Young Lawyers Should Reach For Their Dreams: The Example of Belva Lockwood

This blog post is not only for women lawyers.  It is for all young lawyers.  It just happens that Belva Lockwood is one of the best examples of reaching for dreams of practicing law — because of the lack of opportunities for women during her lifetime.

So, you say, “Who is Belva Lockwood?”  If you attend or attended George Washington University Law — where she graduated from a predecessor law school there and where the Belva Lockwood Society is very active — you would know.  If not, it is much less likely that you ever have heard of her.

I am fortunate to be a guest at the Belva Lockwood luncheon from time to time (yes, they do let Georgetown Law grads attend!), so I have heard her story told by those who know it best.  Here is that story for those of you who have not heard it before. 

Like Belva Lockwood, all young lawyers need to follow their dreams.  It is more important than ever because the profession has changed so dramatically so quickly:

  • Technology now has such a prominent role in law practice that young lawyers spend hours and hours each day in front of computer monitors isolated and  doing work that does not feel remotely like what they thought was the promise of a hard-earned law degree; 
  • Today there are so many layers between partners that control clients and entry level lawyers, especially in Big Law, that young lawyers are denied the mentoring experiences which are so meaningful to them and so important to developing talent and future law firm leaders; and
  • Today young lawyers in large private practice venues are being managed by associates more senior to them — associates who have no experience in management, supervision or positive reinforcement/motivation.  Instead, those more senior associates are competing with more junior associates for the prize of partnership, which makes them unlikely and ineffective in mentoring roles.

Young lawyers deserve more.  They deserve interesting work and helpful feedback to make their work as meaningful as possible.  My recent blog makes that clear.  If you missed it, I suggest you read it and know that there are people who understand your dilemma and are on your side.

My advice to you is:  Don’t settle.  If you are not getting what you need in your current practice setting, look beyond it.  Get a copy of my book about balance where I explore a wide variety of practice settings and include examples of lawyers, who have left law firms and successfully transitioned into new venues.

To define your professional dream, you will have to value your talents and the best place to use them.  Sometimes taking the long view requires getting the critical experience you need before moving on, but that does not mean that you should give up on your dreams.  During that learning experience, remember that you deserve to have a professional life that satisfies you and also allows you to have a satisfying personal life.  It is hard to be truly satisfied in either your professional or personal life without that kind of balance.

To keep your options open and follow your dreams, you also need to keep your spending in check.  Make good business decisions and save money for a rainy day that may come while you are figuring it all out.  That savings also will give you the flexibility to take a lower paying but more satisfying job at some point in your future.

Use the example of Belva Lockwood and her grit and determination.  Don’t take “no” for an answer any more often than you must.  “No” is discouraging.  “I will find a way” is exhilarating.  That should be your goal.

 

 

 

 

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Young Lawyers: Are You Addressing Your Workplace Wellness?

Wellness is a big deal in the legal world today.  Not wellness as in healthcare law.  Wellness as in the mental and physical health of lawyers.

We know that statistics support a concern about drug and alcohol addiction among lawyers, but until recently the effects of anxiety and depression had not gotten as much attention.  It was a 2016 landmark study by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation that revealed to me just how widespread and alarming the problems have become among lawyers.

Anxiety and depression experienced by law professionals are serious and frequent and, in some cases, have led to suicides.  It is why law schools are joining the ABA and other bar associations in identifying wellness as a priority.  A recent article in the ABA Journal addressed concerns by summer associates for their mental health, and it has been shown that much of the anxiety and depression starts in law school and follows young lawyers into practice.

And most recently some Big Law firms are taking the concerns to the next level.  Firms like Reed Smith and Akin Gump have developed informational programs on wellness, and Latham Watkins is in the process of employing a Global Wellness Manager in its NYC office.  And many other firms have signed on to the Well-Being Pledge, a campaign launched by the ABA in September 2018 that encourages legal employers to take steps to improve the health and well-being of lawyers.

Concerning, yes.  Surprising, no.  Lawyers sacrifice their own mental and emotional wellness on a regular basis to meet sometimes unrealistic deadlines set by managing lawyers, courts and clients.  The legal profession is high pressure by definition, and there is an overwhelming perception that practitioners have to be perfect.  As a result, there is no reasonable expectation that the stresses caused by these kinds of pressures will be eliminated from practice, but learning how to manage and prevent them from elevating to serious anxiety and depression is key to survival and avoidance of professional burnout.

Some ways to attack improved wellness were offered by a concerned law professor in an article for Above the Law recently.  Interestingly, the author uses a comparison that I have used so many times when she points out that managing wellness is a lot like dealing with low oxygen levels on an airplane.  You have heard the flight attendants tell you over and over again to put your oxygen mask on first before you help others with theirs.  In other words, if you do not take care of yourself first, you will not be capable of helping others.  Not family, not friends, and not clients.

