Recruiting On-Ramp Employees

Today’s blog is courtesy of Rebecca McNeill, a founder of McNeill Baur in Cambridge, MA.  She addresses the importance of recruiting on-ramp employees.  I enthusiastically support these initiatives and the work of the OnRamp Fellowship.

Making the Case for Law Firm Recruiting of On-Ramp Employees

Law firms can access wider talent pools by creating on ramps for attorneys and support staff who have left the work force to care for growing families or for other reasons. While many law firms, including ours, offer part-time employment, sometimes an employee, such as a working parent, leaves the work force for a period of time. Whether working parents lean in, balance it all, or take a break from their careers, employers should cast a wide recruiting net. The number of open positions in law firms and corporate legal departments shows that finding and retaining legal talent presents a major challenge.

Our 100% woman-owned, life science patent firm has had tremendous success on-ramping. Our 28-person firm employs three on-rampers who had stayed home with children for from one year to more than a decade. By remembering on-ramp candidates and making some modest changes, law firms like ours can improve on-ramping success. While some of these suggestions apply only to attorneys, other suggestions apply to staff, as well.

  • First, law firms can consider how they advertise positions and recruit candidates, whether for attorneys or staff members. As a first step, each of our job postings indicates that we welcome on-ramp employees. By warmly welcoming parents returning to the workforce, law firms open the door for those applicants. We do not penalize applicants for gaps in their resumes and, when applicable, we talk to them in the interview process about how they can refresh their skills and catch up on legal developments. We also actively target our networks to connect with parents who are home with families and invite them to consider reentering the work force.
  • Second, law firms should carefully revisit part-time employment policies as many on-ramp candidates desire a part-time schedule. Many firms have part-time options, but some offer only a few set options (1200 hours, 1600 hours, for example). Our firm has offered more flexibility to part-time employees in setting their own billable hour goal. Additionally, if part-time employees exceed their billable hour goal, we do not penalize them for initially choosing a lower hour goal. An attorney who selects a 1300-hours target, but actually works 1425 hours makes the same amount as if they had set 1425 as their original goal. We also compensate attorneys for every hour worked over their target, as opposed to only awarding bonuses on 50- or 100-hour increments. This encourages part-time attorneys to choose a billable hour goal that allows for intermittent challenges that many parents face, such as the winter when all the kids get strep throat (sequentially). Valuing each hour a part-time employee works equally to the same hour a full-time employee works helps demonstrate our commitment to part-time employees.
  • Third, law firms should carefully tailor assignments for on-ramp employees to meet their skills, interests, and time commitments. Our firm has both large and small patent prosecution portfolios. Giving a part-time employee a small portfolio, but letting them manage all of the work for a small client can offer more career satisfaction than taking only part of a large portfolio. Firm can also offer flexibility to employees contending with school vacation schedules by offering project work like opinions and application writing that will wrap up before the attorney needs to be out of the office.
  • Finally, law firms must recognize that not every smart, talented, and committed attorney wants a rainmaker role or their own book of business. Firms must reevaluate their up-or-out approach. Our firm has committed to retaining employed attorneys for the long term whether or not they develop their own book of business. Even though we do not set limits on our part-time employees, our firm offers long-term non-partnership roles at the firm for attorneys who prefer to serve in a supportive role.

Reaching on-ramp candidates can improve law firm diversity and allow access to new talent pools. Offering on-ramp candidates a way to reenter the work force on their terms also improves attorney happiness and retention.

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The College Admissions Scandal and the Importance of Values to All Young Lawyers

The current college admissions scandal.  How awful.

Not that we did not suspect lack of fair play in college admissions.  We all are aware of the legacy preferences and how the issues of societal inequities play out in this setting, but the magnitude of the alleged criminal behavior and its impact on applicants nationwide is nothing short of disgusting — and very predictable.  It was only a matter of time before the misplaced motives of helicopter parents reached such a low.

Coincidentally, my new book addresses the erosion of values in the legal profession, specifically the current toxic cultures of many large law firms.  In What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018, I discuss the respectable values that have been lost or seriously ignored in our profession for too long and the resurgence of those values in the most recent generations of lawyers.  I also discuss the destructive behavior of helicopter parents.

