The Dangers of Leaking Young Lawyer Talent

For more than a decade I have been urging law firms to retain and advance the talent of women lawyers.  The three-book Best Friends at the Bar series has been my effort to spread those messages, and most recently I have expanded my work to include cautionary messages about ignoring and losing the talent of all young lawyers — men and women alike — in What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018).
 
Those books and the hundreds of blogs and articles I have written and speeches I have given include discussions of the many reasons why our institutions must change to become more inclusive of young people, starting with “the right thing to do” (which is almost always overlooked as a compelling reason) and ending with the sacrifice of future leadership (which should raise huge red flags).  Simply speaking, even if equity and fairness do not win out as arguments for change, the future of the profession should be cause for concern.  You would think that would get some attention, but you may have to think again.
 
I admit to getting discouraged every time I see yet another article on these subjects.  The most recent one appeared in Financial Times earlier this week, and you can read it here.  It is a good article on the problem of leaking law firm talent in the UK, and it echoes what is going on this side of “The Pond.”  But … you have heard it all before.
The article includes arguments like:
 
  • Law firms need to reshape their cultures, moving away from “rigid” traditions and “excessive” hours so they can retain more women and attract millennial lawyers;
  • The current shortage of talent needs to be addressed as increasing numbers of young lawyers abandon private practice; and
  • More than one in five young lawyers have transitioned out of private practice to in-house positions.
The conclusion from what appears to be the continuing need for this article and so many like it is that current law firm leadership is tone deaf on the subjects.  Current leadership is not willing to tackle law firm reform with the kinds of changes that address retention — like workplace values, work-life balance, and billable hour requirements — because doing that might impact client retention.  In other words, current law firm leadership too often cares more about money and power than anything else.  And there is no question what comes out on top when development of future law firm leaders is in competition with the high demands of clients.  Someone has to pay those big salaries at the top.  The careers of young lawyers and succession plans be damned.  Current leadership won’t be around to care.
 
 
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More on the Negative Effect of Greed on Women Lawyers — And Men

The New York Times article that I discussed in last week’s blog is worthy of your attention.  The examples used are of husband and wife lawyers, who are struggling to raise young children.  The upshot is that one parent — typically the female — has to make sacrifices such as cutting back to part-time status, giving up promotion opportunities, and making far less in salary to make these situations work.  This is the current reality despite the fact that American women of working age are the most educated than ever before.

The statistics are all there to make you feel really depressed — and they will have that effect.  In the past, we have focused on causes like discrimination and lack of family-friendly policies in examining the effect on the careers of women lawyers, but this article cites evidence that we should not be looking at gender alone.  The culprit, according to the author, has nothing to do with who has a Y chromosome.

The culprit is corporate greed.  Greed that manifests in long, inflexible hours and winner-take-all attitudes that more often than not “flatline” the careers of one member of a couple — more often than not the women.  Add to that the fact that working 50% more hours often results in 100% more salary.  As the article points out, it is not a linear comparison, and the extra money is very important to a young family.

Although it is not just the law profession that is guilty of short-circuiting talent in this way, it becomes clear that the law profession is a leader in the shift from a reasonably-oriented service industry mentality to a culture of money, power and greed.  The important question is not who is to blame but, rather, what can be done about it.  As you will see in the article, the answer lies in worker demand and significant challenges to management.  More predictable hours and flexibility in when and where the work gets done are good places to start.

But, the goal is not to create ways to allow women to work the same long, inflexible hours as men.  As expressed by one on-line comment to the article, “No one should be doing this.   A father working constantly is not a good father or partner. Or person, for that matter. Probably not healthy either. . . No wonder this country is a mess. We’re working ourselves to a literal and existential death.”

 Hear, hear.  It is a “systems problem” and, as I have written in What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, law employers have great incentive to change the workaholic cultures they have created.  It is a total sea change that is called for not a temporary fix.  And it needs to come as soon as possible before we lose more talent than our profession can afford.

Here is my favorite quote from the article:

“Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands… They have rich husbands because they step back from work.”

There is a lot to think about there.

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Advice for Millennial Lawyers

Earlier today I was the presenter on a webinar for Thompson Reuters/West on “What Millennial Lawyers Want.”  It was a 65-minute program and contained a lot of good information on millennial lawyers, how their behaviors and expectations have developed, the responsibility that parent generations and society have in influencing that development, the values that are common to millennial lawyers and Greatest Generation lawyers, and the roles of millennial lawyers and law firm leaders in a shared solution to the Generational Divide.

Admittedly, that is a lot of content, but it was a long program!  That is how CLE works — you put in the time, and you get the credit.  Unless you are trying to get CLE credit in NY, and then you need a special code — because it is NY, right? — and I made sure I repeated that code twice!  Only in NY!

The makeup of the audience is not information that is shared with presenters prior to the program, so I have no way of knowing if any of you were listening.  But, if you were, I hope you enjoyed it.

