The Law is a Tough Business

In response to my most recent column in the ABA Journal addressing reengineering the law profession — including reforms to law school curricula, bar exam content, the benefits of mandatory apprenticships and improved mentoring — I have received e-mails from readers all over the country. Some of those e-mails are from young lawyers thanking me for writing the piece and also telling me their unfortunate stories. It always pains me to read how isolated and alone young lawyers feel and how disappointed they are as members of a profession that seems not to care about their career development or work satisfaction.

Here are some of those stories.

I heard from a young female lawyer, who has practiced less than a year and is thinking about leaving the profession. She was especially concerned about the workload and the lack of mentoring and career development at her law firm. My response to her was to remind her that the law is a tough profession and that the first years of practice are especially challenging. I suggested to her that it is not prudent to leave a profession after such a short time in practice. It is not good for a resume, and it does not say much for her perseverance. Although I agreed with her that effective mentoring should be forthcoming from firm leadership, I suggested to her that she needs to be proactive. She needs to actively seek out mentors in the firm and to join local bar associations where mentorship is typically addressed and provided.

I also heard from a male lawyer who, after nine years in a law firm, is considering leaving the profession because of unfulfilled expectations. He wrote that he feels like he is still functioning as a clerk and does not receive much respect or interest in his career path. For him, my response was not the same. After nine years, he is likely to know better than anyone else that he needs something different and must make a change. My hope is that he has made enough money in those nine years to buy down any student loans he may have from law school and to accrue enough savings to give himself a cushion. If that is the case, he will be in a much better position to consider alternatives to private law practice. Leaving the profession altogether may be an overreaction, and my suggestion was that he look for a career path that includes alternative legal work spaces or that uses his legal skills in a different setting. I also suggested that he consult with a life coach who specializes in working with lawyers. Those consultants are available in most large legal markets and also can be found on the Internet.

And I heard from seasoned lawyers, who were very complimentary about the column. One of them, a foreign-educated lawyer, had fulfilled the requirements of a mandatory apprenticeship program in her country and found it to be invaluable. Others opined that the reforms I suggest in the column, although laudatory, will never happen. To that I responded that those reforms will never happen if people like me stop advocating for them and stop getting information about reform initiatives into the public forum for discussion.

You can take that to mean that I will not stop trying to make things better for young lawyers. You have my word.

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Taking a Close Look at the Law Profession

The law profession is ripe for a close look at how it is serving its members. And that close look needs to begin at the bottom. It needs to focus on entry-level lawyers and how their experiences can be improved and enriched — for their benefit and for the benefit of the organizations they serve.

My ABA Journal February column was published today and explores reengineering of the law profession — from the bottom up. It includes proposals for changes to law school curricula to produce “practice ready” lawyers, revisions to bar exams to contribute to that same goal, and the need for apprenticeships/internships and effective mentoring to enhance and advance the careers of young lawyers and preserve their talent to take law firms into the future.

A fresh look at these subjects is long overdue and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. The concept of “practice ready” lawyers has been kicked around for years in the profession, but the resistance from law schools, boards of bar examiners, and bar prep companies has been significant. They all have turf to protect that makes initiating change difficult.

Keep in mind that the US is not the only legal market in the world. Other countries approach legal education and legal licensure differently, especially those countries that impose mandatory requirements for post-graduate apprenticeships to assure competency and readiness for practice . In Canada, for example, the apprenticeship requirement is known as “Articling,” and every lawyer in Canada, after graduating from law school and before being admitted to the bar, is required to go through one year of Articling. In British Columbia, that one year of Articling consists of three months of practical courses followed by the bar exam and nine months of practical experience in a law firm.

In the UK, the apprenticeship requirement to become a barrister is known as “pupillage,” and legal licensure in Germany requires a multiple-stage clerkship. These programs are all designed to avoid what happens in America where entry-level lawyers have little practical experience, feel ill-prepared for practice, and suffer feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and loss of confidence as a result. For those who do not receive effective mentoring at their law firms or other places of business, the temptation to leave the profession is strong and too many of them do just that.

So our failure to meet the needs of future lawyers results in loss of talent in the profession and negative impacts on succession plans. That does not make sense, and it does not have to be that way. Kicking the can down the road will get us nowhere. The time for change is now.

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Generous Women Lawyers Supporting Their Sisters-In-Law

This is the last blog in a three-part series based on the World Forum for Women in the Law program produced by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and offered virtually at the end of January 2021. It was an invaluable listening experience for young women attorneys and law students, and, for the last few weeks, I have been using this blog to bring some highlights of that conference to you. I appreciate how busy you are, and I do not want you to miss out on the information and advice.

Today’s topic is especially important to me. The subject matter of women lawyers supporting other women lawyers came up during an interview with Judy Perry Martinez, past president of the American Bar Association, and her remarks echoed my own in my books, articles and addresses. Ms. Martinez’s comments centered on the generous women who supported her and how women should use their power to allow others to grow — in contrast to hoarding power and focusing on the shortcomings of others to gain personal advantage.

It is the common concept of sharing resources and paying it forward that we hear so much about and which is fundamental to the rise of women in the law profession. The emphasis of Ms. Martinez’s remarks was on the ability of women leaders to build confidence in others, let them know that they are supported, and help them achieve all that they can be.

This discussion was followed by an interview with the Honorable Tammy Duckworth, US Congresswoman. The emphasis of her remarks centered on women believing that they are entitled to power and wielding power responsibly, compassionately and ethically. As a former soldier, Ms. Duckworth uniquely understands the importance of rank having privileges as well as responsibilities. Those responsibilities include straight talk, integrity, inclusiveness, effective tone and having the courage of your convictions.

The congresswoman underscored the importance of being good to everyone on your team because you never know who will step forward with a skill that you need.

These women have walked the walk as well as talked the talk, and I hope that this conference will become an annual event. There was so much to learn from seasoned women lawyers like these, and those of us in the audience were privileged to have the opportunity to hear them candidly share their remarks and advice.

Please join the event next year. You will be happy that you did.

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More From Great Women Lawyers

As I stated in last week’s blog, I hope many of you were able to hear at least some of the three-day World Forum for Women in the Law virtual program that was produced by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and offered at the end of January. It was a very valuable program, and I am using this blog to bring some highlights of that conference to you over the next few weeks. I appreciate how busy you are, and I do not want you to miss out on the information and advice.

One of my favorite parts of the program was an interview of Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and current distinguished Senior Fellow, The University of Chicago School of Law. Her candid discussion of her experience with The Imposter Syndrome hit so very close to home for me and I know for many women attorneys. As she discussed her self doubt about her qualifications and capabilities to be a student at Stanford Law, I reflected on my own experiences years earlier as a student at Georgetown Law. Most accomplished women will own up to feelings of insecurity, unworthiness and the reality that, in the words of Valerie Jarrett, they “never have been offered a job they felt qualified for.” At least not a job that was serious enough to impact their lives and validate or change their futures, I think.

Rather, Ms. Jarrett said that we have to get outside our comfort zones and “trust the adventure of life and go for our dreams.” She recommended using our powers of resilience to allow ourselves to become better with time. “Pivoting is OK. You have to be flexible and recognize that, when the perfect plan fails, is when the adventure begins.

Responding to a question about whether women are making progress, Ms. Jarrett implored all organizations to look at the level of diversity represented at management tables where questions of compensation and dignity are addressed. She encouraged them to ask the women and listen to them. She also urged law firms to influence their business clients on these issues to move the marker forward.

In making these remarks, Valerie Jarrett used these words: “It is hard to be what you cannot see.” Those words also are bedrocks of my writings and programs, and they are at the heart of diversity and mentorship objectives. Ms. Jarrett also emphasized the value of mentors, the imperative of fighting against implicit bias and on behalf of initiatives for equal pay, paid sick leave, and affordable childcare.

Ms. Jarrett closed with an emphasis on building relationships, learning from mistakes and this salient advice: “Don’t be a spectator in your life. Own your life and your decisions.

Advice does not get much better than that. I hope you “go to school” on it.

For more, check out the ABA’s description of the Valerie Jarrett interview and other interviews at this link.

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The Best Conference for Women Lawyers — EVER!

I hope many of you were able to hear at least some of the three-day World Forum for Women in the Law that was produced by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and offered last week for the first time, virtually of course. However, I understand the time commitments of law school and law practice, so I am using this blog to bring some highlights of that conference to you over the next few weeks.

The Forum, titled “Women, Power and Disrupting the Status Quo,” was the best conference for women lawyers that I have experienced during my practice and in the more than 15 years since as an advocate for women lawyers. I was gratified to hear the subjects that I have been addressing for so long through Best Friends at the Bar in a fresh new setting and from the perspective of an impressive array of women lawyers. What I found were passionate and authentic voices baring their soles for the advantage of other women, a truly invaluable strategy for amplifying the messages to reach as many women lawyers as possible.

If the names Valerie Jarrett, Vivia Chen, and Joyce White Vance are familiar to you through their remarkable careers and on-line media, then you already will understand the quality of the information and experiences shared by those women lawyers and other Forum participants from the US and around the world — including federal judges and prosecutors, law school professors and deans, law firm leaders and managers, and in-house counsel of companies with household names. This was three days of both validation of our worth as women lawyers and powerful mentoring. Egos were set aside and helping hands were extended in the most sincere and refreshing manner.

My future blogs on the Forum will include discussions of what makes a good leader, the Imposter Syndrome, advice to young women lawyers, board readiness, and cultivating allies and building a power base. But first, I want to share some of my favorite quotes from the program.

