Not Just for Women Lawyers —- All Women Must Use Their Power Responsibly

If you have not seen the video of CNN journalist Ashleigh Banfield responding to the accusations from an anonymous source of sexual abuse by comedian/actor Aziz Ansari, you need to.  Here’s the link, as presented by newsweek.com.  The accusations and the response have given rise to a lot of impassioned discussion and controversy, and women across the globe need to sort out the facts.

The point of your inquiry should be not whether the events took place but whether the events amount to the kind of sexual harassment that is the benchmark of the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement that followed.  Those movements are founded on a recognition that women have suffered abuse in the workplace because of an imbalance of power where they were powerless to refuse unwanted advances and remained silent because their employment and financial livelihood depended on cooperating with the abuse by powerful men, who controlled their futures and their ability to work.

That is not what the anonymous blogger complained of.  Rather, she complained of a date gone wrong, albeit with raw and unsavory facts, but a situation where she had the POWER to walk out —- as in TO LEAVE a situation that had turned into something she did not want.  She HAD THE POWER and leaving would not have cost her a job or curtailed any of her future employment opportunities.  There are no facts presented to indicate that she was being forced in any way to stay and to continue to experience behavior that she apparently found abhorrent.  In fact, when she finally did leave, the alleged abuser did not stand in her way.  Far from it.

Why is this important, and why am I breaking with tradition by taking it on?

The answer is simple.  Because, as Ashleigh Banfield states in her open letter to the accuser, complaints like those of the accuser diminish the value of legitimate movements, which involve true sexual harassment and abuse of power.  Muddying the water with descriptions of dates gone wrong (rather than workplace abuses) and women who fail to use the power they possess to extricate themselves from objectionable circumstances serve to retard the progress of these legitimate movements rather than advance them.

I have been talking about and writing about women lawyers using their power to control and manage their careers for over a decade.   Now, I want to send that same message to all women.  Although you may encounter an imbalance of power, you must use the POWER YOU HAVE to change your circumstances and protect your futures.

You have VALUE, and you have POWER.  Understand it and use it.  To do anything else is to join the abusers.

 

 

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The Best Friends at the Bar Mission For Women Lawyers — A Look Back at 2017

The Best Friends at the Bar year is about to come to a close.  Yes, I know that the entire month of December lies ahead before the Big Ball drops in Times Square and that you still have time for holiday shopping, holiday cards, holiday decorations, attending parties, giving parties, baking and cooking … and the list goes on.  Do not panic, you have plenty of time to accomplish all this and more.  You are young and energetic and incredibly resourceful.  I have complete faith in you.

I, on the other hand, have the luxury of taking the month of December off each year to address my work-life balance.  December is when I concentrate on family and friends and help make memories.  It is when I listen to music, play the piano, read books, take long walks, and watch all the movies that I have missed earlier in the year.  It is when I stick close to home and don’t travel on business.  It renews me and gets me ready to jump into the new year with gusto and enthusiasm to connect once again with you, my readers.

So, this is my last blog of 2017, and it seems appropriate to look back on the year and see where the mission on behalf of women lawyers has taken Best Friends at the Bar.  Here is the retrospective:

  • I have delivered key note addresses at bar associations, including the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Tampa, Florida chapter of the Federal Bar Association;
  • I have spoken at law firms in Washington, DC and New York City and to other industry groups across the country;
  • I have served on panel discussions and written over 50 blogs on subjects from Advocacy to Zero Tolerance;
  • I have written the draft manuscript for a new book for Millennial lawyers; and
  • I have perfected a program on Soft Skills for Lawyers, which will be available in 2018.

This has kept me very busy, and I have enjoyed it all.  Best Friends at the Bar is a gratifying project that positively affects the lives of so many women lawyers, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to carry out this mission.   I hear from many of you, and your comments make it all worth while …

Like the young woman standing in the back of a ballroom at one of my speaking engagements earlier this year.  She was holding a baby and doing the “mommy rock” as she listened intently to my remarks.  I met her later and she told me that she has a two-year-old at home and this new baby.  She said that she doubted whether she could continue in law practice until she heard me speak about the many faces of success.  She smiled broadly and said that she had called her husband and told him, “I just heard this woman speak, and I know I’m going to make it now.”

That says it all …. except Happy Holidays to all of you.  See you next year!

 

 

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Women Lawyers in America Should Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  I hope that you are surrounded by friends and family and celebrating all of the blessings in your lives.  I am sure there are many.

One of those blessings is that you are women in America and, to boot, women lawyers in America.  We take so much for granted here, and we complain about unfair treatment and lost opportunities, but the truth is that we are the luckiest women on earth.

We are working our way toward full equality in the workplace, and I have real hope that it will happen in my lifetime.  We live in a society protected by free speech and a Bill of Rights unparalleled in the world, and we have a judicial system to back it up and make those freedoms matter.  We can be anything we want to be here in America, within reason, as long as we make the right choices and respect people along the way.

While it is true that women are feeling very violated as a group in the shadow of today’s headlines disclosing more and more shocking details of sexual abuse and harassment, it also is true that women finally are feeling the force to call out the wrongdoers and speak truth to power.  That is huge, and even if men do not change their behaviors, women are changing their own.  We are learning to become the tribe we need to be to advance our causes and protect our futures.

So rejoice in your blessings and make this a day to remember.  This is the day you take even greater control of your lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Advice for Women Lawyers — A Variety of Perspectives

Today I am speaking at Gibson Dunn in New York City, in the heart of BigLaw.  (OK, so I am not writing this blog as I prepare to take the stage to keynote the luncheon, but my preparation of this blog coincided with my preparation for my remarks at Gibson Dunn.  Close enough.)

As I prepared my remarks for “Owning Your Career” for the Gibson Dunn Women’s Mentoring Circle, I recalled  an article that I recently read titled “Advice (I wish I had been given) for Women Starting Careers in BigLaw.”  The author has been practicing for eight years in Big Law, and she claims to have had an “overwhelmingly positive experience.”  I always am happy to hear that.  I also am happy to hear that she appreciates the unique challenges to women lawyers that can make or break a career.  Certainly she is likely to encounter a lot of them along the road to partnership if that is what her goal is in Big Law.  Here are the highlights of the article:

  • Don’t let yourself get siloed into ministerial tasks;
  • Learn to delegate and don’t feel guilty about it;
  • Make your voice heard; and
  • If there is an issue, speak up for yourself.

The advice is good, and I especially like the author’s treatment of the last bullet where she states,

If you feel you are not getting the opportunities to which you are entitled, you have two options:  (i) you can sulk, blame the firm, complain incessantly over snacks in the associate lounge, anonymously post on ATL and/or quit the firm; or (ii) you can speak up about it.

I compared this to the advice that I gave in this article for Huffington Post a number of years ago.  A fundamental difference between the two articles is that I write for all young women lawyers — not just those in Big Law — so my advice is more about career planning and execution that is common to the experience of most women lawyers.

Here is the advice that I offered in that article and that I would offer today — to all women lawyers:

  • Embrace the novelty of being a woman lawyer in a field full of men but do it right;
  • Recognize that male lawyers and female lawyers think and interact differently;
  • Support other women lawyers;
  • Create a life balance that includes paying attention to personal needs and health — even while being an excellent lawyer; and
  • Craft your own definition of success in the law.

Here also is an interview that I gave to The Muse years ago about why women leave the law.  That is looking backwards to see where it all went wrong — something that is helpful to know as well.

And for those of you thinking about a career in the law, here is another advice piece that I did for Girl’s Guide to Law School.

I believe that there is a lot of room for advice from seasoned veterans of the profession, and I also believe that you need all the good advice you can get.  So, go ahead and help yourself!

 

 

 

 

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Here’s the September/October 2107 BFAB Newsletter

September/October 2017 Newsletter

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Bravo to the Lawyer Moms

I was in Oklahoma City recently delivering the keynote address at a state bar association conference.  I met many interesting people, including junior lawyers, senior lawyers, male lawyers, female lawyers and judges.  One of the standouts for me was a woman who looked like she could deliver her baby at any minute.  She is a partner in a mid-sized firm, mother of two with a third on the way, and she has my vote for the the I Can Do It All Award.  She did not run off after the luncheon address but stayed for the panel discussion and for the Happy Hour afterwards.  She was all in, with a beautiful smile on her face all the time she was sipping her non-alcoholic beverage and the rest of us were enjoying a glass of wine.

