Women Lawyers Could Use Golf “Fore” Business

This is where I tell you to do what I say and not what I do.  I am not a good example of what I am about to tell you.

I was raised in a family of golfers.  My grandfather was a par golfer plus and designed a few courses.  He taught my mom to play golf when she was a teenager — long before there were many women on the links.  My mom was a good golfer, better than my dad, if truth be told.  She loved the game and played at least three days a week during the summer.

I learned to golf when I was in grade school, and I got pretty good at it during high school.  I played a little after I went to college and then less after I got married (to someone who did not appreciate golf) and even less during law school and after I started to practice law.  After all, golf takes time.

That was my rationale for belonging to a golf club but never playing the game.  Stupid.  Even more stupid was not playing in the annual law firm/client golf tournament because my game was a little rusty by then.

So, when I read the article by Vivia Chen in The American Lawyer about why women lawyers should play golf to improve business opportunities, all I could do was sigh.  For all the bad golf decisions of my past.

In my defense, however, I do recall having at least one lucid moment on the subject of women and golf.  In Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need To Know about a Career in the Law, I included information about playing golf as a good business development tool in the chapter titled “Find a Comfort Zone for Promoting Work.” 

However, I took heat from some of my readers for embracing a “male-oriented” makeover for women that does not capitalize on typical “women’s strengths.”  That book was published in 2009, and it is now 2019.  What I tolerated as justifiable criticism then, has little relevance now.  I think we have moved on from “typical” gender stereotypes in the last decade.

So, consider golf.  Or, better yet, take up the game.   A lot of business is done on the golf course.  And, presumably, you want a piece of that action.

And, according to the article, this is why you should:

  • Because so few golfers are women (24%), any woman who plays gets special attention;
  • Golfing is a great place to network for business;
  • Men don’t worry about how well they play so why should women; and
  • It is not about whether you enjoy it.  It is all about doing what’s effective to enhance business opportunities.

So, as stated at the end of the article, “Are we dumb?”  I was.  But you can be smarter.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

The Dangers of Leaking Young Lawyer Talent

For more than a decade I have been urging law firms to retain and advance the talent of women lawyers.  The three-book Best Friends at the Bar series has been my effort to spread those messages, and most recently I have expanded my work to include cautionary messages about ignoring and losing the talent of all young lawyers — men and women alike — in What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).
 
Those books and the hundreds of blogs and articles I have written and speeches I have given include discussions of the many reasons why our institutions must change to become more inclusive of young people, starting with “the right thing to do” (which is almost always overlooked as a compelling reason) and ending with the sacrifice of future leadership (which should raise huge red flags).  Simply speaking, even if equity and fairness do not win out as arguments for change, the future of the profession should be cause for concern.  You would think that would get some attention, but you may have to think again.
 
I admit to getting discouraged every time I see yet another article on these subjects.  The most recent one appeared in Financial Times earlier this week, and you can read it here.  It is a good article on the problem of leaking law firm talent in the UK, and it echoes what is going on this side of “The Pond.”  But … you have heard it all before.
The article includes arguments like:
 
  • Law firms need to reshape their cultures, moving away from “rigid” traditions and “excessive” hours so they can retain more women and attract millennial lawyers;
  • The current shortage of talent needs to be addressed as increasing numbers of young lawyers abandon private practice; and
  • More than one in five young lawyers have transitioned out of private practice to in-house positions.
The conclusion from what appears to be the continuing need for this article and so many like it is that current law firm leadership is tone deaf on the subjects.  Current leadership is not willing to tackle law firm reform with the kinds of changes that address retention — like workplace values, work-life balance, and billable hour requirements — because doing that might impact client retention.  In other words, current law firm leadership too often cares more about money and power than anything else.  And there is no question what comes out on top when development of future law firm leaders is in competition with the high demands of clients.  Someone has to pay those big salaries at the top.  The careers of young lawyers and succession plans be damned.  Current leadership won’t be around to care.
 
 
Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

More on the Negative Effect of Greed on Women Lawyers — And Men

The New York Times article that I discussed in last week’s blog is worthy of your attention.  The examples used are of husband and wife lawyers, who are struggling to raise young children.  The upshot is that one parent — typically the female — has to make sacrifices such as cutting back to part-time status, giving up promotion opportunities, and making far less in salary to make these situations work.  This is the current reality despite the fact that American women of working age are the most educated than ever before.

The statistics are all there to make you feel really depressed — and they will have that effect.  In the past, we have focused on causes like discrimination and lack of family-friendly policies in examining the effect on the careers of women lawyers, but this article cites evidence that we should not be looking at gender alone.  The culprit, according to the author, has nothing to do with who has a Y chromosome.

