What do RBG and Millennial Lawyers Have in Common?

RBG.  You have to love her!  And I do.  I loved the documentary about her life, and I love how relevant she continues to be.

I first saw Justice Ginsburg speak more than a decade ago when she was addressing an audience of law students and young lawyers.  Yes, her scholarship and her role as a breaker of glass ceilings amazed me, but it did not stop there.  Her sense of humor and her humble way of speaking was surprising for someone at her high perch, and it was heartwarming.  She knows how to get attention without hitting the listener over the head with her opinion and perspective.

So, last week when she was interviewed at George Washington University Law, I paid attention again.  Of course, I was not disappointed.  What I heard from her then that particularly moved me came in response to a question about the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  In her response, she expressed lament that the process is now so partisan, unlike the bipartisan hearings of the past, including her own.

“That’s the way it should be instead of what its become, which is a highly partisan show,” she said. “The Republicans move in lockstep, and so do the Democrats. I wish I could wave a magic wand and bring it back to the way it was.”

Indeed, I think all of us wish we could wave magic wands to bring things back to what they were and the way they should be.  However, the partisan behavior in congressional hearings is only part of the problem.  Other unfortunate behaviors are infecting our society and culture, and it makes all of us yearn for the good old days.

Take the good old days of practicing law as an example.  The loss of respect, cooperation, civility, emphasis on honorable and ethical and professional behavior is addressed in my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).  Millennial lawyers are reacting to toxic law firm cultures and yearn for a set of values that will help develop them as the leaders they want to be.  Leaders not only in their profession but also in their communities.

I long have contended that the degradations of law firm cultures and the negative behaviors of practitioners, which have led to disillusionment among lawyers young and old, is reflective of the disrespectful behaviors that have become common in our society at large.  You need not look further than social media and television coverage of controversial topics for proof.

Think Facebook comments.  Think Twitter comments.  Think the behaviors of high level individuals in media interviews.  Think panels of experts freely screaming at each other on cable television.

Think road rage.  Think finger pointing instead of civilized conversation and compromise.  And the list goes on.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the law profession lead the charge for elimination of these repugnant behaviors?  Wouldn’t it be nice for the law profession to stand up against bullying, disparaging dialogue, character assassination, and the full range of bad behaviors that have become common in our daily lives?  Wouldn’t it be nice to see lawyers take the initiative to address larger societal issues — as lawyers used to do?

The law profession has the opportunity to take up the mantle of living up to the values of past generations of lawyers.  That opportunity would go a long way toward responding to the disappointment of millennial lawyers to a profession gone awry by placing too much value on money and power.  It also would demonstrate that law firm managers can be the leaders they need to be during these transformative times.

What could be more important than bringing back civil behavior and respect for others? 

Like RBG, we only can hope that change is somewhere on the close horizon.  And we can hope that the first ones to take the hill are the lawyers.

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A Young Woman Lawyer Looks to the Past to Inform the Future

I have to share with you the story of a remarkable young woman lawyer.  I do not know her, although I wish I did.  It would be a pleasure and an honor.  Lina Khan is the kind of dedicated and passionate young lawyer who, undoubtedly, will make her mark on this world.

I read her story recently in an article in the New York Times, and it inspired me.  Not because I know anything about anti-trust law.  Not because I have a secret agenda involving busting monopolies.  Just because I admire the intellectual journey and passion of this young woman.

She is a Yale Law School graduate, who, as a law student in 2017, published an article titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal.  The article challenged current anti-trust principles and dredged up some former applications of law that got people’s attention.  The paper received 146,255 hits — a lot for legal treatises — and Lina Khan became a celebrity in the hallowed halls of government in Washington, DC.

She also has critics, as you might expect.  New discoveries and theories work that way.  But, she pushed forward on her theories with Amazon as the target.  Big target.  Hard to bring down.  She is now at the FTC doing awesome policy work based on her theories, and Politico just named her to its annual list of the people driving the ideas driving politics.