Another woman had an infant in her arms and was doing the “mother rock” in the back of the ballroom throughout my speech.  Most of the audience did not notice her because their attention was focused forward toward me and the screen where the power point was playing.  But, I noticed this woman and her baby, and I loved seeing them there.  It knew that it had to be challenging for her to attend, but I thought that the subject of my speech, Owning Your Career, must have interested her enough to put in the effort.

Later, I saw that young woman with her baby in the hall outside the ballroom.  I told her that I enjoyed seeing her and the baby in the back of the ballroom.  Her response left me speechless.  She told me that, after the speech, she called her husband, who was home taking care of their two-year-old.  She told him that, after hearing me speak, she was sure that she was going to make it through her career challenges.  As she stated, “I now know that I am going to make it because you gave me the confidence I need to meet the challenges and succeed.”  God bless her.  She and others like her are what keep me going at Best Friends at the Bar.

So, when I was thinking about lawyer moms for this blog, I also wondered about the issues of interviewing for a job when you are pregnant.  I have not had that experience, but I found an article that raises all the issues you need to consider if you find yourself in that situation.  Although I am usually on the side of full disclosure, I was surprised to find that I was nodding my head at other possibilities.  I think you will find it helpful if you ever find yourself in that situation or if you are an employer on the other side of the interview.

Best wishes to all you Lawyer Moms.  Bravo!  I feel your pain and also your euphoric feelings of accomplishment.  You rock!

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Best Firms for Women Lawyers — How Reliable are the Lists?

I know that I have published list after list of the “Best Firms for Women Lawyers” over the years in my blogs and on my website.  It seems like the right thing to do for someone who has been devoted to the retention and advancement of women lawyers for more than a decade. 

But, honestly, I did it with some reluctance.  I always was a little skeptical about how those lists were compiled, whether the research was based on an even playing field for all contenders, and the nature of the relationships between the ranking entities and the firms ranked highest on their lists.

Now a new batch of those lists (from Law 360, Working Mother, and more) has been released, and it turns out that I am not the only one with these kinds of questions and concerns.   One of the most savvy law reporters around has doubts similar to my own and has looked critically at the lists and the law firms that appear there.

In her article, “‘Best’ Law Firms for Women?  Really?,” Vivia Chen of The Careerist and ALM calls the lists “confusing, if not misleading.  And sad.”

Here are some of her concerns for you to keep in mind as you read and rely on those lists:

  • Having a high percentage of women lawyers in a law firm is different than having a high percentage of women equity partners or shareholders;
  • Effort is not the same as results, and firms that have flexible work arrangements, generous parental leave policies and business development training (while all laudable efforts) should not be given equal weight with firms that “walk the walk” and have impressive percentages of women as partners, demonstrating real equality for women within their ranks; and
  • Sugar coating and “misrepresenting” the data will not get us where we want to go in terms of true equity for women lawyers.

We all are trained as fact finders for three long years in law school and in our practices, and we must look behind representations to discover the facts and who really deserves credit and who does not.  We need to expect that of ourselves.

For more on the “lists” and progress in gender diversity at law firms, see “Who’s The Best? (Leading Law Firms for Women)” in the current issue of the  ABA Journal.

 

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Women Lawyers Need Balance

Every year at this time, I put Best Friends at the Bar on hold to spend time with family and friends.  It is a month-long hiatus that I know is enviable but that I feel entitled to after all these years.  And I LOVE it.  I will be at the Massachusetts shore with friends and at the Maine shore with family, and I can’t wait for the games to begin!

It is not that my work is over or that my desk is clear. That is not the case at all.  I am completing the manuscript for a new book, on deadline for a book proposal, developing a new soft skills program for associate lawyers, and writing speeches and developing Power Point slides for presentations in the Fall.  I am plenty busy.  But, that is not the point.

Vacation does not happen when your desk is clear.  Vacation happens when you need it and when your loved ones are available.  If you wait for the desk to be clear, vacation never will happen.  If you wait until someone at work tells you that the time is right, trust me, the time will never be right.

Understand what you need and what you have a right to expect.  You can do the math.  If you are on target with billable hours and have not taken your allotted vacation for the year, what are you waiting for?  It is time to act.  Go dip your toes in the ocean like me or go climb a mountain or take a cruise.  August is the perfect month for taking a break and chilling out.  September is a time when the law profession springs back into action.  After that, you are lucky if you get a break until Christmas Eve.

Go for it.  I know I will.  And, when September rolls around, I will be ready to go full steam ahead to grab the brass ring!

See you then.

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