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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Diversity Fatigue — as in Women Lawyers Don’t Count: You Have to Be Kidding

Diversity should be on the minds of all people.  All the time.  It should be on our minds as we walk the streets and as we read our newspapers.  We always should be asking ourselves how open-minded we are and how accepting of different peoples and different cultures.  We never should forget the important role that diversity plays in our lives and in the expression of our freedoms.

Diversity is important to the quality of our institutions and the quality of our products.  It has been demonstrated that diverse teams produce better and longer-lasting results.  That is why diversity is so important to the profession of law and to best practices.

The Best Friends at the Bar project is founded on expressions of diversity.  It was designed to advocate for diverse populations, which now include women lawyers and all young lawyers.  It was founded to address the challenges faced by special interest groups and to help members of those groups overcome the challenges.

As a profession, the law has not always been diverse.  In fact, for most of its existence it has been populated by mostly white males.  But all that has changed.  It is true that the power in the profession is still concentrated in the male population, but women and people of color have advanced to positions of acceptance and excellence that cannot be denied.

There still is much to do to achieve real diversity where women are concerned.  Women lawyers are not paid as much for the same work as male lawyers, and women lawyers are still a minority in positions of management and leadership in law firms.  Women lawyers continue to face challenges based on stereotyping and gender discrimination and harassment, and women lawyers of color are saddled with an entire other layer of discrimination.  With diverse populations come challenges.  And, as a profession, we must be up to the challenge.

So, when I saw this article on “diversity fatigue,” it resonated with me.  Diversity fatigue, really?  “Fatigue” meaning that it exhausts you and you are tired of it — whoever you are?

It is not too exhausting for those of us who realize how far we still have to go to achieve diversity that will be healthy for our profession.  If it is not too exhausting for those diverse populations that are trying to be included in the group and climb the ladder of success.  It is not too exhausting for those bright young minds who are contemplating whether they want to join our profession.

If it is too exhausting for law firm managers, leaders and diversity officers, that is a BIG problem for them to address.  They have a product to sell, and their market is more diverse than ever.

So, read the article and see what you think.  Let me know.

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Are Young Women Lawyers Still Enamored with Law Firm Jobs?

There was a time when most young lawyers — male and female alike — found law firm jobs desirable.   The pay was good, the hours were manageable, and the upward mobility and financial rewards were inviting.  But, is that still true today?

According to today’s article on the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) online Issues Blog, it may no longer be true for young women lawyers.  Based on statistics from the Colorado Supreme Court’s Attorney Regulation Counsel, the article identifies a “trend” away from law firm jobs for young women law graduates in that state.  Those statistics showed that less than half of the active women attorneys under the age of 30 in Colorado are working in law firms of any size and only 20 percent of women attorneys younger than 30 years old joined big law firms.

These are interesting findings whether you live and practice in the state of Colorado or not.  At a time when at least half of most of the graduating classes in law schools across the country are women, you would expect to see equal percentages of male and female law graduates joining law firms.  And that still may be the case in states like New York and California and the District of Columbia, all jurisdictions with multiple top-rated law schools, but it clearly is not the case in Colorado.  So why is that?

Some of the reasons for this identified trend away from law firms by women lawyers is predictable.  More and more young lawyers today are focused on having lives outside of work, and that certainly is true of those women lawyers, who desire to have children and anticipate childcare responsibilities.  Even with the advent of more generous maternity and family leave policies and more flexible telecommuting programs, the expectation of billing 2000 plus hours a year and having family and childcare responsibilities is daunting.  But that does not completely explain this trend.

Other explanations offered in the article are less predictable but also worthy of consideration, starting with the effects of the Great Recession.  After 2008, many law firms found it necessary to cut back expenses due to the economic downturn, which resulted in reductions in hiring.  As a result, many law school graduates between approximately 2008 and 2015 looked beyond law firms for employment opportunities.   They left law firms that were cutting back on hiring or they failed to apply to law firms at all.  In doing so, both male and female law graduates were forced to look at non-traditional positions where they have remained even after the economy picked up and law firms rebounded.

Another and more troublesome explanation has its genesis in law schools.  The article cites a 2016 study showing that women law school applicants are less likely to be accepted by schools that pride themselves in placing graduates in “good law firm jobs.”  If this is the case, then women law school applicants are more likely to find themselves in law schools that do not emphasize law firm jobs for graduates — because law firms are not as interested in the graduates of those schools.

The important takeaway from the 2016 study is that women who apply to law school are less likely to be admitted to schools with high law firm placement rates.  If this is true, there is a lot for both law schools and law firms to be thinking about.  If the inequitable treatment of women lawyers reaches all the way back to law school admission policies, the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools both should be forming committees to explore these findings.  Pronto.

And we should hope that there is another less sinister explanation for this result.

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Women Lawyers Speaking Out Against Gender Inequality

The most recent example of women lawyers speaking out against inequality is the employment discrimination suit filed this week by a group of women lawyers at Morrison Foerster alleging that they were discriminated against after taking maternity leave.  Their suit is styled as a $100M putative class action, and they have retained the same law firm, Sanford Heisler Sharp, that got the $3M settlement plus $1M in attorneys fees against Chadbourne & Parke (now Rose Fulbright) in a gender discrimination suit under the Equal Pay Act recently.  So, hold onto your hat.  Here are the details.

After reporting recently in this blog about the Yale Law School’s 2018 list of female-friendly law firms, it looks like there might be a reason why Morrison Foerster (MoFo) should not have made that list.  Although MoFo claims to have family-friendly policies, the law suit alleges that women lawyers who took maternity leave were delayed in pay and advancement opportunities following their return to work.  The complaint alleges that one of the plaintiffs was warned against taking maternity leave when a partner told her that “parents tend not to do well in this group.”

A lawyer at Sanford Heisler Sharp summed up their clients’ claims this way:  “MoFo’s employment practices perpetuate the ‘good old boys’ club culture that has dominated law firms for decades.”  She further stated that practices like those alleged in the lawsuit hold women back and promote damaging stereotypes of women in the legal profession.

As pointed out by Vivia Chen in her article today in the American Lawyer, “Are Women in Law Finally Empowered to Speak Out Against Inequality?,” it is possible that the #MeToo movement may embolden women to bring these kinds of suits against their employers, but there is a difference between the “sexy” suits alleging gender discrimination and the “not-so-sexy” suits based on employment discrimination.  Yes, it may sound like it is all part of one ball of unequal wax, but, practically speaking, that may not be the case.  Until now, it seems that some gender issues have been more equal than others.

However, as the Chen article points out, the number of Big Law partners, who have been dismissed by their firms for alleged sexual misconduct (at Baker McKenzie, Mayer Brown and Latham Watkins, for instance), is on the rise and evidences willingness by law firms to cut ties with some of the Old Boys to avoid lawsuits.  These recent developments may  provide a real source of hope for equal treatment for women lawyers in law firms.

Hitting law firms where it hurts and negatively affecting PPP after pay-outs from big settlements and plaintiff’s verdicts may be the biggest weapons women have.  In her article, Chen quotes Jodi Hersch, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School, as saying that businesses haven’t been motivated to fix harassment problems because they haven’t paid a high price for them. Roberta Leibenberg, former Chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, also is quoted in the article as saying that the harm to reputation is a major concern that law firms have to consider if they continue to be vulnerable to claims of gender discrimination.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out.  One thing we know for sure, however, is that doing the right thing cannot compare with the profit and reputation motive where law firms are concerned.  It never has.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Facebook Debacle: Has”Lean In” Gone Too Far?

Money and power strikes again.  Recent revelations point to the fact that the social media company Facebook knew that YOUR information was being compromised and used without your permission for purposes related to influencing elections — like maybe the 2016 American presidential election — and that it did little to nothing to remedy the situation until it was called out by a whistleblower earlier this week.  Five days after this news hit the “wire,” Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, FINALLY spoke out, and to date, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has made no public statement.

Yes, this is the same Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote the book Lean In, which became a sensation partially because of her access to the Facebook marketing platform.   The theme of Lean In, you will recall, is that women need to aggressively pursue their businesses in order to climb the corporate ladder and take their rightful places in the C suites of business.  Young women lawyers across American and the world embraced the Lean In concepts without much consideration of the costs of that strategy.  Getting to the corner office was the goal.

It appears we are seeing some of the costs of “leaning in.”  Facebook leaned in and grew exponentially between 2004, when it was founded, and today, when it is one of the most financially successful businesses in the world.  It didn’t get that successful and that big by posting your messages on your FB page.  It got that successful and that big by selling the data gleaned from your FB pages and posts.  Yes, selling it, without having effective controls on how that data was used.  Those are potentially big costs to your privacy and big costs to our national security.

And, there also is a big cost to Facebook as the reaction of abandoning FB accounts grows in response to this information.  Mark Zuckerberg reportedly lost $9 billion in just a few days over these revelations and as Facebook stock prices fell.  That’s right.  “B” as in “billion. ” But, as one of the richest people in the world, he can afford it.  As a nation, we cannot.

Does this sound like “leaning in” for money and power with little regard for the consequences?   Sounds that way to me — which is why I have been writing and speaking for years about a cautionary approach to the messages of  Lean In.

Caveat emptor.

And, yes, I recognize the irony of posting this on my Best Friends at the Bar FB account.  It is the informed risk I take to bring you valuable information.

 

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What, Dear Women Lawyers, is Wrong with USNWR Rankings?

The US News and World Report 2019 rankings of law schools is out.  See it here.  Yes, it is still early in 2018.  But, as you will read, there are some folks who benefit big time each year from this early information.

If you are a Pepperdine Law graduate, you are not going to like the new rankings.  If you are a graduate of a lot of other law schools, you may not like them either, but probably a little less than the Pepperdine folks.  At least you may see your school ranked.

My problem with the USNWR list has less to do with where my school ranks than with why we allow a non-legal entity like the US News and World Report to dictate something so important to our profession.  Every year the Report comes out with its rankings — based on a list of criteria, some of which is, frankly, questionable — and top-ranked law schools across the country start to genuflect to their high positions and to devise the next round of teases to attract top students to their hallowed halls to maintain those high rankings for the following year.

In other words, the dance is now on.  Top college and university students will be courted by top law schools in a contest to land the ones that will make the entering class statistics look the best and impress the Report for yet another year.  Part of the negotiations to snag those top students will be merit-based scholarships — often full rides — that will attract the best talent.

So, what is wrong with that, you say?  Nothing if you are the law school applicant who gets the biggest merit scholarship or if yours is the law school that maintains its prestigious ranking.

But, the results of that process benefit very few and do it on the backs of the rest of the law school student bodies across the country.  Someone has to pay for all of the tuition that is “forgiven” by the law school in the form of scholarship money, right?  And who do you think that is?  Bingo.  Law schools typically recoup that deficit by raising tuition for the rest of their students — the not so worthy.  And, to add insult to injury …

When tuitions go up, student loan debt goes up as well.  As you all know, student loan debt has reached crisis dimensions in this country.  The average cost of attending law school is somewhere in the range of $150K to $200K, and most law students are financing these expensive educations through debt.

So, why do we allow this to go on?  Why do we allow this beauty contest among elite law schools to adversely affect the future of thousands of law school graduates each year?  Is it to improve the bottom line of USNWR and its parent company for some unapparent reason?  Is it to continue to keep the alumni of the highest ranked law schools happy so that they will continue to be generous in their endowments?  Frankly, I don’t care — and my law school is one of those that receives a very high ranking each year. 

What I do care about is reducing the cost of law school and student loan debt.  That is where we should be putting our energy — not in continuing to support a system of rankings that harms the majority of students and discourages many very qualified and talented students, who cannot assume high debt, from even applying to law school. 

As a profession, we need to get smart about our objectives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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