Here is a sampling of program content on the topic of what millennial lawyers can do as their part of the shared solution:

  • Be realistic in your expectations and less sensitive to criticism;
  • Overcome your need for constant attention;
  • Get off social media and concentrate on becoming the best lawyer you can be;
  • Become more confident about your choices and decision-making — in other words, don’t take a vote before you take action;
  • Get out of your comfort zones and take on challenges and risks to advance your career and your team;
  • Understand that you do not have all the answers and LISTEN to the wisdom of lawyers who have been in the trenches for more than your lifetime;
  • Dialogue with respect at all times; and
  • Have PATIENCE.  The profession of law is inherently deliberative and slow moving most of the time.  It is no place for expectations of instant gratification.

This list may have you feeling like you are being singled out for bad behavior.  Not so!  You should see the TO DO list that I presented to law firm leaders to become responsive to the values of Millennial Lawyers and safeguard talent.

If true leaders emerge, it will result in a remodeling of law firm cultures.  And it is about time for that!

 

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The Trouble with Women Lawyers — OR Is There Trouble?

I have just returned from a reunion with 14 of my college girlfriends.  We get together as often as possible — traveling from both coasts and points in between — to make sure that our friendships remain kindled and that we provide support to one another as our journeys through life ebb and flow.   These times together never disappoint, and we always leave planning the next one.

This is my way of reminding you that I am and always have been an advocate for women, dating back to college when we all needed each other’s support dealing with our new-found independence and all it entailed.  However, along my road from law school to law practice, I have encountered women, who have tried hard to undermine me and negatively affect my professional progress.  And I am not alone.  I have heard similar stories from many of my female colleagues, and I have witnessed this kind of negative behavior among women professionals.

That is why I remind women lawyers as often as possible of the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she said, “There is a place in HELL reserved for women who do not support other women.”  I have met Secretary Albright and discussed those words with her in the context of women lawyers.  As the mother of women lawyers, she was a quick convert to the cause.

However, recognizing that some women do not treat other women well does not mean that I buy into all of the women bullying women stereotypes.  I know too many wonderful and supportive women lawyers to ever go down that road.  But others have, and it is a slippery slope.

In a recent blog from my friend Andie Kramer and her husband Al Harris, whose Andie and Al blog series addresses issues like gender bias that affect women in the workplace, it was not at all surprising to find Andie taking on other authors on the subject of women’s bias against other women.  Andie is a great supporter of women, and she is a contributor to two of my books in the effort to improve conditions for women lawyers.  The fact that she refuses to buy into alleged female stereotypes about women victimizing other women was predictable, and she does it so well.

Rather than rely on negative messages about the societal or evolutionary or internal antagonism behind distinctive female characteristics of hostility by women against women,  Andie and Al challenge those assumptions and beliefs by focusing on what they believe is the real cause for negative behaviors in the workplace —- the workplace itself.

Here is a sampling of what you will read in the blog:

Women’s and men’s behaviors depend not on distinctive female or male characteristics but on the situations in which they find themselves: what they are asked to do, the conditions under which they are required to do it, and the expectations of how they will perform while doing it. Women’s difficulties with other women in the workplace have little or nothing to do with women’s evolution, socialization, or internalized misogyny. They have everything to do with the dynamics of the environments within which women are working. In other words, it’s not the women, it’s their workplaces.

Women helping women and eliminating the toxicity of legal work spaces are major themes of the Best Friends at the Bar project.  I hope that you will join me in these efforts and that you also will keep up with the Andie and Al on their website  to gain perspective on gender bias and related issues.  And I am sure that their new book on these subjects will be illuminating for all of us.

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The High Price of Over Parenting for Millennial Lawyers

I have written extensively about millennials and millennial lawyers, including about how members of the Millennial Generation were shaped by societal influences as they grew to adulthood.  Those societal influences have limited their abilities to fit into traditional workplaces and, in some cases, have lead to anxiety and depression.

Societal influences like rapid advances in technology and social media, the impact of the 2008 recession, which resulted in insecurity and risk aversion, and helicopter parenting that sheltered children from disappointment, interfered with decision making, and put pressure on coaches and teachers to improve outcomes for their children, have taken a toll on our younger generations.  Those influences can be traced to unreasonable expectations and inability to cope with challenges.

Some of you may doubt that premise.  You may prefer to think that Baby Boomer and Generation X parents had nothing to do with it.  But, the research does not support that conclusion.  Research also shows that the children of Generation Z, those who followed the millennials, are experiencing similar limitations from over parenting.  Consider the recent arrests of certain Gen Z parents, who engaged in alleged bribery, fraud and racketeering in schemes to get their children admitted to elite colleges and universities across this country.

Since the release of my book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018), I have addressed many audiences about these issues in an attempt to make both young and more experienced lawyers understand the Generational Divide in our profession today.  The divide is real, and the solution must be shared to be effective and lasting.  Understanding and respect are the tools to finding a path to the future to include all members of our profession.

The risks are very serious if we do not.

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The Intersection of Motherhood and Partnership: What it Means for Women Lawyers

A recent edition of in the London-based Financial Times included a very thought-provoking article that is a must read for all women lawyers and those who lead them.  The sources are both UK and US based and there is no single geographic focus.

This is not just the “same old same old” you have read in the past.  Yes, the statistics will be recognizable because the percentage of women equity partners in law firms has not changed in recent history.  But there is much beyond those statistics for you to chew on and some new approaches that you may or may not agree with.

The article starts by taking on a giant, specifically the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, for the way that it frames the answer to the question, “Can you be a mother and a senior law firm partner?”  The Center’s emphasis on factors that are impossible to change is disputed on the basis that it fails to recognize the impact of unconscious bias and the effect of that bias on the upward mobility of women lawyers.

The issue of quotas for women partners is also discussed in a very balanced way, giving equal time to the pros and cons of that approach.  Although many women object to that kind of mandate and how it disadvantageously profiles them in the partnership, others argue that less radical approaches have proven unsuccessful.  You will have to decide where you fall on that spectrum.

Also included are some practical steps that firms can take to work out the maternity leave issues with women lawyers, who demonstrate the kind of talent and leadership skills valuable at the management level, and efforts that firms can take to keep women on maternity leave functioning as part of the team during that period of time.

The role of in-house general counsel and clients in reaching a more acceptable percentage of women at the top of law firms also was discussed.  This quote got my attention, “Those who until now have expected to be able to reach lawyers at any time of day or night need an understanding of what requests are urgent and what can wait until morning.”  This alone evidenced a new world order!

You also will see some interesting comments on the position of salaried partners, the marginalization that often results, and the critical role of achieving diversity at the top.   According to one source, “I’ve never heard of a balanced or diverse partnership underperforming.”  Amen to that.

Particularly interesting to me was the emphasis in the article that the issues addressed are not just all about women.  It is also about the new generation of young lawyers (millennial lawyers and the generation of lawyers to follow), who have embraced work-life balance issues that require a new approach.  With the additional emphasis in my work on issues related to millennial lawyers, I applaud the recognition of the broader view of what is needed to reform our profession.

I recommend this article for you and for you to share with the leaders in your firm.  The train is leaving the station, and we all need to get on board.

 

 

 

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Young Lawyers Guide to Dealing with Stress

I read an article the other day on “Stress Free Law Practice.”  I laughed out loud.  There is no such thing.

Lawyers are professionals.  They have a lot of responsibility, and they should anticipate stress in their work lives.  From sole practitioners to law firm lawyers to in-house counsel, stress is part of the job.  Stress from client expectations.  Stress from managing other lawyers.  Stress from making budget.  Stress from the judicial process.

Even if you made widgets instead of practicing law, there would be stress.  How many widgets to produce?  How to make your widgets unique and competitive in the market place?  Is it time for a new version of the widget — say Widget 2.0?  So many widget worries.

How much stress is too much stress is another issue. Millennial lawyers know that they do not want the same degree of stress as their parent/lawyers experienced.  That much stress led to illness and drug and alcohol dependencies.  Young lawyers don’t want to go down that same road.

There is no way of totally eliminating stress from our work or personal lives, but there are ways of reducing the stress.   So, I give credit to the article for identifying some stress reducers for lawyers.  The ones I give the most value to are the following:

  • Write things down.  I really can relate to this.  When I am lying awake at night thinking of important stuff I do not want to forget, I get up, grab my phone and write myself an e-mail.  Sounds crazy, but when that e-mail has been sent, I can sleep like a baby.  No more worries.  It will be waiting for me in the morning.
  • Exercise.  You all know that exercise is a great stress reliever, so why are you not doing it as a routine?  Because you do not have time?  Pshaw!  You have time to obsess over stressful things, but no time to exercise to relieve the stress.  Makes no sense.  Plus, you get all the extra benefits of the endorphins to make you happier.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.  They are addictive.  Enough said.
  • Enjoy the out of doors.  Take a few minutes each day to get outside and breathe the fresh air.  Take deep breaths.  Walk a little.  Stretch your legs.  No back-lit screens allowed.
  • Focus on your accomplishments.  You can count on the fact that others will find fault with you.  It is human nature.  Don’t you be one of them.  Herald your good works.  Take some time to look at your life in the rear view mirror and pat yourself on the back for all that you have accomplished.  Law school was no walk in the park and neither was passing the bar.  Don’t forget how far you have come.  Count your blessings.
  • Meditate.  I admit to knowing nothing about this.  Never did it.  But, I know others who cannot live without it.  So, it is worth exploring.

Stress is a killer.  Make these small changes in your life to avoid being the next victim.  Start early so that the changes become habit.  It is the gift you can give yourself.

 

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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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