Are You Interested in Becoming In House Counsel?

Most lawyers think about the option of in house counsel at some time(s) during their careers. So the question is how satisfied with the work are those who dispense legal advice from inside business organizations?

A recent survey by Leopard Solutions may answer that question and more. Here are the takeaways:

In-house attorneys are, overall, satisfied with their work-life balance. 76% of respondents cite being either satisfied or very satisfied.

A return to a law firm is unlikely but not impossible. 52% of respondents said they would not consider a return to a law firm, many citing the billable hour and work-life balance as key drivers. However, financial incentives may be enough for some. Similarly, the number of attorneys returning to law firms from in-house positions dropped in 2022.

Corporations should look for opportunities for career advancement. Nearly half of respondents expressed neutrality or dissatisfaction with career advancement opportunities. This area is key for retention. A lack of opportunity may be driving in-house attorneys to the door.

Overall, corporations seem to be committed to diversity. 46% of respondents (41% of diverse respondents) felt their organization had made the commitment.

Law firms need to be strategic partners to their clients. Respondents look for firms to act as a true, strategic partners to and valuable resources. Firms can do this by providing practical business advice, offering innovating solutions, and helping their clients create new business connections.

So there you have it. If you want more detail, read the survey. I wish this information had been released in time for my new book. But, alas, the book went to print earlier this week. New Lawyer Launch: The Handbook for Young Lawyers (Full Court Press, 2022) will be available for pre-order in the next few weeks. Just in time for holiday gifting. I will keep you posted!

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Personal Definitions of Success Revisited

I really enjoy spending time with young people. The are fun, and they teach me a lot. I always walk away from them with something important to ponder. I don’t always agree with them, but I don’t have to. It is enough that they make me think.

Young lawyers are no exception.  Recently, when I was talking to a couple of young lawyers about their career objectives, I heard one of them say to the other, “You do you.”  It resonated with me, and it also reminded me of the similar messages I have been sending to young lawyers for more than a decade. 

I coined the phrase Personal Definitions of Success in my first book for young women lawyers, which was published in 2009. In those days, my focus was exclusively women lawyers because of the unique challenges they faced. It still was a bit of a Wild West for women lawyers in those days, and the playing field was very uneven for women as compared to men.  Although I was aware that all young lawyers needed help in those days, it was the women who got my attention. I had experienced those challenges firsthand, and I wanted to throw out a life line as best I could.

That does not mean that there are not special challenges for women lawyers today because there certainly are and always will be as long as women continue to be the primary caretakers of children and elderly and needy family members. But, after three books and scores of programs for women lawyers, I felt comfortable broadening my focus to include all young lawyers. I did that in my last book for and about millennial lawyers, and I am doing it again in a handbook for young lawyers, which will be released later this Fall. 

So whether you call it Personal Definitions of Success or “You do you”, it means the same thing. There is no one definition of success. Success does not mean full time work and partnership any more than it means part-time work and something less than partnership. It means what matters to YOU within your own definition of ambition and your values. It means different things to different people.

The most important thing that we can do as a profession is to respect all choices. Every single sincere Personal Definition of Success and career satisfaction is worthy of respect. 

So remember, you do you.

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The Competition for Talent at Law Firms Will Depend on Working Smarter, Not Harder

According to Thompson Reuters, as reported by Above The Law in this article, law firms that “crack the code on delivering the right mix of culture, flexibility and career path” stand to benefit enormously and retain talent in today’s highly competitive legal marketplace.

Specifically, a new report, cited by Thompson Reuters, concluded that compensation and workloads “are not the key factors driving lawyers’ decisions whether to leave their current firms and join different firms.” Rather, the majority of associates interviewed said that they value more the people they work with, the culture of the law firm, the quality of the work, clear paths for advancement, and flexible working practices. And the backup data demonstrates that one of the biggest sources of frustration for lawyers is not necessarily the number of hours worked but a lack of flexibility about when and where the work is done.

What is the source of these new-found attitudes? For starters, they are not so much new-found as newly and more effectively articulated. After two years of pandemic conditions of disruption and uncertainty, lawyers have emerged with a clearer vision of what satisfies their needs, especially those of young lawyers.

I was particularly pleased to read the emphasis on the opportunities presented to law firms by these new attitudes. Firms stand to benefit significantly from these new trends if they pay close attention and follow up with improved policies that meet the needs of today’s workers.

And this is where the part about “working smarter” comes in. To be successful in this new environment and amid different attitudes about work, firms will have to provide all of the tools, like state-of-the-art technology and management systems, to the lawyers in their ranks to retain them and take full advantage of their talents.

This is music to my ears. I addressed these same concepts in my 2015 book, Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers ( Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers), and I have written about it in other books, columns and articles. Although some of those publications focused on women lawyers, the concepts addressed there are easily transferable to non-gender audiences and readers.

Healthy workplace cultures, effective mentoring, and flexibility are not gender specific. But they are essential.

https://abovethelaw.com/2022/06/law-firm-talent-competition-will-hinge-on-firms-ability-to-help-lawyers-work-smarter-not-harder/

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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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