moms

I am a lawyer/mom.  Although my children are grown now and have become lawyers themselves, the memories of struggles as a lawyer/mom are still very vivid for me — as well as the joys and the successes.  It is not an easy “row to hoe” as my own mom would have said.

CONTINUE READING >

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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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