Women’s Choice in Reproductive Rights Decisions Gutted by USSCT

I am not pro-abortion, and I am not anti-abortion. I stand in favor of a woman’s right to choose. I respect the opinions of others, and creating a forum for politically-charged issues is not the mission of the Best Friends at the Bar project. I have not wanted to pit my followers against each other in ways that would rend the fabric of support that I have created for women lawyers for almost 20 years.

I also was content to believe that the guarantees established by the landmark decision Roe v. Wade, and later upheld in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, would survive even the greatest judicial scrutiny. I was content to believe that we never would return to a time when women were forced to resort to dark alleys and butcher procedures in the large cities of America and to dangerous procedures at their own hands throughout the land. I was content to believe the now Supreme Court justices, who appeared to buttress the sanctity of the precedent of Roe during Congressional confirmation hearings.

However, my confidence in the Rule of Law and in the quality of the judiciary was misplaced. The right to choose an abortion, as established in Roe v. Wade and based upon the existence of fundamental rights of privacy in the US Constitution, was dealt a devastating blow yesterday when the Supreme Court overturned Roe and left millions of women in America defenseless by putting the abortion decision in the hands of elected officials in state legislatures.

As a result of yesterday’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, women in their reproductive years, which includes many young women lawyers I have advocated for over these many years, now must worry about where they live and whether they reside in a state that has already curtailed or intends to curtail the right to choose. Now so many mothers have to worry about their daughters and their granddaughters and what their future dilemmas and choices may be. Now women, who would choose abortion but cannot afford to travel to a jurisdiction where that right is protected, will be forced to make another decision, and now we must be wary of the vulnerability of other privacy rights, including the right to love and marry who one chooses.

These subjects were addressed yesterday by the chair of a Big Law firm, and her sentiments echo my own. Here is part of what Julie Jones of Ropes & Gray wrote to her law firm colleagues, as reported on Above the Law:

“This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, ending 50 years of federal constitutional protection of abortion rights.  The Dobbs ruling has created extraordinarily strong feelings in many of us.  As a lawyer, I reflect on Supreme Court jurisprudence, the principle of stare decisis and the future of privacy rights and other civil right protections in the United States.   As a woman, I have a profound feeling of vulnerability caused by the elimination of a long-standing right of women – a right that affects their bodies and their agency.  As a person with privilege, I recognize and worry about the decision’s disproportionate impact on women with limited resources.   As an American, I fear the divisive nature of this topic will further fracture an already angry and divided citizenry.”

Now we have so much more to worry about.

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The Elusiveness of Work-Life Balance for Young Lawyers

I have written for years about the elusiveness of work-life balance, including an entire book about it for women lawyers.  That book was published in 2012, and here is a very recent article echoing many of those same themes. The search for balance is a never-ending process.

Work-life balance is not accomplished in the knowing. It is accomplished in the execution.  Only YOU can define a healthy work-life balance for YOU.

Sometimes your emphasis has to be more on the personal side, and sometime your balance needs to be more on the professional side.  You don’t measure it on a day-to-day basis. You measure it over time.  That is the only balance that is real.

I often hear young women lawyers complain that the balance is not being “assured” for them by the profession.  They get angry when it is suggested that they have to keep their eyes on both sides of the scale.  They become offended when they hear about the pitfalls of the profession for lawyer/mothers in particular, and they feel slighted.  

It does not matter how many times they are told, “You are smart. You are capable of multi-tasking. You’ve got this.”  The emphasis continues to be on the perceived slight. What they miss is that the advice is being shared to make them stronger and more successful.  

They are not being told to ignore their family responsibilities or other important aspects of their personal lives. But they also are not being told that life is fair every day of the week or every week of the month or every month of the year either.  The law is a tough and demanding profession, and it includes sacrifices that do not always feel good.

Some days will feel like hell, in fact, but other days will be so exhilarating that a lawyer/mom actually can feel like she does have it all — a combination of the children who light up her life and a profession that both challenges and compensates her in a way that allows for a better life for her children.

Do not resent those who are trying to help you. Focus on the work-life management that is being suggested in this recent article and understand that you have the power to bring about a satisfactory solution for YOU. The article rightly suggests that “We deserve more than balance. We deserve to be honest and respectful of ourselves.” 

Honesty and respect for yourself will come from within yourself. It is the first step. Identifying your priorities and your goals are key. Those will dictate the balance that works for you.

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Young Lawyers Need to Embrace Mistakes as Opportunities

The great jazz legend Miles Davis once said, “If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that determines if it’s good or bad.” Like all great jazz musicians, Davis was a master of improvisation. As such, he saw musical mistakes as opportunities — a philosophy he carried into the rest of his life.

Miles Davis’ words provide a valuable lesson. It’s how we react to so-called mistakes that determine whether the ultimate outcome will be negative or positive. As the great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock said, “Miles was able to turn something that was wrong into something that was right.” 

I play the piano, but I never took music theory seriously. I wish I had because it would make a recovery like Davis envisioned so much easier when I hit the wrong keys and start down the road to dissonance. Music theory teaches you how chords and notes relate to one another and how taking that next step from mistake to recovery is possible and creative.

You don’t have to be a musician to understand this. It is a theme that presents itself in so many different settings throughout our lives. Not dwelling on past mistakes and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by those mistakes is useful in all of those life experiences, including the practice of law.

Ask any seasoned lawyer and he or she will tell you that it was the mistakes that taught them the most. They learned to rebound and never forgot how that mistake was made and to avoid making it again. They grew as practitioners.

I hope that you will have those same opportunities and that you will embrace them. It will accelerate your success and your tolerance for the mistakes of others. It will make you a better lawyer and a better mentor. It will make you a better leader and a better person.

There is simply nothing to lose and so much to gain.

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Setting the Record Straight: Women Lawyers Did Not Bail Out of Their Careers in Large Numbers During the Pandemic

It is true that women lawyers were among those who left the profession over the past two years because quality childcare was not available during the threat from COVID-19 when quality daycare centers and schools were closed.  Although many legal commenters and legal consultant groups stressed very high attrition rates for women lawyers due to these circumstances, I was very pleased to see one the most reliable legal commenters, Vivia Chen of Bloomberg News, jump into the conversation recently to set the record straight.

In making her case against the oft-repeated narrative that, when push comes to shove, women bail out of their careers, Ms. Chen cites the most recent statistics supporting the conclusion that women remained in the workforce during the pandemic and stayed on their jobs, as much as they could and persevered.  Reporting additional statistics showing that those in the most privileged positions were able to keep their careers going, Ms. Chen concluded that most female lawyers “stayed in the game.”  They may have left large firms for a downsized version that afforded more flexibility or transitioned within the profession, but they did not leave in large numbers.  They did not quit in high numbers as had been reported earlier. They did not run for cover. For more on this article, read it at https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/she-cession-myth-busted-women-didnt-quit-law-during-pandemic

 Indeed, there are challenges for women lawyers and male lawyers as well, especially those with young children.  But young lawyers should not let their career planning be derailed by them.  Young lawyers are smart and capable of protecting both their personal and professional goals, and the advent of programs like flexible hours, working from home, and changing law practice cultures are giving them the additional help they need.

It is all possible.  Not easy.  But possible.

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Time for Law Firms to Have Some Fun

March Madness is upon us once again. It has been a time for celebrating the underdog and the perennial amazement at the performance of the Big Dogs.

I look so forward to this competition every year. I never played basketball, but many of my friends and family did. However, I am a devoted sports fan, and I particularly love watching college basketball and lacrosse. There is a lot of similarity of plan and play, I think.

Law firms also get into March Madness. There are pools and side bets and lots of postering and mock rivalries in the hallways of firms large and small.

This is good. It is needed. It allows lawyers, young and old, to relate on a whole other level and in very different way. They like it — even the ones who know nothing about the game and have a friend or spouse fill out their brackets. They support their undergraduate colleges and universities like they were casting the deciding votes on the Supreme Court. It is important to them. And it is fun.

But, why should this kind of positive and sometimes affectionate interaction be a one-off annual experience? Why shouldn’t law firms aim for this more often and with a variety of events. All work and no play makes not only for dull but also unhappy and disillusioned lawyers.

Young lawyers can make efforts to improve these conditions. A little suggestion here or there and initiative need to come from the bottom. If you have not noticed, the top is preoccupied.

Happy Final Four! I will be watching. Hope to “see” you there — having fun.

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A Time for Women Lawyers to Be Proud

I have been watching the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. I am fortunate to have my office in my home and a relaxed schedule at this time in my career. So, I can take advantage of such opportunities.

What I have heard and seen is a woman lawyer who is a credit to us all and to the profession. She is a class act and conducts herself as a professional for all of us to admire. She is not just a qualified judge, she also is an excellent teacher. She responds to questions about complicated legal theories with down-to-earth examples from cases she has adjudicated and educates all who have open minds to listen.

She also is a class act because she knows “how” to act. She fields all questions with dignity and respect, while at the same time politely drawing lines when it is necessary to maintain the truthfulness of genuine fact-finding roles of the hearings. She conducts herself as a mannerly and charming female, and she is not afraid to be one.

She also is a grand example of a woman lawyer. She does not shy away from her feelings for her family and makes it clear how important they are to who she is as a person and a jurist. Her responses make her more human, and that characteristic is important to the process of assuring that justice is served.

I have watched a lot of judicial confirmation hearings over the years. Never have I seen anyone — that is ANYONE — do a finer job of assuring me that she is the person for the moment. We all knew before the hearings that her nomination was groundbreaking and historic for issues of both gender and race. Now we know that it also is groundbreaking for other reasons.

I am politically independent. I grew up saying that I “vote for the man” and not the party. Today I throw my support to the woman for the moment.

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Here’s a Role Model You Need to Meet

Note: In the UK legal system, a barrister’s chambers or barristers’ chambers are the rooms used by a barrister or a group of barristers. The singular refers to the use by a sole practitioner whereas the plural refers to a group of barristers who, while technically acting as sole practitioners, share costs and expenses for office overheads. The concept of barristers’ chambers is commonly thought of as a law firm.

Read here about Poonam Melwani, a barrister in the UK. Her story will inspire you and give you confidence that you, too, can have it all — at least much of the time. As she notes in the article:

My advice to women and primary care-givers is yes, you can have it all. But there will be some compromises and there will be challenging times. And along the way, you will have many moments of self-doubt and probably tears, wondering whether you are as good at your job as a male that doesn’t have to juggle as much. That’s fine. Its normal to have what I call wobble moments and imposter syndrome.

I don’t know about you, but I would love to meet this remarkable woman. She embodies the talent, stature and concern for the women lawyers who follow that I respect so much. She is no “Queen Bee”, who pulls up the ladder once she has made it to the top.

She is reaching a hand down and serving as a role model and mentor. Bravo!

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Update on the “Back to the Office” Debate

The pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into law practice models, especially those in law firms. Many firms have allowed employees and members to work from home since 2020 when the pandemic hit, and things have pretty much been in limbo since. Many law firm leaders and managers have returned to the office by this time, but the same has not been true for associates, who have gotten used to the more relaxed working from home conditions. And some sources have argued that the high profits reported by firms while most of their work forces have been working from home undercuts the importance of mandating returns to the office.

That argument was pretty much put to rest last week when Reuters reported that Kirkland & Ellis, one of the world’s largest and most profitable law firms, announced that employees will be expected to work from the office three days a week beginning in late March. Commenters are calling it the “Kirkland Model” and expect that it will become the norm in large firm practice and spur a return-to-the-office policy in coming weeks and months. They also cite government roll-backs of mask mandates and the decline in Omicron cases as providing firms with political cover to mandate return of employees to the office.

To date, Ropes & Gray has joined Kirkland in this effort with a return-to-work policy starting March 1. It is expected that law firms will cite both written and unwritten policies that in-office practices foster teamwork and ensure employee face time with supervisors and managers.

However, the other side of this argument is represented by Quinn Emanuel, which prefers the work-from-home model because it differentiates that firm from competitors. How those expectations will hold up to the competition remains to be seen.

Time will tell. Stay tuned.

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