This recent scandal confirms my suspicions that the lessons of that book have a larger application beyond the profession of law.  The values discussed in What Millennial Lawyers Want include honor, respect, compassion, and service to others, values that are resurfacing in the Millennial Generation and in millennial lawyers today.  The recent scandal should serve to increase an awareness of the importance of those values.

Fortunately, the behaviors involved in the college admissions scandal are not typical of any generation.  The players in this scandal are from a tiny segment of society that most of us will never know.  They are from a small pocket of elitism and entitlement that most members of society do not identify with and cannot even imagine.  The behaviors are selfish and destructive on multiple levels and have so many offensive and reprehensible layers, including the layer of betrayal of what it means to be compassionate, honorable and responsive to the needs of others.

And now, as if to add insult to injury, students at Stanford and other schools with alleged connections to this scandal, have filed suit claiming that their educational experiences will be devalued by the scandal.  That somehow they are the injured parties instead of opportunists jumping in to take advantage of any benefit they see for themselves.

These new litigants have lost their way and display the same selfish attitudes as those caught up in the scandal.  They are not the harmed, but their attempts to portray themselves in that manner expose the degree to which the values in our society have eroded.

We must reclaim the positive values that once were the bedrock of our society.   We hear that message in the political arena on a daily basis, but too often we feel powerless to do anything about it.  But powerless in the political arena is different from being powerless in our own lives and professions.

So, let the effort to reclaim proven values begin with the lawyers, whose ethical considerations and cannons of behavior once meant something.  Let it begin with the lawyers, who are required to study ethics in law school and are tested on ethical behavior on bar exams because truth and admirable behavior is what we should expect of ourselves.

There is no need in our profession for devising an effective code of behavior.  We already have one.  All we have to do is dust it off and live up to it — and require that same commitment by our law firms and institutions.

Don’t waste your time on the super elite and entitled.  The criminal justice system will take care of them — at least until the next time.

There is plenty of work for all of us right here below the stratosphere.

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Young Lawyers: Beware of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse are big problems in our profession today.  I call attention to these issues whenever I get the opportunity to speak to lawyers, young and older.  I did it at the event for the launch of my new book at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago on February 4th and also two days later at a program for law students in Michigan.  I implored them to be careful personally and to be vigilant on behalf of colleagues.

I noted at both events that the American Bar Association (ABA) has identified an initiative to address these issues and that studies show that these problems often start as early as law school.  They are issues that all of us in the legal profession need to take very seriously.

Consider these findings from the 2016 National Study of Lawyer Well-Being released by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation:

  • 25 percent of law students are at risk for alcoholism;
  • 17 percent of law students suffer from depression;
  • 37 percent of law students report mild to severe anxiety;
  • 6 percent of law students report having suicidal thoughts in the year of the study;
  • 28 percent lawyers suffered from depression;
  • 19 percent of lawyers had severe anxiety; and
  • 11.4 percent of lawyers had suicidal thoughts in the previous year.

And this additional remarkable and sad finding:  That law students will not ask for help because they are terrified of somebody finding out that they have a problem, which will result in not being admitted to the bar or not being able to get a job.

Recently, on January 26th, representatives from state and local bar associations and law schools joined ABA members in Las Vegas for an interactive program, “Getting on the Path to Lawyer Well-Being,” to discuss risk management and professional responsibility issues for legal employers and bar associations.   So, the focus on these problems continues, and efforts to reach as many lawyers and law students are on-going.

Please forward this to all of the lawyers you care about.  Protect yourselves and your colleagues.  Do not assume that the lawyers you love and admire do not need to see it.  Do not be deterred by stigmas.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for the help you need.  It is an act of bravery.

 

 

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For All Women Lawyers and Those Who Lead Them

As you leave your offices and homes to travel to the places where family and friends will gather on this Thanksgiving Day, I share with you this video.  It is worthy of your attention, both in giving thanks to those who support you and in giving thanks that the journey is made easier by their efforts.

The video was sent to me by a young woman lawyer friend of mine earlier this week, and I was so pleased to respond that I know the speaker, Alan Bryan, who is an enthusiastic supporter of Best Friends at the Bar.  I was present to hear him deliver these remarks at the National Association of Women Lawyers conference several years ago, and, like so many others in the audience, I was inspired by his words.  I know that you will be also, and I encourage you to watch the video.

Be sure you watch and listen all the way to the end.  It is there that Alan talks about his aspirations for his daughter, then a two-and one-half-year-old bundle of energy and determination.  You will be cheating yourself if you skip it.

This is my gift to you on Thanksgiving Day 2018.  I wish you and your families and friends well, including safe travels, tasty food, and love all around.

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Be Aware of Warning Signs of Instability in Young Lawyers

The facts shared this week via an open letter from the widow of a Sidley lawyer were shocking and heartbreaking.  The suicide of a 42-year-old partner in the LA office raised many issues of our responsibilities as lawyers to our colleagues.

It was discovered too late that this suicide victim suffered from a form of perfectionism that created so much pressure, anxiety and insecurity that the only way out seemed to be to take his own life.  If those facts came as a complete shock to everyone around him, that would give those of us in the profession some relief.  It would give us comfort to know that no one could have known.

But, that does not appear to be the case.  It has been reported that his behavior at the office had changed.  He had stopped laughing, he became more isolated, and he was showing outward signs of extreme stress.  Yet, no one looked further than to wonder about his behavior.  No one brought it to the attention of management to get him the help he needed.  No one understood the gravity of the situation.

And that is not to blame them.  It is just to say that they did not understand that it could end so badly.

We all must keep our antennae up for changes in behavior that could evidence deep-seeded and potentially harmful problems among those we work with and those we live with.  Ours is a stressful profession, at best, and most of us learn to deal with the stress. But that is not the way it works for some people, particularly young lawyers, who view getting help with issues of mental health and addiction as shameful and threatening to job security.  Stress is an insidious actor that brings out the worst in people.  We all need to be aware of our own well-being and the well-being of those we value.

It is because cases like this have become more common in our legal spaces that the American Bar Association recently identified an initiative centered on addressing mental health and addiction issues in our profession.  All law firms and law organizations should take advantage of the research and resources to raise awareness and be prepared to help those at risk among us to the greatest extent possible. 

We need to work together for a time when finding out too late is not the only option.

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New Article Published in Corporate Counsel

See my article about MILLENNIAL LAWYERS published recently in Corporate Counsel.

Here is the link:  https://www.law.com/corpcounsel/2018/10/25/what-millennial-lawyers-want-a-bridge-from-the-past-to-the-future-of-law-practice/?slreturn=20180926090755.

Millennial lawyers are going to like this, and senior lawyers are going to learn a lot!

 

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LSAT Haters: Listen Up

Everyone hates the LSAT, and that is the way we like it.  Hating people is not good — in fact it is very, very bad — but hating tests is OK.  So many former LSAT takers are very happy hating this ridiculous test (which only predicts success in the first semester of law school), and we want our bad memories left in tact.

But, now we are told that the LSAT has a benefit beyond giving some people an edge toward law school acceptance.  The benefit approach is just plain not fair or productive in the hating process.

Here’s the scoop.  A recent article cites research to support that the LSAT can actually make you smarter.  Yes.  You read that right.  Smarter.  Apparently neurons start firing better and more effectively when studying for and taking the LSAT, and response times are reduced while answering the many annoying questions during the test and test review.

You would think it would be just the opposite and that the neurons would just doze off and try to sleep through the entire miserable experience.  These researchers must be looking at some really tough or really bored neurons.

So, all you LSAT haters need to listen up.  You may need to mend your hating ways.  In fact, if you want to get really smart, study for and take an LSAT several times each year.  Even if you are already through law school and practicing law.  You either want to get smarter or you don’t.  No pain, no gain.

Study those fact patterns 24-7, and see how smart you get.  The results will be so impressive.  You will walk taller, talk smarter, and feel superior to almost everyone.  You may even want to have a t-shirt made with your highest LSAT score and your IQ printed on both the front and the back.  That way, no one will miss this important message.

Of course, be ready for the dark side.  Really smart people are not that much fun to hang with.  So, your friends, who do not want to indulge in deductive reasoning while sitting at a jazz bar, will abandon you.  You no longer will be invited to join the gang at sporting events because they will remember you screaming “The answer is definitely the inverse” the last time when everyone else was cheering “Go Bears.”

And, it does not stop there.  Your family will forget the “family first” policy, and there will be no chair for you at Thanksgiving dinner.  And the people at the office … well, they thought you were weird to begin with, so no hope there.

Or you could be satisfied to be an LSAT hater.  For ever and ever.  The percs are great.  Fun people.  Fun times.  Fun life.

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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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