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.


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Women Lawyers Are Not Equal

Women lawyers are not equal — at least not in the private sector.  Plain and simple.  I know that you do not expect to hear this from me nor do you want to hear this from me, but it is true.

Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.”  If you compare private sector female lawyers to private sector male lawyers on issues of status and opportunities, you begin to see the inequality.  (“Rights” are derived from constitutional law and legislation and are not addressed here.  But, if you want a history of women’s rights in America, watch RBG.) So, let’s talk status and opportunities:

  • On status:  Women have the babies, and tradition and implicit bias too often drive the conclusion that it is the woman’s responsibility to be the primary care taker of her children.  As the result of health considerations for women and their newborns, women lawyers typically take the maximum allowable maternity leave after childbirth.  More likely than not, when she returns to work, the woman lawyer is treated differently from her male colleagues because implicit bias drives the further conclusion that young mothers are no longer dedicated to, committed to, and serious about their jobs. And because this attitude prevails, many young women lawyers are denied equal consideration for partnership, thereby doing irreparable damage to their professional status.
  • On opportunities:  Repeat the above.  Once law firm management and leadership presumptively conclude that a young mother/attorney lacks dedication and commitment to her career, the opportunities for advancement dissolve.

So, what can be done about it?  A lot, according to a recent article in The American Lawyer.  This article is a group effort of the young lawyers editorial team at the magazine, and it is very ambitious in terms of the recommendations to law firms.  However, it includes some excellent starting points for firms to consider and implement.  Although I do not realistically expect that firms will implement all of the recommendations at once, most of them are possible over time.

Law firms need to take these issues very seriously for some very good reasons.  In fact, the title of the article, “Law Firms Benefit by Showing Attorneys that Family Matters” implies benefits to law firms from instituting the recommended policies.   Benefits not only for reasons of retention of talent, competition in the market place, and related self-serving profit motives, but, more importantly, because we are a profession that was founded on issues of fairness, respect and honorable behavior.

Simply stated, it is not nice to punish women professionals for having babies.




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New Book for Best Friends at the Bar Project

Read excerpts from the new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018), to be released on September 1st, in the July/August 2018 Best Friends at the Bar Newsletter:


Millennial Generation lawyers are the future of the law profession, and current leadership needs to know how they think and how to develop them into effective leaders.

The emphasis is on respect, civility, honorable behavior, reaching out helping hands to communities and those less fortunate …  and more.  Those themes — very much in the national conversation today — are driven home by stories from a day when the underlying values were paramount in law practice.  The hope is that they will become part of our own experiences today.

What Millennial Lawyers Want:

  • Expands the Best Friends at the Bar audience beyond young women lawyers to ALL young lawyers and those who lead them;
  • Presents extensive research about millennial lawyers and by millennial lawyers; and
  • Regales readers with inspirational stories of lawyers from a generation past to demonstrate a healthier path forward for a profession in transition.

With a Foreword and in-book endorsements by leading lawyers at some of the world’s most prestigious law firms, this book has been recognized as a game-changer for the legal profession.  The message is that bad habits and toxic environments are not beyond repair if we listen to the voices of a new generation of lawyers and help them — and us — find a better way forward.

Available soon on Amazon.  Get it and read it NOW!


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Women’s Equality Day

I know that I am coming in a little late to alert you to Women’s Equality Day.  It was celebrated YESTERDAY, August 26th, but I have a good excuse for missing it by a day.

Yesterday, August 26th, would have been my Mom’s 103rd birthday.  She died in 2017 at 101 years young, and I was absorbed yesterday with thoughts of her.  As excuses go, I think it is a good one.

My Mom would have loved Women’s Equality Day.  She graduated from college in 1937 when most women did not go to college.  She worked hard to support herself as a teacher before she married my Dad, she was devoted to improving her community through volunteer service, and, up until the last days of her life, she was asking how she could “help out” at the assisted living facility she called home.  Whether it was folding towels or showing up for Bingo just to be a good sport and raise spirits, she did it all.

Today, women have come a long way beyond the kinds of opportunities available to my Mom and her contemporaries.  We are lawyers, doctors, bankers, board members, business executives, and government and elected officials, to name just a few.  We have learned to use our voices and have our voices heard.  As someone once sang, we bring home the bacon, and we fry it up in a pan!

But we still have a long way to go for total equality.  Keep at it.  Make sure YOUR voice is heard.  Do not settle.

Happy Women’s Equality Day!

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See You in September!

Great song. Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.  For those of you who did not — shame on you—catch Jersey Boys on stage, there is always YouTube to get the flavor of great music of bygone years.

But, I digress! 

As some of you may remember, August and December are the times when I step back from blogging to focus on family.  So, you won’t be reading my blogs again until September — when I will return to help move the needle forward for women in law.  However, when I see a tidbit that you need to focus on between now and then, I will make sure you can find it on the Best Friends at the Bar Facebook page.

But it will not be all fun and games for me this August.  I will be spending a lot of time promoting and marketing my new book for ALL young lawyers.  What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers) goes to print next week and will be released on September 1st.  I am very excited about the possibilities of this new book, so please watch for it.  It is a quick read and one that I know will interest the young lawyers in my orbit — and hopefully the seasoned lawyers who reside where change begins.

Best wishes to all of you for end of summer bliss.  Take time off for yourself and friends and family while work is slow.  Remember the importance of balance. 

And have some fun!


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What the Fourth of July Means to Me

You just gotta ignite the light

And let it shine Just own the night Like the Fourth of July

‘Cause baby you’re a firework.

Come on show ’em what you’re worth

Make ’em go “Oh, oh, oh!” As you shoot across the sky-y-y ~

Katy Perry, “Firework”

The Fourth of July is a big holiday in America. I have such wonderful and vivid childhood memories of celebrating on the shores of Lake Michigan, dancing around sparklers buried in the sand, and eating burgers, watermelon, cake with red, white and blue frosting and trying to elude adult eyes to steal a sip of beer from the inevitable keg.  Those were wonderful days.

This year, when you are not eating, drinking, playing softball and watching fireworks, please give thought to our Founding Fathers and all that they sacrifised to secure our independence from an oppressive sovereign.  We all will relive history, but it should not stop there.  We should think about independence and freedom in our daily lives.  We should take a moment to ask ourselves why it is special to live in America.

Here is what I think.

Our country is the greatest country on earth, and we need to keep it that way.  Currently, the edges are crumbling a bit, and we need to get back to basics and the foundation of our freedom.

I have lived abroad and traveled abroad a lot in my life.  Each time I return and touch down on American soil, I give thanks.  Other cultures and other countries are interesting and exciting, and I have been blessed to experience them.  But the freedoms there and the opportunities for advancement are minor as compared to the freedoms and protections we enjoy as Americans — and as women in America.

People need to understand that.  I often wonder how the large discontented element of our country would respond to life elsewhere.  I think they would be shocked and dismayed.  I think that they might begin to see what they have here in America through a different lens.

It is all about mindset.  America is still the greatest country on earth with a Constitution that has been replicated around the world and a Bill of Rights equaled by none.  That is a lot worth fighting for.

So, happy Independence Day to America and to you.  Wave the flag, get out the red, white and blue and have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

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Top Women Lawyers Tell ALL about Landing Big Clients

Most of you know by now that developing clients is the road to success in law firms.  Crudely, it has been said that “you eat what you kill.”  In other words, if you bring in the work, you will be paid handsomely.   Nothing else comes close to assuring a successful career as a lawyer.

That is why there is so much emphasis today on client development and networking.  Concentrating on acquiring the soft skills that are necessary to make you attractive to potential clients is time well spent.  However, soft skills are not taught in law school, and very few law firms are taking the time to instruct young lawyers in these skills.  It is for that very reason that I have developed a Soft Skills for Lawyers program, which is highlighted on the home page of the Best Friends at the Bar website.

With all of the competition for clients in the marketplace today, you would think that soft skill development would be a “no brainer” for law firm mentors.  It is entirely possible that the days of the Old Boys Network are numbered as the Baby Boomer lawyers give up their club memberships and retire from practice, and no amount of dedication to successful client development is too much as firms look to less experienced lawyers to carry out the business of the firms.

But, as you will see below, not all perceptions about client development are the same.  In a recent column, The Careerist’s Vivia Chen highlighted a study that found male clients to be more inclined to steer business to male lawyers than to female lawyers.  That proposition got the attention of two seasoned women lawyers, and Chen followed up with an interview of the two women lawyers, which “aired” in this podcast.

Take the time to listen to Chen’s interview of Sharon Nelles of Sullivan and Cromwell and Robbie Kaplan, formerly of Paul Weiss and currently a principal in her own firm, discuss the “ins and outs” of landing clients.  The strategies you will hear could be invaluable to your career success.

You will hear a challenge to the premise that success in getting clients is a gender issue.  Rather than gender as the underlying cause of successful client development, Nelles and Kaplan identify relationships and reputation as the most important factors in developing and gaining clients.  They also recognize the problems inherent in getting the right opportunities and exposure to clients — which makes it easier to accomplish those goals — and how women lawyers come out on the short end of many of those opportunities and much of that exposure to clients.

But that is not where the discussion ends.  Nelles and Kaplan are not satisfied with the inequity in terms of opportunities and exposure, and their back and forth on the subject provides food for thought that can be a career changer.  Definitely worth your time.

Check out the podcast.




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