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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Women Lawyers and Lawyer Couples

Two-lawyer households:  I know a little about those.  My husband and I graduated two years apart from law school, and the following 40-plus years are history.  Not only the history of our two careers and more than three law firms and public service for each of us, but also the history of a couple and a family — which now includes two children, both of them lawyers.  As we prepare to celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary, I think you could say that it worked for us.  But, it was not easy.

First, there were the years when our two careers were new and very exciting.  We were learning so much and pushing the envelope for all it was worth.  It was a great challenge, for sure, but it also was exhilarating.  We would come together at night after long hours at the office, able to share our experiences because we spoke the same professional language.  It never got old to experience the profession through another set of eyes — with trust and candor.

Those years were followed by the years with children when we were just plain tired all of the time.  Tired of working so hard at the office and tired of working so hard at home.  But never tired of each other or tired of the kids.  It was family — always family first — and many difficult career decisions followed as we made certain that we had time to do right by our family.  The difficult choices turned out to be the right choices, and professional success often was a dynamic concept based on changing circumstances.

And those years were followed by reflection and incredible pride in what we had accomplished.  And those feelings of pride remain to this day and grow with every new success experienced by our family of lawyers.

So, when I saw this article in the National Law Journal, it was natural that I wanted to share it with you.   Written as an inspiration for today’s two-lawyer families, it includes information that has become de rigueur for those of us who have lived it but may be unfamiliar to so many young lawyer couples.

Today more than ever, lawyers have spouses and significant others, who also are lawyers.  It is simple:  There are so many more women lawyers in practice today; and lawyers today often spend more time at the office than at home.  So, lawyers are naturally and disproportionately likely to end up in love relationships with other lawyers.

If that is a scary concept to you — because you cannot imagine overcoming the challenges of a two-lawyer relationship — consider the example of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her now deceased husband Martin Ginsburg.  Channeling their experience, the article provides guidance on how to survive the pressures of two-lawyer couples and parenting:

  • Support each other, and treat the other person’s work like it is equally as important as your own;
  • Delegate well — both at the office and at home.  It is especially important to delegate things that the other person enjoys doing more and can do better; and
  • Do not assume to know where all responsibilities lie within the couple.  With too much to do and too little time to do it, couples must remain flexible to provide the support that is critical for mutual success.  “Find your domain and share the load.”

You can learn a lot from the excellent example that the Ginsburgs set for you …  and for me …  and for all of us to follow.  Theirs was both a great love and a great success story, which included two remarkable law careers and a cherished family history.  It has been memorialized in the film “RBG,” and I hope you will find it soon in a theater near you.




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Career Tips for Women Lawyers

Recently I attended the Georgetown Women’s Forum, which expanded the Georgetown Law Women’s Forum to Georgetown University graduates in celebration of the 25th year of the Forum.  As in years past, the program was inspiring.  Having attended the Forum for many years and also participated as a panelist, I take great pride in the quality of the programs.

From the welcome by Savannah Guthrie, a Georgetown Law graduate, to the keynote address by Sally Yates, who briefly joined the Georgetown Law faculty after departing the Justice Department last year, to the final moments of dedication to careers, the program was filled with helpful and hopeful messages for women in law and business.

Here is some career advice from that program:

  • Having a career plan is important, but you also must be willing to take risks to capitalize on opportunities that may not be anticipated by your plan;
  • Being a good team member is essential.  Work hard to make your fellow team members look good;
  • Be who your are by staying true to your values.  If your work environment challenges who you are, don’t be afraid to make a change;
  • Networking is just like making friends.  Being curious about what others do makes it easier.  Showing your commitment to a group or cause goes a long way toward making strong connections;
  • Ask for what you want;
  • Ask for feedback.  It is the way you grow;
  • Men are still in control of most law firms and large businesses.  You must engage them on change to achieve change;
  • Stop thinking about childcare as a women’s issue.  Make it a non-gender issue to achieve the progress we need;
  • The only real work-life balance is to give everything to work while you are there and everything to home while you are there — at least until the kids are in bed!;
  • Strive to become a good leader by emphasizing relationship building;
  • Create your brand and market it; and
  • Support women colleagues.

Now get busy!  See how much of that advice you can incorporate into your professional life and your career plan. And, if you are a Georgetown University or Georgetown Law graduate, be sure to sign up for next year’s program.

See you there!


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Are Young Women Lawyers Still Enamored with Law Firm Jobs?

There was a time when most young lawyers — male and female alike — found law firm jobs desirable.   The pay was good, the hours were manageable, and the upward mobility and financial rewards were inviting.  But, is that still true today?

According to today’s article on the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) online Issues Blog, it may no longer be true for young women lawyers.  Based on statistics from the Colorado Supreme Court’s Attorney Regulation Counsel, the article identifies a “trend” away from law firm jobs for young women law graduates in that state.  Those statistics showed that less than half of the active women attorneys under the age of 30 in Colorado are working in law firms of any size and only 20 percent of women attorneys younger than 30 years old joined big law firms.

