Are Hybrid Office Policies Working?

Yes, it looks like hybrid office policies are working.  This result is confirmed by a recent Above the Law article  captioned “Biglaw Firms have ‘Embraced’ Hybrid Office Attendance Policies, Leaving Employees ‘Satisfied’ With Working Conditions.”  That is good news and also is consistent with my anecdotal research.

I admit to being concerned when I read earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal that employees working from home were 35% more likely to be laid off than other colleagues in their offices.  While it is not always the case that lawyers fare better than those in other lines of work, it is good to know that this time being a lawyer helps to avoid the pink slip.

So, why have big law firms been so accepting of the hybrid office model, which of course includes a WFH component?  Why do BigLaw managers express enthusiasm for the model?  Maybe it is because more than half of law firm employees surveyed by Thomson Reuters were “satisfied” with hybrid office attendance policies.  When management finds law firm employees this happy it gets their attention.

This is a good result and works especially well for lawyer/mothers of young children.  The strict back-to-office and full time policies that firms tried after the pandemic were off putting in light of  the impressive profits that firms reported during the pandemic when all lawyers were working from home.  For firms like Ropes & Gray, Sidley, Davis Polk, Cahill, Simpson Thacher and Arnold & Porter to follow that success with reported strict back to work mandates did not seem to fit with the facts.  In reality, even at those firms enforcement of back to office policies have been described as “passive.”  And Am Law reports that even firms that require three or four work days a week in the office are much more flexible and typically satisfied with two days.

If that means that law firm management does not like to admit wrong and would rather turn a blind eye, that works, too.  And it is not terribly surprising!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Women Lawyers and Building Business Differently

At this time of the year when we celebrate Mother’s Day, women lawyers and the challenges they face are particularly on my mind.  As you may be aware, I started the Best Friends at the Bar project fifteen years ago to address those challenges and help young women lawyers advance in the profession.  Although the project has grown to address all young lawyers, regardless of gender, women lawyers and their challenges remain a great emphasis for me.

One of those challenges is still and always has been developing business.  This article from Bloomberg Law sheds some important light on that subject by suggesting that women lawyers must build business differently. Rather than trying to take on the subject all at one time, the suggestion is akin to running a marathon, one mile at a time and adopting a long-game strategy.  Although the long game may be the ultimate objective, the short game of making business development front and center each day is recommended, with the focus on creating collaborative client teams that include trust among partners.

This may be challenging because the path to law firm partnership and law firm leadership is often dependent on business development.  For women lawyers, especially mother lawyers, there are a lot of other daily responsibilities in competition with business development.  And only so many hours in every day.

The author, a business growth strategist, recommends building a book of business by focusing on strong networks (rather than large networks) and adopting a new “networking paradigm” dependent on a strong network of colleagues, clients and referral partners who are familiar with your experience and the unique way you serve clients.

Also key is emphasis on common interests you may have with prospective clients and supporting the growth of colleague practices.  Daily interactions and meaningful conversations are the building blocks of those kinds of collaborations.  As always, paying attention to what is going on in the worlds of others forms the basis of building trusted relationships.

Although business development may seem like a daunting task, the good news is that women are particularly good at this kind of relationship building.  Most women lawyers start on first base in the process — one step closer to bringing it home!

Check out the article for more specifics.

 

 

 

 

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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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