“When the perfect plan fails, the adventure begins.”

“You must have the ability to deal with rejection and then go right back at it.”

“Everyone needs role models. It is hard to be what you cannot see.”

“Don’t be a spectator in your own life. Don’t let others make decisions for you.”

“Women must believe that they are entitled to power.”

“Women lawyers need to develop their own brands as thought leaders.”

“Equality for women cannot be a dream. It must become a reality.”

“Pay attention to the work in front of you, but be aware of the world around you.”

“If they won’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” quoting the Honorable Shirley Chisholm.

“Take that leap. Fly. Women run the world and they also can run the law profession.”

I hope your interest is piqued, and I look forward to sharing more with you. By all means, look for this Forum to be offered again next year and SIGN UP when it is. You will be happy that you did.

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Women, Power and Disrupting the Status Quo

I encourage all of you who are registered for the January 27 to 29 ABA World Forum for Women in the Law titled “Women, Power and Disrupting the Status Quo” to be sure this program is on your calendar. Although the event is now closed for registration, those of you who are not able to attend will hear more about it in my future blogs, my ABA Journal monthly columns, and the Best Friends at the Bar social media and press releases.

This is the first world forum for women lawyers presented by the ABA, and it is an important and impressive program. The speakers are noteworthy and include: Christina Blacklaws, Immediate Past President of Law Society of England and Wales; Vivia Chen, award-winning columnist for the Careerist and the American Lawyer; Jo Ann Epps, Executive Vice President and Provost, Temple University; Stasia Kelly, Executive Director of Client Relations, DLA Piper; and Hon. Margaret McKeown, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, to name just a few.

The program will open with an interview of Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and current Distinguished Senior Fellow, The University of Chicago Law School. This interview will be conducted by Patricia Gillette, one of the country’s leading experts on gender diversity and equality in the workplace.  Pat and I have worked together in the field of advocacy for women lawyers for more than a decade, and I have learned a lot from her over the years. I am looking very forward to learning more from Pat and Ms. Jarrett in this interview.

This is one of those BE THERE world events for women lawyers. It is my pleasure to be asked to report it for the ABA, and I hope you all will join me there on Wednesday, January 27, at 11 AM and for the following two days, beginning at 10:30 AM on Thursday, January 28, and 10:00 AM on Friday, January 29th. All times are in Central Time.

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All Perks Are Not Equal

What job perks are the most important to you? Which ones would keep you at a job you were thinking about leaving? Does gender factor into the equation?

These are interesting questions, and they have been addressed recently in a survey. Although the survey was not particular to lawyers, the results are consistent with what you might expect to hear from those in the law profession.

According to the survey, flexibility is the most important job perk for women with children. It includes flexible hours, remote working, and commuter benefits, and everyone seems to want it. Especially women but also single employees. 

I certainly understand why women with childcare and family responsibilities are so interested in flexibility, but I must admit that I am not quite so sure why flexibility appeals so much to single employees. However, I expect that it is a reflection of other responsibilities in their lives and the need to balance those responsibilities and interests with time on the job. 

The survey results indicate that the major must-have perks are flexible hours (40.2%), paid insurance premiums (33.6%) and paid family leave (29.2%). Other important perks include the ability to regularly work remotely, discounts, and reimbursement for gym memberships. 

Check out the article and figure out where you stand on these issues. Knowing your priorities will help you to become an effective self advocate and find a satisfactory and satisfying balance between personal and professional responsibilities. 

Good luck!

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Welcome 2021!

Below is an excerpt from the November/December BFAB Newsletter published just in time to say goodbye to 2020. The newsletter publishes bi-monthly, and you can receive it by signing up on the website or e-mailing me at [email protected] You will be joining more than 800 lawyers and law firms that receive the newsletters and rely on it for updates on news about millennial and women lawyers.

As we bid an enthusiastic farewell to 2020 and look forward to the new year, the challenges of 2020 have focused my thoughts on the importance of empathy and caring for the less fortunate among us and our roles as lawyers in facing those challenges. We have seen healthcare and public safety professionals step up to offer comfort and protection to at risk populations during COVID-19, and those examples should provide incentives for all lawyers to be exemplary professionals, as well.

The opportunities for public service are replete. This year has been plagued by a breakdown in race relations and a public outcry to right the wrongs created by the lack of respect and tolerance in our society. As lawyers, we are uniquely positioned to respond to inequalities and injustices, and we should renew our commitments to pro bono representation, increase our participation in bar association programs to develop young lawyers to serve the public, and volunteer in law school clinical programs to show our dedication to the values underlying our profession.

We never should be satisfied to have profits alone define our success.

Happy New Year! I send you all best wishes, and I hope you will achieve your dreams and expectations this year in a COVID-free society. Until we reach that goal, please be safe, be protected and wear a mask. That combination will project you forward to a future that is informed by the past, lived in the moment, and hopeful for the future.

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