She had setbacks, but she soldiered on.  Just months before she was to assume a clerkship on the prestigious 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the judge who had hired her died suddenly.  So, she quickly changed course.  I think she grew up knowing it is what you do.

Take a few minutes to read the story.  It may inspire you as it inspired me.  All of us will not take journeys involving this kind of commitment, but we can marvel at the journeys of the ones who do.

What drew me to this story was Lina Khan’s notion that the past can help rescue the future.  “These are new technologies and new business models,” Ms. Khan said. “The remedy is new thinking that is informed by traditional principles.”

And the reason this resounds with me so emphatically is that it is the same thought process that runs throughout my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018).  The past can help rescue the future.  The remedy for an arguably failing law profession is a new way of thinking that is informed by traditional principles.

Being informed by the past to rescue the future is the bridge that millennial lawyers have been looking for without even knowing it.  It is the bridge that one bright and shining Yale Law student, turned millennial lawyer, took.  It is a journey of passion.

Bravo to Lina Khan wherever her passion leads her.  I hope I run into her on the streets of DC to witness her commitment and passion.  It would be a pleasure and an honor.

 

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Women Lawyers Are Not Equal

Women lawyers are not equal — at least not in the private sector.  Plain and simple.  I know that you do not expect to hear this from me nor do you want to hear this from me, but it is true.

Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.”  If you compare private sector female lawyers to private sector male lawyers on issues of status and opportunities, you begin to see the inequality.  (“Rights” are derived from constitutional law and legislation and are not addressed here.  But, if you want a history of women’s rights in America, watch RBG.) So, let’s talk status and opportunities:

  • On status:  Women have the babies, and tradition and implicit bias too often drive the conclusion that it is the woman’s responsibility to be the primary care taker of her children.  As the result of health considerations for women and their newborns, women lawyers typically take the maximum allowable maternity leave after childbirth.  More likely than not, when she returns to work, the woman lawyer is treated differently from her male colleagues because implicit bias drives the further conclusion that young mothers are no longer dedicated to, committed to, and serious about their jobs. And because this attitude prevails, many young women lawyers are denied equal consideration for partnership, thereby doing irreparable damage to their professional status.
  • On opportunities:  Repeat the above.  Once law firm management and leadership presumptively conclude that a young mother/attorney lacks dedication and commitment to her career, the opportunities for advancement dissolve.

So, what can be done about it?  A lot, according to a recent article in The American Lawyer.  This article is a group effort of the young lawyers editorial team at the magazine, and it is very ambitious in terms of the recommendations to law firms.  However, it includes some excellent starting points for firms to consider and implement.  Although I do not realistically expect that firms will implement all of the recommendations at once, most of them are possible over time.

Law firms need to take these issues very seriously for some very good reasons.  In fact, the title of the article, “Law Firms Benefit by Showing Attorneys that Family Matters” implies benefits to law firms from instituting the recommended policies.   Benefits not only for reasons of retention of talent, competition in the market place, and related self-serving profit motives, but, more importantly, because we are a profession that was founded on issues of fairness, respect and honorable behavior.

Simply stated, it is not nice to punish women professionals for having babies.

 

 

 

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New Book for Best Friends at the Bar Project

Read excerpts from the new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018), to be released on September 1st, in the July/August 2018 Best Friends at the Bar Newsletter:

https://bestfriendsatthebar.com/newsletter/2018/08/30/julyaugust-2018-newsletter/

Millennial Generation lawyers are the future of the law profession, and current leadership needs to know how they think and how to develop them into effective leaders.

The emphasis is on respect, civility, honorable behavior, reaching out helping hands to communities and those less fortunate …  and more.  Those themes — very much in the national conversation today — are driven home by stories from a day when the underlying values were paramount in law practice.  The hope is that they will become part of our own experiences today.

What Millennial Lawyers Want:

  • Expands the Best Friends at the Bar audience beyond young women lawyers to ALL young lawyers and those who lead them;
  • Presents extensive research about millennial lawyers and by millennial lawyers; and
  • Regales readers with inspirational stories of lawyers from a generation past to demonstrate a healthier path forward for a profession in transition.

With a Foreword and in-book endorsements by leading lawyers at some of the world’s most prestigious law firms, this book has been recognized as a game-changer for the legal profession.  The message is that bad habits and toxic environments are not beyond repair if we listen to the voices of a new generation of lawyers and help them — and us — find a better way forward.

Available soon on Amazon.  Get it and read it NOW!

 

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Women’s Equality Day

I know that I am coming in a little late to alert you to Women’s Equality Day.  It was celebrated YESTERDAY, August 26th, but I have a good excuse for missing it by a day.

Yesterday, August 26th, would have been my Mom’s 103rd birthday.  She died in 2017 at 101 years young, and I was absorbed yesterday with thoughts of her.  As excuses go, I think it is a good one.

My Mom would have loved Women’s Equality Day.  She graduated from college in 1937 when most women did not go to college.  She worked hard to support herself as a teacher before she married my Dad, she was devoted to improving her community through volunteer service, and, up until the last days of her life, she was asking how she could “help out” at the assisted living facility she called home.  Whether it was folding towels or showing up for Bingo just to be a good sport and raise spirits, she did it all.

Today, women have come a long way beyond the kinds of opportunities available to my Mom and her contemporaries.  We are lawyers, doctors, bankers, board members, business executives, and government and elected officials, to name just a few.  We have learned to use our voices and have our voices heard.  As someone once sang, we bring home the bacon, and we fry it up in a pan!

But we still have a long way to go for total equality.  Keep at it.  Make sure YOUR voice is heard.  Do not settle.

Happy Women’s Equality Day!

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Truth Telling About Law School Debt

Law school student loan debt.  Just the mention of it can cause most newly-minted lawyers to break out in cold sweats.  It is always on their minds.  It is always standing in the way of getting on with their lives.

My children both are lawyers, and the amounts of their student loan debt is shocking.  Fortunately, our family is in a position to help them pay down a large portion of that debt.  But, many young lawyers are not in that position, and I feel so bad for them.

Bad because they are in situations where they cannot follow their dreams.  Bad because of the stress that it imposes on their lives.  Bad because they have worthy goals that must be put on the back burner so that they can do boring and unfulfilling work that pays the most.

  • There is the recent law grad with a dream to work in the civil and human rights areas.  But, not so fast.  What about those student loans?  Have to take a higher paying job to even make a dent in them.
  • There is the mid-level associate who would like to start a family or purchase a house to fulfill some important goals.  But, not so fast.  What about those student loans?  Forget qualifying for a mortgage when the student loan debt is significant.
  • There is the young lawyer under so much stress from student loan debt who seeks medication for anxiety and depression to relieve the harmful physical and psychological effects of stress.

And the stories go on and on and on.  Read about them in a recent Law 360 article.  Be prepared to identify with these stories, but take heart that you are not alone.  Read the charts and see where you can expect to be in terms of student loan debt in your future.  Know that the stories have no real happy endings unless you win the lottery.

It was not supposed to be this way.  If I had seen the costs of law school skyrocketing like this, I am not sure I would have smiled on my children’s decisions to follow their parents into the law profession.  Yes, I love the law, and I am very proud of my children for their hard work and persistence in a challenging profession.  And, yes, I am pleased at what I have been able to accomplish for myself and others through a career in the law.  But, loving the law may not be enough today.

Somebody has to do something or we will continue to discourage the talent that is the future of our profession.  Enough time has passed to know that a more robust economy is not the solution.  Enough time has passed to know that the people and institutions benefiting from these dire circumstances must be called out.

Who is the somebody who will stand up and call out?  The ABA through the certification process?  Law schools through their policy decisions?  Congress through the legislative process?  Just who?

I wish I knew.  For your sake.

 

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What the Fourth of July Means to Me

You just gotta ignite the light

And let it shine Just own the night Like the Fourth of July

‘Cause baby you’re a firework.

Come on show ’em what you’re worth

Make ’em go “Oh, oh, oh!” As you shoot across the sky-y-y ~

Katy Perry, “Firework”

The Fourth of July is a big holiday in America. I have such wonderful and vivid childhood memories of celebrating on the shores of Lake Michigan, dancing around sparklers buried in the sand, and eating burgers, watermelon, cake with red, white and blue frosting and trying to elude adult eyes to steal a sip of beer from the inevitable keg.  Those were wonderful days.

This year, when you are not eating, drinking, playing softball and watching fireworks, please give thought to our Founding Fathers and all that they sacrifised to secure our independence from an oppressive sovereign.  We all will relive history, but it should not stop there.  We should think about independence and freedom in our daily lives.  We should take a moment to ask ourselves why it is special to live in America.

Here is what I think.

Our country is the greatest country on earth, and we need to keep it that way.  Currently, the edges are crumbling a bit, and we need to get back to basics and the foundation of our freedom.

I have lived abroad and traveled abroad a lot in my life.  Each time I return and touch down on American soil, I give thanks.  Other cultures and other countries are interesting and exciting, and I have been blessed to experience them.  But the freedoms there and the opportunities for advancement are minor as compared to the freedoms and protections we enjoy as Americans — and as women in America.

People need to understand that.  I often wonder how the large discontented element of our country would respond to life elsewhere.  I think they would be shocked and dismayed.  I think that they might begin to see what they have here in America through a different lens.

It is all about mindset.  America is still the greatest country on earth with a Constitution that has been replicated around the world and a Bill of Rights equaled by none.  That is a lot worth fighting for.

So, happy Independence Day to America and to you.  Wave the flag, get out the red, white and blue and have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

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What Young Women Lawyers Can Learn from a Recent Political Upset

Last week was witness to a remarkable “W” for a democratic primary candidate.  In case you have not heard, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought off a stunning upset over a ten-year incumbent in New York’s 14th Congressional District.

If you are not yet impressed that this is remarkable, stay with me.  There is more.  The “more” is that this young woman pulled off the win although she never has held public office, has no big donors, and was running a campaign on a shoe string.  So how could that happen?

The simple answer is that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez knew how to communicate to voters.  Her principles were strong, and her message was clear.  I also have seen her interviewed, and she is an appealing personality.  I might have wanted to support her if I lived in New York.

Now you probably want to know why I am deviating from my “no politics” policy to bring you this information.  Good question.

The good answer is that I am an advocate for all women.  What impressed me about this story is that the messages this young woman candidate projected met certain criteria that can benefit all women, including women attorneys.

Let’s break that down.

These messages were explained very well in a recent Above The Law article.  As pointed out there, “In many ways, the legal profession resembles politics: connections and money matters, and youth and inexperience are viewed as disadvantages.”

And that is why the victory by Ocasio-Cortez should be important to you.

Here are my interpretations of the take-aways from that article:

  • Open Your Own Doors:  Do not rely on sponsors to do your bidding for you.  You are responsible for your own success.  It is fine to accept help from others but on our own terms;
  • No Excuses:  Just because there are others with better credentials and stronger connections to the “big boys,” that does not mean that you get a pass on trying.  Remember that your enthusiasm and your positive attitude can have a winning influence on people.  Maybe there is no one who is willing to introduce you to potential clients.  So?  Get out there on your own.  Go to as many venues and meet as many people as possible.  Networking 101.
  • Lead with the Why and How Will Follow:  Too cryptic?  In simpler terms, tell people why you are the best at what you do and how you can benefit them with your expertise and talents.  That is strategy —  not bragging.  Smart women do it.  It also is  good old-fashioned common sense.  My grandmother used to say, “Don’t let your flowers die on the vine.”

So, take a page out of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s book and GO FOR IT!  You just might be as surprised as she was with the result.

 

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