These are interesting findings whether you live and practice in the state of Colorado or not.  At a time when at least half of most of the graduating classes in law schools across the country are women, you would expect to see equal percentages of male and female law graduates joining law firms.  And that still may be the case in states like New York and California and the District of Columbia, all jurisdictions with multiple top-rated law schools, but it clearly is not the case in Colorado.  So why is that?

Some of the reasons for this identified trend away from law firms by women lawyers is predictable.  More and more young lawyers today are focused on having lives outside of work, and that certainly is true of those women lawyers, who desire to have children and anticipate childcare responsibilities.  Even with the advent of more generous maternity and family leave policies and more flexible telecommuting programs, the expectation of billing 2000 plus hours a year and having family and childcare responsibilities is daunting.  But that does not completely explain this trend.

Other explanations offered in the article are less predictable but also worthy of consideration, starting with the effects of the Great Recession.  After 2008, many law firms found it necessary to cut back expenses due to the economic downturn, which resulted in reductions in hiring.  As a result, many law school graduates between approximately 2008 and 2015 looked beyond law firms for employment opportunities.   They left law firms that were cutting back on hiring or they failed to apply to law firms at all.  In doing so, both male and female law graduates were forced to look at non-traditional positions where they have remained even after the economy picked up and law firms rebounded.

Another and more troublesome explanation has its genesis in law schools.  The article cites a 2016 study showing that women law school applicants are less likely to be accepted by schools that pride themselves in placing graduates in “good law firm jobs.”  If this is the case, then women law school applicants are more likely to find themselves in law schools that do not emphasize law firm jobs for graduates — because law firms are not as interested in the graduates of those schools.

The important takeaway from the 2016 study is that women who apply to law school are less likely to be admitted to schools with high law firm placement rates.  If this is true, there is a lot for both law schools and law firms to be thinking about.  If the inequitable treatment of women lawyers reaches all the way back to law school admission policies, the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools both should be forming committees to explore these findings.  Pronto.

And we should hope that there is another less sinister explanation for this result.

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Women Lawyers Speaking Out Against Gender Inequality

The most recent example of women lawyers speaking out against inequality is the employment discrimination suit filed this week by a group of women lawyers at Morrison Foerster alleging that they were discriminated against after taking maternity leave.  Their suit is styled as a $100M putative class action, and they have retained the same law firm, Sanford Heisler Sharp, that got the $3M settlement plus $1M in attorneys fees against Chadbourne & Parke (now Rose Fulbright) in a gender discrimination suit under the Equal Pay Act recently.  So, hold onto your hat.  Here are the details.

After reporting recently in this blog about the Yale Law School’s 2018 list of female-friendly law firms, it looks like there might be a reason why Morrison Foerster (MoFo) should not have made that list.  Although MoFo claims to have family-friendly policies, the law suit alleges that women lawyers who took maternity leave were delayed in pay and advancement opportunities following their return to work.  The complaint alleges that one of the plaintiffs was warned against taking maternity leave when a partner told her that “parents tend not to do well in this group.”

A lawyer at Sanford Heisler Sharp summed up their clients’ claims this way:  “MoFo’s employment practices perpetuate the ‘good old boys’ club culture that has dominated law firms for decades.”  She further stated that practices like those alleged in the lawsuit hold women back and promote damaging stereotypes of women in the legal profession.

As pointed out by Vivia Chen in her article today in the American Lawyer, “Are Women in Law Finally Empowered to Speak Out Against Inequality?,” it is possible that the #MeToo movement may embolden women to bring these kinds of suits against their employers, but there is a difference between the “sexy” suits alleging gender discrimination and the “not-so-sexy” suits based on employment discrimination.  Yes, it may sound like it is all part of one ball of unequal wax, but, practically speaking, that may not be the case.  Until now, it seems that some gender issues have been more equal than others.

However, as the Chen article points out, the number of Big Law partners, who have been dismissed by their firms for alleged sexual misconduct (at Baker McKenzie, Mayer Brown and Latham Watkins, for instance), is on the rise and evidences willingness by law firms to cut ties with some of the Old Boys to avoid lawsuits.  These recent developments may  provide a real source of hope for equal treatment for women lawyers in law firms.

Hitting law firms where it hurts and negatively affecting PPP after pay-outs from big settlements and plaintiff’s verdicts may be the biggest weapons women have.  In her article, Chen quotes Jodi Hersch, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School, as saying that businesses haven’t been motivated to fix harassment problems because they haven’t paid a high price for them. Roberta Leibenberg, former Chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, also is quoted in the article as saying that the harm to reputation is a major concern that law firms have to consider if they continue to be vulnerable to claims of gender discrimination.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out.  One thing we know for sure, however, is that doing the right thing cannot compare with the profit and reputation motive where law firms are concerned.  It never has.







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Women Lawyers Can be Lonely Lawyers

Isolation as a big firm associate is a common problem today.  Settings like Big Law are very impersonal, and young lawyers can go days and sometimes weeks without any conversation with another member of the firm — especially with partners and especially conversation that demonstrates any real interest in the young lawyers at all.  Sad but true.

I am repeatedly told this by young lawyers, both male and female, and I spend a lot of time writing about it in my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want, which will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers this summer.   It is a very big problem and one that all lawyers need to be thinking about.