The culprit is corporate greed.  Greed that manifests in long, inflexible hours and winner-take-all attitudes that more often than not “flatline” the careers of one member of a couple — more often than not the women.  Add to that the fact that working 50% more hours often results in 100% more salary.  As the article points out, it is not a linear comparison, and the extra money is very important to a young family.

Although it is not just the law profession that is guilty of short-circuiting talent in this way, it becomes clear that the law profession is a leader in the shift from a reasonably-oriented service industry mentality to a culture of money, power and greed.  The important question is not who is to blame but, rather, what can be done about it.  As you will see in the article, the answer lies in worker demand and significant challenges to management.  More predictable hours and flexibility in when and where the work gets done are good places to start.

But, the goal is not to create ways to allow women to work the same long, inflexible hours as men.  As expressed by one on-line comment to the article, “No one should be doing this.   A father working constantly is not a good father or partner. Or person, for that matter. Probably not healthy either. . . No wonder this country is a mess. We’re working ourselves to a literal and existential death.”

 Hear, hear.  It is a “systems problem” and, as I have written in What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, law employers have great incentive to change the workaholic cultures they have created.  It is a total sea change that is called for not a temporary fix.  And it needs to come as soon as possible before we lose more talent than our profession can afford.

Here is my favorite quote from the article:

“Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands… They have rich husbands because they step back from work.”

There is a lot to think about there.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

The Intersection of Motherhood and Partnership: What it Means for Women Lawyers

A recent edition of in the London-based Financial Times included a very thought-provoking article that is a must read for all women lawyers and those who lead them.  The sources are both UK and US based and there is no single geographic focus.

This is not just the “same old same old” you have read in the past.  Yes, the statistics will be recognizable because the percentage of women equity partners in law firms has not changed in recent history.  But there is much beyond those statistics for you to chew on and some new approaches that you may or may not agree with.

The article starts by taking on a giant, specifically the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, for the way that it frames the answer to the question, “Can you be a mother and a senior law firm partner?”  The Center’s emphasis on factors that are impossible to change is disputed on the basis that it fails to recognize the impact of unconscious bias and the effect of that bias on the upward mobility of women lawyers.

The issue of quotas for women partners is also discussed in a very balanced way, giving equal time to the pros and cons of that approach.  Although many women object to that kind of mandate and how it disadvantageously profiles them in the partnership, others argue that less radical approaches have proven unsuccessful.  You will have to decide where you fall on that spectrum.

Also included are some practical steps that firms can take to work out the maternity leave issues with women lawyers, who demonstrate the kind of talent and leadership skills valuable at the management level, and efforts that firms can take to keep women on maternity leave functioning as part of the team during that period of time.

The role of in-house general counsel and clients in reaching a more acceptable percentage of women at the top of law firms also was discussed.  This quote got my attention, “Those who until now have expected to be able to reach lawyers at any time of day or night need an understanding of what requests are urgent and what can wait until morning.”  This alone evidenced a new world order!

You also will see some interesting comments on the position of salaried partners, the marginalization that often results, and the critical role of achieving diversity at the top.   According to one source, “I’ve never heard of a balanced or diverse partnership underperforming.”  Amen to that.

Particularly interesting to me was the emphasis in the article that the issues addressed are not just all about women.  It is also about the new generation of young lawyers (millennial lawyers and the generation of lawyers to follow), who have embraced work-life balance issues that require a new approach.  With the additional emphasis in my work on issues related to millennial lawyers, I applaud the recognition of the broader view of what is needed to reform our profession.

I recommend this article for you and for you to share with the leaders in your firm.  The train is leaving the station, and we all need to get on board.

 

 

 

Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Young Lawyers Guide to Dealing with Stress

I read an article the other day on “Stress Free Law Practice.”  I laughed out loud.  There is no such thing.

Lawyers are professionals.  They have a lot of responsibility, and they should anticipate stress in their work lives.  From sole practitioners to law firm lawyers to in-house counsel, stress is part of the job.  Stress from client expectations.  Stress from managing other lawyers.  Stress from making budget.  Stress from the judicial process.

Even if you made widgets instead of practicing law, there would be stress.  How many widgets to produce?  How to make your widgets unique and competitive in the market place?  Is it time for a new version of the widget — say Widget 2.0?  So many widget worries.

How much stress is too much stress is another issue. Millennial lawyers know that they do not want the same degree of stress as their parent/lawyers experienced.  That much stress led to illness and drug and alcohol dependencies.  Young lawyers don’t want to go down that same road.