The author’s observation about inability to focus on the job and/or regrets about lack of happiness need to be taken particularly seriously, and also check out her suggestions about coping mechanisms to see what might be right for you.  Not everyone wants to keep a journal or meditate, but there is plenty more to choose from.

And pay attention to the professor’s comments on seeking therapy.  The stigma attached to mental and emotional therapy has become an unnecessary obstacle to wellness, and it must be overcome.

Hands down, my favorite part of the article is the 3Rs for those times when you feel on the verge of an anxiety attack:

  • Recognize that you are experiencing stress;
  • Relax by taking a break, walking your dog or participating in some other form of relaxation; and
  • Reroute your negative thoughts by challenging them and concentrating on a plan to move forward.

In other words, be kind, compassionate and forgiving of yourself.  Be well.

 

 

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Law Firms Should Follow Corporations in Looking Beyond Self-Interest

Law firm greed. 

I have been writing about the negative impact of greed in the law profession since 2016.  It was then that I first discussed how the greed manifested by large law firms is undercutting the professionalism of the business of law.  Those comments appeared in an article I penned for Corporate Counsel in its September issue that year, and I have discussed the concepts many times since in articles and remarks to legal audiences.

In essence, I argue that it was the greed of Wall Street that brought our economy to its knees in 2008, and it will be the greed of the law profession that will bring the business of law to its knees all too soon if we do not reverse course.  Reversing course will require a renewed dedication to the values of our workforce and the wellness of our law professionals, thoughtful consideration and action on specific issues of telecommuting and work-life balance, examination of the role of billable hours in determining competence and value, and use of our resources and talents to serve communities and society.

Most recently, I discussed these concepts at a law firm partnership retreat within the larger context of a discussion about what millennial lawyers want.  By building on the reality that millennial lawyers will be 75% of legal professionals by 2030 and the research that millennial lawyers desire less greed and more caring, I found my audience to be much more attentive than some audiences of the past.  Law firm managers now recognize that the future of their firms and robust succession plans lie with millennial lawyers and their millennial clients.  Numbers do not lie.

So, I was cautiously encouraged.  And then I was even more encouraged to see a reverse course from the Business Roundtable last week.  As reported in a Wall Street Journal article, leaders of some of America’s largest companies are rethinking the notion that corporate decisions should rightfully revolve around the needs and desires of shareholders.  Meaning profit to the exclusion of everything else.  Meaning greed.

So, business leaders extraordinaire, including the likes of Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Jeffrey Bezos of Amazon and scores of their corporate colleagues, have decided that corporate leaders should take into account all stakeholders — to include employees, customers and society at large — when making decisions about corporate direction.

The newly-formulated “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” begins with this sentence:

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity.

The new statement goes on to identify multiple obligations to support this goal, in the following order of importance:

  • Delivering value to customers.
  • Investing in employees.
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with suppliers.
  • Supporting the communities in which they work.
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders.

Some of these directives are mirror images of the arguments leveled against greed in the legal profession.  This is not surprising because law is a business, and, like other businesses, it must survive in a changing world.  Rules that worked yesterday may not work today.

Hopefully, this new view of corporate responsibility will rub off on law firm leaders who know that the clock is ticking and that the law firm leaders of tomorrow have different values and different world views.  And that those different values and world views need to be taken seriously and respected.

So much at stake.  So many watching.

 

 

 

 

 
 
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Family Planning for Women Lawyers

Last week’s blog addressed the realities of non-equity partnership.  As pointed out in that blog, there is a lot of difference between equity partnership and the increasing non-equity partnership cohort.  If you have to refresh your memory, this might be a good time to do it because family planning for women lawyers builds on some of the themes of that blog.

For example, even though non-equity partnership may not include all that women lawyers are seeking, it could be a fine landing place for them while they are trying to make motherhood and lawyering work.

When making that decision for yourself, the first thing that you have to understand is that reconciling those two roles is not just a matter of who takes on the responsibilities of childcare.  Typically that is a decision for you and your partner, but that decision is too often made on an uneven playing field.

That is because some of the important considerations going into that decision start long before you and your partner share parenting roles.  Specifically nine months before.

Once a woman becomes pregnant and is carrying a child, a strong bond develops that is not easily broken.  By the time that bond has developed over the period of gestation, the bond between mother and child is so strong that giving birth is like feeling the earth move.  It is the ultimate defining moment, and the responsibilities of that bond are not easily handed over to another — not even a partner.

At least, that is the way it worked for me and for so many women I know — Boomer Moms, Gen X Moms and, now, Millennial Moms.  Age does not seem to make a difference when it comes to the strength of the bond between mother and newborn.

As a result, often new mothers feel like they are the only ones to properly care for their babies and toddlers, especially.  Call it instinct.  Call it the bond.  Whatever you call it, the feelings are almost uncontrollable.

And these feelings do not always lend themselves to an equal division of childcare.  Although domestic partners, who both work outside the home, are sharing much more of home and childcare responsibilities today, the issues of childbearing are not shared.  They are personal to a woman — and not any less so for a woman lawyer.

So, I encourage you to read this article from Law.com addressing how women approach family planning in the legal profession.  It will give you critical information to help you make the best decisions about motherhood and your career when the time comes.

Here are some topics that are addressed there:

  • The legal profession is based upon a rewards system that values the attorney who is always at work and has few outside obligations — AND that does not describe women with family responsibilities;
  • The best time to start a family on the road to partnership;
  • The impact on a woman’s physical being during pregnancy while practicing law;
  • Whether having children effects opportunities to make partner;
  • Whether being able to work remotely “without judgment” has a bearing on making maternity/motherhood and law practice work;
  • The importance of a generous maternity leave; and
  • The importance of knowing yourself well enough to set realistic goals and make good career decisions.

Many sacrifices have been made in the careers of women lawyers for the sake of families.  In the day, I gave up my partnership for the privilege of  practicing part-time after my baby was born.  Yes, it impacted my career, but it also enriched my life.  And I never have regretted waiting longer for partnership.  It was a choice I was willing to make.

And you will have to make similar choices.  Know yourself, know the facts, and be prepared.

 

 

 

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Women Lawyers Could Use Golf “Fore” Business

This is where I tell you to do what I say and not what I do.  I am not a good example of what I am about to tell you.

I was raised in a family of golfers.  My grandfather was a par golfer plus and designed a few courses.  He taught my mom to play golf when she was a teenager — long before there were many women on the links.  My mom was a good golfer, better than my dad, if truth be told.  She loved the game and played at least three days a week during the summer.

I learned to golf when I was in grade school, and I got pretty good at it during high school.  I played a little after I went to college and then less after I got married (to someone who did not appreciate golf) and even less during law school and after I started to practice law.  After all, golf takes time.

That was my rationale for belonging to a golf club but never playing the game.  Stupid.  Even more stupid was not playing in the annual law firm/client golf tournament because my game was a little rusty by then.

So, when I read the article by Vivia Chen in The American Lawyer about why women lawyers should play golf to improve business opportunities, all I could do was sigh.  For all the bad golf decisions of my past.

In my defense, however, I do recall having at least one lucid moment on the subject of women and golf.  In Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need To Know about a Career in the Law, I included information about playing golf as a good business development tool in the chapter titled “Find a Comfort Zone for Promoting Work.” 

However, I took heat from some of my readers for embracing a “male-oriented” makeover for women that does not capitalize on typical “women’s strengths.”  That book was published in 2009, and it is now 2019.  What I tolerated as justifiable criticism then, has little relevance now.  I think we have moved on from “typical” gender stereotypes in the last decade.

So, consider golf.  Or, better yet, take up the game.   A lot of business is done on the golf course.  And, presumably, you want a piece of that action.

And, according to the article, this is why you should:

  • Because so few golfers are women (24%), any woman who plays gets special attention;
  • Golfing is a great place to network for business;
  • Men don’t worry about how well they play so why should women; and
  • It is not about whether you enjoy it.  It is all about doing what’s effective to enhance business opportunities.

So, as stated at the end of the article, “Are we dumb?”  I was.  But you can be smarter.

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The Dangers of Leaking Young Lawyer Talent

For more than a decade I have been urging law firms to retain and advance the talent of women lawyers.  The three-book Best Friends at the Bar series has been my effort to spread those messages, and most recently I have expanded my work to include cautionary messages about ignoring and losing the talent of all young lawyers — men and women alike — in What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).
 
Those books and the hundreds of blogs and articles I have written and speeches I have given include discussions of the many reasons why our institutions must change to become more inclusive of young people, starting with “the right thing to do” (which is almost always overlooked as a compelling reason) and ending with the sacrifice of future leadership (which should raise huge red flags).  Simply speaking, even if equity and fairness do not win out as arguments for change, the future of the profession should be cause for concern.  You would think that would get some attention, but you may have to think again.
 
I admit to getting discouraged every time I see yet another article on these subjects.  The most recent one appeared in Financial Times earlier this week, and you can read it here.  It is a good article on the problem of leaking law firm talent in the UK, and it echoes what is going on this side of “The Pond.”  But … you have heard it all before.
The article includes arguments like:
 
  • Law firms need to reshape their cultures, moving away from “rigid” traditions and “excessive” hours so they can retain more women and attract millennial lawyers;
  • The current shortage of talent needs to be addressed as increasing numbers of young lawyers abandon private practice; and
  • More than one in five young lawyers have transitioned out of private practice to in-house positions.
The conclusion from what appears to be the continuing need for this article and so many like it is that current law firm leadership is tone deaf on the subjects.  Current leadership is not willing to tackle law firm reform with the kinds of changes that address retention — like workplace values, work-life balance, and billable hour requirements — because doing that might impact client retention.  In other words, current law firm leadership too often cares more about money and power than anything else.  And there is no question what comes out on top when development of future law firm leaders is in competition with the high demands of clients.  Someone has to pay those big salaries at the top.  The careers of young lawyers and succession plans be damned.  Current leadership won’t be around to care.
 
 
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More on the Negative Effect of Greed on Women Lawyers — And Men

The New York Times article that I discussed in last week’s blog is worthy of your attention.  The examples used are of husband and wife lawyers, who are struggling to raise young children.  The upshot is that one parent — typically the female — has to make sacrifices such as cutting back to part-time status, giving up promotion opportunities, and making far less in salary to make these situations work.  This is the current reality despite the fact that American women of working age are the most educated than ever before.

The statistics are all there to make you feel really depressed — and they will have that effect.  In the past, we have focused on causes like discrimination and lack of family-friendly policies in examining the effect on the careers of women lawyers, but this article cites evidence that we should not be looking at gender alone.  The culprit, according to the author, has nothing to do with who has a Y chromosome.

The culprit is corporate greed.  Greed that manifests in long, inflexible hours and winner-take-all attitudes that more often than not “flatline” the careers of one member of a couple — more often than not the women.  Add to that the fact that working 50% more hours often results in 100% more salary.  As the article points out, it is not a linear comparison, and the extra money is very important to a young family.

Although it is not just the law profession that is guilty of short-circuiting talent in this way, it becomes clear that the law profession is a leader in the shift from a reasonably-oriented service industry mentality to a culture of money, power and greed.  The important question is not who is to blame but, rather, what can be done about it.  As you will see in the article, the answer lies in worker demand and significant challenges to management.  More predictable hours and flexibility in when and where the work gets done are good places to start.

But, the goal is not to create ways to allow women to work the same long, inflexible hours as men.  As expressed by one on-line comment to the article, “No one should be doing this.   A father working constantly is not a good father or partner. Or person, for that matter. Probably not healthy either. . . No wonder this country is a mess. We’re working ourselves to a literal and existential death.”

 Hear, hear.  It is a “systems problem” and, as I have written in What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, law employers have great incentive to change the workaholic cultures they have created.  It is a total sea change that is called for not a temporary fix.  And it needs to come as soon as possible before we lose more talent than our profession can afford.

Here is my favorite quote from the article:

“Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands… They have rich husbands because they step back from work.”

There is a lot to think about there.

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The Intersection of Motherhood and Partnership: What it Means for Women Lawyers

A recent edition of in the London-based Financial Times included a very thought-provoking article that is a must read for all women lawyers and those who lead them.  The sources are both UK and US based and there is no single geographic focus.

This is not just the “same old same old” you have read in the past.  Yes, the statistics will be recognizable because the percentage of women equity partners in law firms has not changed in recent history.  But there is much beyond those statistics for you to chew on and some new approaches that you may or may not agree with.

The article starts by taking on a giant, specifically the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, for the way that it frames the answer to the question, “Can you be a mother and a senior law firm partner?”  The Center’s emphasis on factors that are impossible to change is disputed on the basis that it fails to recognize the impact of unconscious bias and the effect of that bias on the upward mobility of women lawyers.

The issue of quotas for women partners is also discussed in a very balanced way, giving equal time to the pros and cons of that approach.  Although many women object to that kind of mandate and how it disadvantageously profiles them in the partnership, others argue that less radical approaches have proven unsuccessful.  You will have to decide where you fall on that spectrum.

Also included are some practical steps that firms can take to work out the maternity leave issues with women lawyers, who demonstrate the kind of talent and leadership skills valuable at the management level, and efforts that firms can take to keep women on maternity leave functioning as part of the team during that period of time.

The role of in-house general counsel and clients in reaching a more acceptable percentage of women at the top of law firms also was discussed.  This quote got my attention, “Those who until now have expected to be able to reach lawyers at any time of day or night need an understanding of what requests are urgent and what can wait until morning.”  This alone evidenced a new world order!

You also will see some interesting comments on the position of salaried partners, the marginalization that often results, and the critical role of achieving diversity at the top.   According to one source, “I’ve never heard of a balanced or diverse partnership underperforming.”  Amen to that.

Particularly interesting to me was the emphasis in the article that the issues addressed are not just all about women.  It is also about the new generation of young lawyers (millennial lawyers and the generation of lawyers to follow), who have embraced work-life balance issues that require a new approach.  With the additional emphasis in my work on issues related to millennial lawyers, I applaud the recognition of the broader view of what is needed to reform our profession.

I recommend this article for you and for you to share with the leaders in your firm.  The train is leaving the station, and we all need to get on board.

 

 

 

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