And after the thinking, those same lawyers — particularly those in management and leadership in large firms — should put their efforts toward doing something about it posthaste.  The young lawyers in these firms are its future leaders, and succession plans are bound to suffer unless current management and leadership come to grips with changing times, which include greater need for personal interaction, positive reinforcement, and effective mentoring to combat the mental drain that isolation has on young lawyers.

Law firms today are not what they were forty years ago when today’s senior lawyers were associates.  As one of my former colleagues and now a very senior partner at a large firm wrote to me recently, “While the digital age has many benefits, it tends to eliminate a great deal of the face to face contact young lawyers of our day had with partners, other lawyers and even secretaries, who often gave a new attorney a good deal of excellent practical advice.” 

To underscore the importance of this issue, a recent Above the Law blog included an article addressing the problem of loneliness, a bi-product of isolation.  The author, Jeena Cho, is the co-author of The Anxious Lawyer, a book written by lawyers for lawyers that makes mindfulness and meditation accessible and approachable.  Here is a part of Ms. Cho’s article that sums up the problem:

I was at a conference in a breakout session and one lawyer shared, “Even though there are 300 lawyers in my building, I feel so lonely.” Loneliness can come in many flavors. You can feel lonely from physical isolation — being locked in a room, doing research for 12 hours with little human interaction except for the steady stream of emails and Facebook breaks. You can feel lonely because you feel different — which can lead to feeling as though you don’t belong. …

You can feel lonely because you don’t have a significant other. You can feel lonely because you don’t have people you can trust and confide in at work. You can also feel lonely because you’ve been working way too much and you feel disconnected from yourself.

The author also points out that loneliness implies vulnerability, and most lawyers do not like to feel vulnerable.  This is true, but the ostrich approach of sticking your head in the sand hoping the problem will go away is rarely successful.  So, it is time to look at some of Ms. Cho’s advice about dealing with loneliness as a lawyer, especially as a young lawyer, and learn from it.  She writes:

  • Take tiny actions. Email a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Call your mom. Whatever tiny action you can take to break the isolation — start there.
  • See a therapist. If the loneliness feels debilitating or you’re having difficulties managing it on your own, consider seeing a therapist.
  • Remember that you are not alone. Everyone experiences loneliness sometimes.
  • Take a trip.  Even a short trip.  A physical change in your environment can help to foster different experiences and ideas; and
  • Join online communities. There are many online communities for just about every interest. Go on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and look for people who share similar interests.

And, I would add, if online communities are not for you, make a list of your interests and look for local organizations and groups devoted to those same interests.  Maybe it is golf, biking, hiking, gardening, reading, fly fishing, music … and the list goes on and on.  There is a group for almost every interest you may have.

Refuse to be satisfied with loneliness.  It means that you must become proactive, but the rewards will be immeasurable.  It will feel so good to knock loneliness out!

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Important Information for Women Lawyers about Female-Friendly and Family-Friendly Law Firms

Drum roll, please.  The lists are out!

Yale Law School has once again published its lists, and the results are reported in a recent article in The American Lawyer.  This is the 10th year that the law school has published a family-friendly list, but this year, in an attempt at gender neutrality and elimination of gender stereotypes, Yale Law has published two separate lists:  The traditional family-friendly list and a separate female-friendly list.

The two lists make sense to me, and I am happy to see the research and reporting take this new direction.  Not all women lawyers will have families, and some women lawyers will concentrate solely on professional pursuits with less concern for work-life balance.  There is no right or wrong in those decisions, and separating the lists makes it easier for readers to line up their professional aspirations with the research.

According to the article, in preparing the reports, Yale Law Women surveyed nearly 50 firms in Big Law and looked closely at the policies of those firms related to family leave and gender equality.  The responses from the firms were then compared with surveys of both male and female Yale Law graduates working at those firms.  As an example of the criteria used to determine the degree of gender equity in firms, Yale Law Women looked at hiring statistics, representation of women in leadership and promotions, and the firm’s commitment to training and mentorship of both female and male lawyers.

Congratulations to Morgan Lewis and Orrick for appearing on both the family-friendly and the female-friendly lists.

Other statistics reported show that only three of the firms surveyed (Littler Mendelsohn, Ropes & Gray and Wilmer Cutler) had at least 25 percent women equity partners and only five firms surveyed (Hunton & Williams, Morrison & Foerster, Perkins Coie, Reed Smith and Squire Patton Boggs) have at least 35 percent female representation on the firm’s executive committee.

Another interesting statistic showed that only 32 percent of male lawyers in the surveyed firms took some amount of caregiver leave.  As noted in the article, if only women lawyers are taking caregiver leave, that alone may evidence an issue of gender inequality.

These lists and others like them should not control your interest in working at a firm, but they can be used as a factor in determining that interest and your suitability for joining a particular workforce.   The lists and the criteria used by surveyors also can help to identify the issues you should be looking at in making critical career choices.

Not interested in Big Law?  Even if you are not headed in that direction, these lists can give you a good idea of the progress being made on issues that should be of interest to you.  So, check it out!

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