There is no way of totally eliminating stress from our work or personal lives, but there are ways of reducing the stress.   So, I give credit to the article for identifying some stress reducers for lawyers.  The ones I give the most value to are the following:

  • Write things down.  I really can relate to this.  When I am lying awake at night thinking of important stuff I do not want to forget, I get up, grab my phone and write myself an e-mail.  Sounds crazy, but when that e-mail has been sent, I can sleep like a baby.  No more worries.  It will be waiting for me in the morning.
  • Exercise.  You all know that exercise is a great stress reliever, so why are you not doing it as a routine?  Because you do not have time?  Pshaw!  You have time to obsess over stressful things, but no time to exercise to relieve the stress.  Makes no sense.  Plus, you get all the extra benefits of the endorphins to make you happier.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.  They are addictive.  Enough said.
  • Enjoy the out of doors.  Take a few minutes each day to get outside and breathe the fresh air.  Take deep breaths.  Walk a little.  Stretch your legs.  No back-lit screens allowed.
  • Focus on your accomplishments.  You can count on the fact that others will find fault with you.  It is human nature.  Don’t you be one of them.  Herald your good works.  Take some time to look at your life in the rear view mirror and pat yourself on the back for all that you have accomplished.  Law school was no walk in the park and neither was passing the bar.  Don’t forget how far you have come.  Count your blessings.
  • Meditate.  I admit to knowing nothing about this.  Never did it.  But, I know others who cannot live without it.  So, it is worth exploring.

Stress is a killer.  Make these small changes in your life to avoid being the next victim.  Start early so that the changes become habit.  It is the gift you can give yourself.

 

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Recruiting On-Ramp Employees

Today’s blog is courtesy of Rebecca McNeill, a founder of McNeill Baur in Cambridge, MA.  She addresses the importance of recruiting on-ramp employees.  I enthusiastically support these initiatives and the work of the OnRamp Fellowship.

Making the Case for Law Firm Recruiting of On-Ramp Employees

Law firms can access wider talent pools by creating on ramps for attorneys and support staff who have left the work force to care for growing families or for other reasons. While many law firms, including ours, offer part-time employment, sometimes an employee, such as a working parent, leaves the work force for a period of time. Whether working parents lean in, balance it all, or take a break from their careers, employers should cast a wide recruiting net. The number of open positions in law firms and corporate legal departments shows that finding and retaining legal talent presents a major challenge.

Our 100% woman-owned, life science patent firm has had tremendous success on-ramping. Our 28-person firm employs three on-rampers who had stayed home with children for from one year to more than a decade. By remembering on-ramp candidates and making some modest changes, law firms like ours can improve on-ramping success. While some of these suggestions apply only to attorneys, other suggestions apply to staff, as well.

  • First, law firms can consider how they advertise positions and recruit candidates, whether for attorneys or staff members. As a first step, each of our job postings indicates that we welcome on-ramp employees. By warmly welcoming parents returning to the workforce, law firms open the door for those applicants. We do not penalize applicants for gaps in their resumes and, when applicable, we talk to them in the interview process about how they can refresh their skills and catch up on legal developments. We also actively target our networks to connect with parents who are home with families and invite them to consider reentering the work force.
  • Second, law firms should carefully revisit part-time employment policies as many on-ramp candidates desire a part-time schedule. Many firms have part-time options, but some offer only a few set options (1200 hours, 1600 hours, for example). Our firm has offered more flexibility to part-time employees in setting their own billable hour goal. Additionally, if part-time employees exceed their billable hour goal, we do not penalize them for initially choosing a lower hour goal. An attorney who selects a 1300-hours target, but actually works 1425 hours makes the same amount as if they had set 1425 as their original goal. We also compensate attorneys for every hour worked over their target, as opposed to only awarding bonuses on 50- or 100-hour increments. This encourages part-time attorneys to choose a billable hour goal that allows for intermittent challenges that many parents face, such as the winter when all the kids get strep throat (sequentially). Valuing each hour a part-time employee works equally to the same hour a full-time employee works helps demonstrate our commitment to part-time employees.
  • Third, law firms should carefully tailor assignments for on-ramp employees to meet their skills, interests, and time commitments. Our firm has both large and small patent prosecution portfolios. Giving a part-time employee a small portfolio, but letting them manage all of the work for a small client can offer more career satisfaction than taking only part of a large portfolio. Firm can also offer flexibility to employees contending with school vacation schedules by offering project work like opinions and application writing that will wrap up before the attorney needs to be out of the office.
  • Finally, law firms must recognize that not every smart, talented, and committed attorney wants a rainmaker role or their own book of business. Firms must reevaluate their up-or-out approach. Our firm has committed to retaining employed attorneys for the long term whether or not they develop their own book of business. Even though we do not set limits on our part-time employees, our firm offers long-term non-partnership roles at the firm for attorneys who prefer to serve in a supportive role.

Reaching on-ramp candidates can improve law firm diversity and allow access to new talent pools. Offering on-ramp candidates a way to reenter the work force on their terms also improves attorney happiness and retention.

Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

The College Admissions Scandal and the Importance of Values to All Young Lawyers

The current college admissions scandal.  How awful.

Not that we did not suspect lack of fair play in college admissions.  We all are aware of the legacy preferences and how the issues of societal inequities play out in this setting, but the magnitude of the alleged criminal behavior and its impact on applicants nationwide is nothing short of disgusting — and very predictable.  It was only a matter of time before the misplaced motives of helicopter parents reached such a low.

Coincidentally, my new book addresses the erosion of values in the legal profession, specifically the current toxic cultures of many large law firms.  In What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018, I discuss the respectable values that have been lost or seriously ignored in our profession for too long and the resurgence of those values in the most recent generations of lawyers.  I also discuss the destructive behavior of helicopter parents.

This recent scandal confirms my suspicions that the lessons of that book have a larger application beyond the profession of law.  The values discussed in What Millennial Lawyers Want include honor, respect, compassion, and service to others, values that are resurfacing in the Millennial Generation and in millennial lawyers today.  The recent scandal should serve to increase an awareness of the importance of those values.

Fortunately, the behaviors involved in the college admissions scandal are not typical of any generation.  The players in this scandal are from a tiny segment of society that most of us will never know.  They are from a small pocket of elitism and entitlement that most members of society do not identify with and cannot even imagine.  The behaviors are selfish and destructive on multiple levels and have so many offensive and reprehensible layers, including the layer of betrayal of what it means to be compassionate, honorable and responsive to the needs of others.

And now, as if to add insult to injury, students at Stanford and other schools with alleged connections to this scandal, have filed suit claiming that their educational experiences will be devalued by the scandal.  That somehow they are the injured parties instead of opportunists jumping in to take advantage of any benefit they see for themselves.

These new litigants have lost their way and display the same selfish attitudes as those caught up in the scandal.  They are not the harmed, but their attempts to portray themselves in that manner expose the degree to which the values in our society have eroded.

We must reclaim the positive values that once were the bedrock of our society.   We hear that message in the political arena on a daily basis, but too often we feel powerless to do anything about it.  But powerless in the political arena is different from being powerless in our own lives and professions.

So, let the effort to reclaim proven values begin with the lawyers, whose ethical considerations and cannons of behavior once meant something.  Let it begin with the lawyers, who are required to study ethics in law school and are tested on ethical behavior on bar exams because truth and admirable behavior is what we should expect of ourselves.

There is no need in our profession for devising an effective code of behavior.  We already have one.  All we have to do is dust it off and live up to it — and require that same commitment by our law firms and institutions.

Don’t waste your time on the super elite and entitled.  The criminal justice system will take care of them — at least until the next time.

There is plenty of work for all of us right here below the stratosphere.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Young Lawyers: Beware of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse are big problems in our profession today.  I call attention to these issues whenever I get the opportunity to speak to lawyers, young and older.  I did it at the event for the launch of my new book at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago on February 4th and also two days later at a program for law students in Michigan.  I implored them to be careful personally and to be vigilant on behalf of colleagues.

I noted at both events that the American Bar Association (ABA) has identified an initiative to address these issues and that studies show that these problems often start as early as law school.  They are issues that all of us in the legal profession need to take very seriously.

Consider these findings from the 2016 National Study of Lawyer Well-Being released by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation:

  • 25 percent of law students are at risk for alcoholism;
  • 17 percent of law students suffer from depression;
  • 37 percent of law students report mild to severe anxiety;
  • 6 percent of law students report having suicidal thoughts in the year of the study;
  • 28 percent lawyers suffered from depression;
  • 19 percent of lawyers had severe anxiety; and
  • 11.4 percent of lawyers had suicidal thoughts in the previous year.

And this additional remarkable and sad finding:  That law students will not ask for help because they are terrified of somebody finding out that they have a problem, which will result in not being admitted to the bar or not being able to get a job.

Recently, on January 26th, representatives from state and local bar associations and law schools joined ABA members in Las Vegas for an interactive program, “Getting on the Path to Lawyer Well-Being,” to discuss risk management and professional responsibility issues for legal employers and bar associations.   So, the focus on these problems continues, and efforts to reach as many lawyers and law students are on-going.

Please forward this to all of the lawyers you care about.  Protect yourselves and your colleagues.  Do not assume that the lawyers you love and admire do not need to see it.  Do not be deterred by stigmas.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for the help you need.  It is an act of bravery.

 

 

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment