Women Lawyers and the Motherhood Penalty

Are you familiar with the “motherhood penalty?”  Well, you should be. 

According to an article published earlier this week, the “motherhood penalty” is identified in a recent study as one of the reasons why women make 81 cents of every dollar a man makes.  When, in fact, research also shows that having children raises wages for men, even correcting for the number of hours they work.

The gap between what mothers earn and what childless women and males earn is significant, and the gap between mothers and childless women has not narrowed since the 1980’s — even though the share of working mothers with young children has risen from 47% in 1975 to 70% in 2015.  The reasons cited for such slow progress are the lack of both paid parental leave and subsidized childcare.   

Sounds unfair, right?  But, maybe you think that it does not happen that way in the law profession.  Think again.  The example of a law firm was specifically cited in the article. 

 “You’re a female associate. Should you be considered for partnership at the end of your seven years, when you took nine months off?” 

The study came out of the University of Massachusetts and draws on research conducted by the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics.  That research tracked approximately 18,000 individuals from 5,000 families since the study began in 1968. 

And, yes, it is against the law to punish an employee for having family responsibilities.  But, employers know what to say and how to say it to remain within the law.  And although cases alleging discrimination based on family responsibilities have “skyrocketed” in recent years, the total number of cases still remains small, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lacks funds to proactively police the issue.

Sad but true.




Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

All Women Lawyers Need to Understand Pay Equity


It is time to revisit pay equity for women lawyers.  In this Buzzfeed article, you will read about a recently filed discrimination class action suit alleging pay inequity.  I take no position on the merits of the disputes described in this article.  My reason for including the article is that the issues you need to be familiar with are described well there.

I know that many of you think this never could happen to you at your firm.  You feel that you are being treated well and fairly in your current position, and the kinds of things described in this article are the furthest things from your mind.  This is how that sense of false security was described in the article:

“[W]omen lawyers often do well early in their careers. They now outnumber male students in law school, and men and women are recruited in nearly equal numbers by top firms.

But even though men and women attorneys bill roughly the same amount of hours, men are on average paid more at every level of their careers, according to a National Association of Women Lawyers survey. In 2007, women made up 16% of equity partners among survey respondents. By 2017, that percentage only rose to 19% — evidence that the glass ceiling is holding.”

Do not take anything for granted.  Become familiar with the issues and what to look for.  And, if you experience pay inequity, do not let an unsatisfactory situation languish.  Once you see a pattern of behavior that shows no signs of improving, take action.  Upon reading the article, you may conclude that the plaintiff in this lawsuit waited too long to act.  Too long to leave and too long to seek redress.

To learn more about the issues of pay inequity, I encourage you to read or reread my article in the DC Women’s Bar magazine.  As stated in that article, both women lawyers and law firms have their work cut out for them on this issue:

It is time for some real soul searching in law firms as they look to the future of the profession. Tolerating implicit gender bias and gender pay inequity will create adversity within the law firm ranks and increased competition among team members. It will discourage camaraderie and will undermine best practices. It also will have a negative effect on law firm succession plans as mid-level talented women lawyers leave because of unfair and unwise practices.

Always remember:  You have value.  You are worthy.  You must learn how to protect yourself.



Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

How Women Lawyers Perceive Men’s Behavior

It can be difficult to know how men and women are supposed to relate to each other in the workplace these days.  What is too much affection, and, God forbid, what is too much touching?  I have seen close colleagues in an office awkwardly come together for either a handshake or a hug or a cheek kiss, and it is not certain where the gesture will end up.  It resembles some kind of crane-like mating dance, and it is, of course, because they are uncertain about what is appropriate and not appropriate and what is allowed and not allowed.  It is painful to watch.

Everyone is a bit confused.  How much is too much is being addressed by many law firms today in the wake of the most open and candid conversation about sexual harassment that we ever have had in this country.  There is no right or wrong answer to many of the situations posited because firms will differ in their policies from one to the other.  And, most of that needs to be left to them.  They understand their cultures, and, presumably, they will create policies that are reflective of their people and those cultures.

But, there are a few standard responses to the “what is appropriate” question, and most of them fall better into the category of “what is outrageous” and clearly outside the realm of acceptable.  In an article this week by Patricia Hunt Holmes, retired partner at Vinson & Elkins, some of those standard responses are addressed.  In calling out “Men in Law,” Ms. Holmes lays out very clearly how women perceive men in the workplace and why the grades are low.   Here are some of the nuggets with a bit of my own commentary thrown in:

  • Don’t call women by names that you would use for a child — like honey, doll, sweetie and baby.  You laugh … but the evidence confirms that it still is happening.  Not ancient history like when I was an associate in a law firm and the FEDERAL JUDGE called me “honey.”  Definitely a “no no” then, and a “no no” now.  Miss or Ma’am will do.  It sounds stiff and archaic, but at least it is respectful;
  • Stop flirting with every woman in sight.  Most women are not interested, and the ones who are should not be — not in the workplace.  It almost never works out for them, and they should know it.  Keep it conversational and on terms that will allow you to continue to be colleagues without the baggage that comes from awkward sexual innuendo; and
  • Keep your door open when you are conferring with a female colleague in your office.  Only in situations where security is in question and information is very confidential should you ever close your door to the outside world when you are alone with a woman in your office.  It will lead to office rumors and can be very harmful to the woman’s career — not yours.  Years ago, when I was a much younger lawyer,  the managing partner of the firm always closed his door when he and I met in his office, and my secretary described for me what went on in the hallway outside.  Lots of speculating and twittering and a fair amount of jealousy thrown in.  That did me no good, and the men should know better.  They cannot be that clueless.

It is to her credit that Ms. Holmes takes the role of helping hand as it relates to the men she is addressing.  She calls them “good people” and reminds them of how their “missteps” can rob them of meaningful relationships with female colleagues.  She also cautions them not to allow the “current hysteria” to cause them to avoid working with women.

I know that the sweetie name calling, the flirting and the behind closed doors treatments sound like something out of a bygone era.  However, sadly, think again.  There is still a lot of bad stuff going on out there, and you need to have your eyes wide open.  These are the obvious ones.  It is the subtle ones that really will trip you up.







Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Young Lawyer | Comment


Today, Valentines Day, is a day for celebrating love.  We buy cards with red and pink hearts and poetic verses expressing our love, we share classic red (the color of love) roses with our loved ones, we have intimate candle lit dinners demonstrating our love, and we thank the powers that be for the opportunity to love whomever we wish.

Oh, wait a minute …. you say you are caught in the office and not able to participate in the Day of Love?  You cannot see yourself clear to taking a few hours off in the name of love?  And I say, if that is the case, you are overlooking the most important love of all.  The love of yourself.

Your job is not limited to the office.  It also is your “job” to love yourself, and that begins with a recognition that you must take care of yourself to be helpful and effective and loving to the others in your life.  It all starts with YOU.

Take time out for pleasure.  Take time out for people.  Take time out for just plain doing nothing and staring at a beautiful sunset.  It will help you gain perspective and make the hours spent toiling at your desk seem much less of a burden.  It will give you things to look forward to.  That is essential for healthy living and the balance that we all need.

So, love yourself.   Today is the perfect day to start.  Happy Valentines Day!

Career Counselors, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Young Lawyer | Comment

If Notorious RBG Is Encouraged about the Future For Women Lawyers, I’m ALL IN!

By all accounts, the appearance of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday at NYU Law was a huge success.  As always, she had interesting perspective on the past and future of women lawyers and on workplace dynamics.  Here is a link to coverage of the event.

I heard Justice Ginsburg speak at a law banquet years ago, and I found her completely believable, entertaining and without a scintilla of hubris.  What you see is exactly what you get with her.  Her sense of humor alone is so charming when combined with the realization that she is one of the most powerful legal intellects of our time.

My daughter drew a long straw when she was a law student and was chosen to attend an “intimate” conversation with Justice Ginsburg at the law school.  I remember the collective comments from the ten students chosen for this privilege about what an “adorable” woman the Justice is.  That was before she became notorious, and I had to remind them that she can slice and dice like no one else when a legal argument does not hold water.  But, I guess it is fair to say that she does it in an adorable way, and she dresses the part.  Who can resist the lace jabots?  And what a collection she has.

Some highlights from the report of the event are as follow:

  • Her support for the #MeToo Movement;
  • Not letting the bad behavior of others influence the good behavior you expect of yourself;
  • The importance of having strong female colleagues;
  • Her proposed “equal legal treatment” amendment to the Constitution; and
  • The importance of laughter in relationships and work environments.

Read the full article and see for yourself. 

You go, Notorious RBG!  Long may you reign.






Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Women Lawyers Beware: Social Media Posts Could Cost You Your Job

From time to time I write about the use of personal social media and the caveats for women lawyers.  In fact, my recommendation consistently has been that you get off personal social media all together.  But, I know how attached some of you are to instant feedback and gratification, so I continue to write about it.  You need to be reminded about the pitfalls of using social media on a regular basis.  Eyes and ears are everywhere.

Here is a scenario and question posed on a website addressing this issue.  The answer to the question may surprise you because many of you view your time away from the office and what you do on that time as completely personal and untouchable by your employer.  Well, think again.

“I posted something on my personal Facebook page that my employer found offensive and I was subsequently fired. It wasn’t about the company and was done during my own time. Isn’t that an infringement on my First Amendment rights? Can they fire me for expressing myself just because they didn’t like my message?”

Here is a summary of the answer provided on that website:

  • The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech in most circumstances, but that does not apply to private employers.
  • In most circumstances, a private employer can fire an employee for what he or she writes and says online and off.  Limited exceptions include protection by whistleblower laws if the employee is exposing unlawful or unethical activities within the employer company.
  • Many employers review the social-media profiles of prospective employees and may make decisions about whether to hire based on those posts.  Employers also can fire someone if the employer concludes that an activity undermines the employee’s role, authority or the company.

Please pay close attention.  As the website post points out, many careers are damaged by social media messages and advancement of those messages.  Beware of these far-reaching effects and post with caution — if you insist on posting.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Not Just for Women Lawyers —- All Women Must Use Their Power Responsibly

If you have not seen the video of CNN journalist Ashleigh Banfield responding to the accusations from an anonymous source of sexual abuse by comedian/actor Aziz Ansari, you need to.  Here’s the link, as presented by newsweek.com.  The accusations and the response have given rise to a lot of impassioned discussion and controversy, and women across the globe need to sort out the facts.

The point of your inquiry should be not whether the events took place but whether the events amount to the kind of sexual harassment that is the benchmark of the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement that followed.  Those movements are founded on a recognition that women have suffered abuse in the workplace because of an imbalance of power where they were powerless to refuse unwanted advances and remained silent because their employment and financial livelihood depended on cooperating with the abuse by powerful men, who controlled their futures and their ability to work.

That is not what the anonymous blogger complained of.  Rather, she complained of a date gone wrong, albeit with raw and unsavory facts, but a situation where she had the POWER to walk out —- as in TO LEAVE a situation that had turned into something she did not want.  She HAD THE POWER and leaving would not have cost her a job or curtailed any of her future employment opportunities.  There are no facts presented to indicate that she was being forced in any way to stay and to continue to experience behavior that she apparently found abhorrent.  In fact, when she finally did leave, the alleged abuser did not stand in her way.  Far from it.

Why is this important, and why am I breaking with tradition by taking it on?

The answer is simple.  Because, as Ashleigh Banfield states in her open letter to the accuser, complaints like those of the accuser diminish the value of legitimate movements, which involve true sexual harassment and abuse of power.  Muddying the water with descriptions of dates gone wrong (rather than workplace abuses) and women who fail to use the power they possess to extricate themselves from objectionable circumstances serve to retard the progress of these legitimate movements rather than advance them.

I have been talking about and writing about women lawyers using their power to control and manage their careers for over a decade.   Now, I want to send that same message to all women.  Although you may encounter an imbalance of power, you must use the POWER YOU HAVE to change your circumstances and protect your futures.

You have VALUE, and you have POWER.  Understand it and use it.  To do anything else is to join the abusers.



Career Counselors, Historical Perspectives, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

The Best Friends at the Bar Mission For Women Lawyers — A Look Back at 2017

The Best Friends at the Bar year is about to come to a close.  Yes, I know that the entire month of December lies ahead before the Big Ball drops in Times Square and that you still have time for holiday shopping, holiday cards, holiday decorations, attending parties, giving parties, baking and cooking … and the list goes on.  Do not panic, you have plenty of time to accomplish all this and more.  You are young and energetic and incredibly resourceful.  I have complete faith in you.

I, on the other hand, have the luxury of taking the month of December off each year to address my work-life balance.  December is when I concentrate on family and friends and help make memories.  It is when I listen to music, play the piano, read books, take long walks, and watch all the movies that I have missed earlier in the year.  It is when I stick close to home and don’t travel on business.  It renews me and gets me ready to jump into the new year with gusto and enthusiasm to connect once again with you, my readers.

So, this is my last blog of 2017, and it seems appropriate to look back on the year and see where the mission on behalf of women lawyers has taken Best Friends at the Bar.  Here is the retrospective:

  • I have delivered key note addresses at bar associations, including the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Tampa, Florida chapter of the Federal Bar Association;
  • I have spoken at law firms in Washington, DC and New York City and to other industry groups across the country;
  • I have served on panel discussions and written over 50 blogs on subjects from Advocacy to Zero Tolerance;
  • I have written the draft manuscript for a new book for Millennial lawyers; and
  • I have perfected a program on Soft Skills for Lawyers, which will be available in 2018.

This has kept me very busy, and I have enjoyed it all.  Best Friends at the Bar is a gratifying project that positively affects the lives of so many women lawyers, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to carry out this mission.   I hear from many of you, and your comments make it all worth while …

Like the young woman standing in the back of a ballroom at one of my speaking engagements earlier this year.  She was holding a baby and doing the “mommy rock” as she listened intently to my remarks.  I met her later and she told me that she has a two-year-old at home and this new baby.  She said that she doubted whether she could continue in law practice until she heard me speak about the many faces of success.  She smiled broadly and said that she had called her husband and told him, “I just heard this woman speak, and I know I’m going to make it now.”

That says it all …. except Happy Holidays to all of you.  See you next year!



Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment