Do Women Lawyers and Other Women Leaders Have to be Nice?

A lot has been written in the last few days about what makes a good woman leader.  Those discussions have been within the context of the political arena, which is not too surprising because the Speaker of the House of Representatives is a powerful woman, and the roster of persons announcing to run for POTUS in 2020 is full of powerful women.

So we have read here how Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota and proclaimed presidential candidate, is perceived by some of her staff as “not nice” and even “mean.”  And today we read here  that Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, uses her experience as the mother of five and grandmother of nine to guide her in keeping the House of Representatives and her caucus moving forward, deal successfully with divergent opinions, build consensus, and avoid chaos among elected officials.

Reading these articles will be very helpful to you in fashioning yourselves as effective female leaders.  I don’t just know that from reading the articles myself, but I know that from my own experiences as a mother, as a chief of staff for an elected official, and as a trial lawyer.  Those experiences have a lot in common.

Those experiences taught me that you should not always want to be liked.  You should not need to have everyone think you are nice.  It is not necessary to make a friend out of everyone.  Sometimes it has to be enough to get the job done well. 

If I had wanted to be a friend to my children and always be perceived as being nice, I would have very different children today than the ones I have, who learned to buck adversity and plow through challenges.  I would have very different children today than the two young lawyers, who make me proud every day of my life.

Instead, I made the tough calls and told them that my job was not to be liked by them.  My job was to make them into responsible and valuable members of society.  Ask them.  They will tell you.  They will remember telling me that they did not like me because I would not let them do X, Y or Z and hearing me answer, “Good.  Then I am doing my job.”

As a trial lawyer, I had to carry on before judges, who I knew did not accept my presence in the courtroom and probably did not like me.  They surely did not approve of me.  The early 1980’s were a lot different for women lawyers than current times.  Judges called me “little girl” — even a federal judge — and, after a week’s trial, the judge still only referred to me as “she” and “her.”  No place for “counselor” for the women lawyers in his courtroom.

But, that could not matter to me.  I was not in that courtroom to be liked.  I was in that courtroom to make my case.  End of story.

As the chief of staff to an elected official, I had to demand a lot of our staff.  I had to critique them, dismiss their ideas, refuse to listen to their complaints about each other, and return work to them replete with edits in green ink.  (I learned as a teaching fellow in law school never to edit in red because the result looked like a leftover from a bloody war.)

Creating the best possible product, whether it was a letter, a public policy piece, proposed legislation, or a television show, was what my job was all about.  I hoped that the people I managed saw it that way, but if they did not, it could not concern me.  There is plenty for me to look back on and know that I did a fine job, the staff acquired improved skills, the boss got re-elected, and I did not step too far outside the bounds of being a nice person most of the time.

So, I can only imagine that a lot of what the staffs of really powerful women — like Amy Klobuchar and Nancy Pelosi — have to say about them derives from the frustration of being on the other end of agendas that they may not understand.  Agendas to do the best for the most.

Anyway, that is the way I see it.




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Women Lawyers Need Men to “Step Up” Like They Did

It was reported in the NY Times and other news outlets recently that male managers are afraid of mentoring women in the #METOO Era.  Maybe you read about it.  Or maybe you were watching the discussion between Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC and her guests last week about those reports.  I was watching, and it was incredible.  If you did not catch it, check it out here.

Or maybe you were at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January and heard the buzz about it there.  Apparently lots of males from around the world were sharing their fears.

I have empathy for these men.  Really I do.  I know that they are uncertain these days about whether their words and actions will be taken wrong and they will be judged harshly.  Women also know this feeling.  We know just how uncomfortable that kind of uncertainty can be.  We have lived it.

When men say that they don’t want to go to dinner alone with a woman or travel alone with one, some of us can relate to that.  Some of us have been on the other side of it.

As an associate lawyer in the early 1980’s, I was told by a partner that he was taking me off a case because I was “a temptation” to him and he did not want to travel with me.  We were weeks away from a trial in a case that I had devoted a large part of a year’s effort to.  He was uncomfortable, and I was about to get one of the biggest opportunities of my budding career taken from me because of his discomfort.  So, I had to get over my own discomfort in speaking truth to power, as I stared him down and told him there was no problem.  He was not a temptation to me.  And we got on the plane and won the case.

Women have been outnumbered in business for decades and misunderstood.  We have been told that it was our fault for wearing the wrong clothes or looking one way or another.  In other words, we did not look like men.

We have been judged for being too feminine or not feminine enough.  We’ve been overlooked and sidelined.  Our careers have been put on hold.  We just did not fit in.

But, we continued to show up.  We took the risk of continuing to look and dress like nothing was wrong with us and power through.  And now we have accomplished critical mass, and they want to take it away from us again.

Now it is time for the men to power through.  The leadership in professions like law is mostly men, and we need those men to mentor young women lawyers and help turn them into the leaders of the future.  We need the men to be as careful with their behavior as we had to be with ours and to stop punishing women for their own bad choices.  We need them to step up to the responsibility of creating the culture of care that is desperately needed in this profession.

And we need it now.

Hopefully they have the right stuff to deliver.









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Diversity in Big Law — An Ultimatum from Corporate America

A very large group of general counsels (170 to be exact) posted a letter and signatures on a LinkedIn group page this week in support of diversity of women and minorities in law firms.  The letter was a direct result of discussion after the Paul Wise law firm announced a new class of partners in December, complete with photos of them all.  That would be all white males and one white female.

The reaction to the lack of diversity was harsh throughout the profession and in the media, and the LinkedIn effort soon was launched by Michelle Fang, chief legal officer of car-sharing company Turo.  It has since been reported that many general counsel, who signed the letter, also intend to send copies to the firms they work with and ask that it be shared with all the partners in those law firms.

“We applaud those firms,” the letter stated, “that have worked hard to hire, retain, and promote to partnership this year outstanding and highly accomplished lawyers who are diverse in race, color, age, gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, and without regard to disabilities.”

“At the same time, we are disappointed to see that many law firms continue to promote partner classes that in no way reflect the demographic composition of entering associate classes.  Partnership classes remain largely male and largely white.”

What this represents is an ultimatum to law firms to hire, retain and promote diversity within their ranks or suffer the financial consequences.

It is deja vu.  As recently as 2006, large US companies like Dupont, General Motors, Sara Lee, Shell Oil and Wal-Mart announced that they had undertaken a multifaceted initiative to increase inclusion of minority-owned law firms among those serving corporate America.  The five companies made a pledge to place at least $16 million dollars of business with minority-owned law firms during calendar year 2006.  The initiative was targeted to increasing the presence of minority lawyers in law firms, and the participating companies were putting their money where their mouths were.

Similarly, the current effort is designed to be a change agent to promote greater diversity in law firms.  Hopefully, by calling out feeble attempts at diversity, this new effort will be more successful than the effort in 2006.  That effort did not bring about the change that many had hoped for, and it is very likely that the recession of 2008 had the unfortunate effect of chilling efforts by the change agents.  It is commonly recognized that, during economic downturn, businesses often turn to issues of survival rather than issues of social significance.

So, I hope for healthy economic times ahead and greater attention to these issues of diversity this time around.  The time certainly has come for this kind of pressure on firms.

The lesson from Paul Weiss is that the diversity challenge has not been overcome — even for those firms with a reasonable track record on diversity.  There is still a long way to go.

Whatever happens, I am anticipating fewer new partner classes being featured in photos on social media.  Really.  Lawyers did that?

For more on the Paul Weiss fallout, see this New York Times article.






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What Do Tom Brady and Effective Law Firm Leaders Have in Common?

Not a powerful arm!  I think we can agree on that.  After watching Tom Brady march the New England Patriots down the field last weekend to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime and assure yet another Super Bowl appearance, it surely is not the arm.  Brady has it.  Law firm leaders do not.  Most law firm leaders are large part couch potato and small part athlete.  To hear them tell it, there is just not enough time in the day to increase PPP and work out, too, and that sounds very plausible.

As it turns out, the similarities between Tom Brady and effective law firm leaders have little to do with football and a lot more to do with leadership skills.  If you are thinking that someone in a stratosphere like Brady’s has little concern for juniors, you would be wrong.   And if you think that having reached 41 years of age, Tom has no time for the youth of the game, you would be even more wrong.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, Brady really works at leadership, and that is why he is so successful at the helm of a national championship team.  It appears that he takes nothing for granted.  He seeks out young teammates and introduces himself to them — yes, the great Tom Brady introduces himself to rookie players.  And those rookies are typically 20 years his junior and could so easily be ignored by someone of his caliber.

Brady reportedly not only engages his juniors in conversation, he learns their names and talks to them in their own language and about things that matter to them.  He “builds team chemistry and does not allow the stature he has to distance himself from everybody.”

Wow!  What a refreshing concept.  It seems to me that it would work well at law firms.

Many of the junior players in Brady’s life are millennials.  I write a lot about millennials as lawyers, and I know how important recognition and acknowledgement are to them. Generational differences in the workplace can be real impediments to esprit de corps — unless we don’t let them be.

So Brady has learned something that many law firm leaders have yet to master.  Do not disregard and isolate the juniors.  Engage them in conversation and really listen to their thoughts.  Treat them with respect.  Let them know that they are important to the future of your organization.

And how about Brady ignoring the question in the post game interview to thank all the people who support him every day and help make him great — from his wife and kids to team owners to fans?  It was classic and very classy.  Remember who brought you along.

We all have seen this in other sports leaders, of course.  The list is long, but one of my favorites is Tony Bennett, coach of the University of Virginia Cavaliers basketball team.  I am a little partial because I love UVA as the undergraduate alma mater of my kids and also because Bennett’s dad, Dick Bennett, coached the University of Wisconsin basketball team for years — and I am a proud UW Badger fan.  I have loved watching the father teach the son and pass on wisdom through sport.

One moment stands out for me.  Several years ago, I was watching the sideline huddle between Tony Bennett and his UVA players when something amazing happened.  One of the players made a comment, and Bennett stopped what he was saying and motioned for the player to continue speaking — to explain himself.  To take center stage because the player had something important to contribute.  To take over for the coach because it is not all about who gets the credit.  It is about being a team and playing the best game possible.

As usual, sports has a lot to teach us about life.  I hope that law firm leaders are listening and learning.





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What Is Up with All the Lawyers in Congress?

The US Congress is made up of 535 members, and a lot of them are lawyers.  So, it seems to me that these lawyers are forgetting how to do their jobs.  They have forgotten the basic principles of the art of compromise. 

The government shutdown is in its fourth week (26 days so far), the longest government shutdown in the history of this country, and people are suffering without paychecks and government services.  Surely, all of those lawyers should be able to strike a deal, especially under circumstances this dire, even without cooperation from the White House.  Looks to me like an end run like that is the only way to get things done.

This is not intended to be a political statement, so, don’t get your political dander up.  Frankly, I am upset with both sides of the aisle.   And a lot of other people are, too.

I have seen many negotiations go south because both sides wanted a whole loaf.  No half a loaf for those folks.  All or nothing was the only acceptable outcome.  Ironically, most of those failed deals were when I was in public service, and politics played a role.  Getting everything you ask for, of course, is absurd — both in politics and in life.  Unless, I guess, you are a member of Congress, who prizes getting reelected and hubris over what is in the best interests of THE PEOPLE.

It particularly rankles me when the obstructionists are lawyers.  They should know better.  It makes me wonder whether we should keep sending them to do the people’s business.  Maybe it would be better to send elected officials, who know nothing about lawmaking, negotiations and compromise, so that we would not have high expectations and would not be so disappointed in the outcomes.  At least disappointment would be predictable that way.

The families of Coast Guard members in Massachusetts are now going to food banks because they cannot afford groceries on NO PAY.  Other furloughed government employees are having to choose between necessary counseling and therapy for family members and paying the mortgage because of NO PAY.  Still others are playing Russian roulette with a variety of other financial obligations while they wait to see when Uncle Sam sends the next paycheck because of NO PAY.  And the money the government owes many people in the form of tax refunds, a basic government service, is on back log because of limited government.

This is a disgrace.  That is not the way we treat people in America.  This is what we criticize foreign governments for.

So, I ask again.  Where are the lawyers?  And do we want them taking up space in Congress?


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Women Lawyers Must Retain the Law Profession’s Foundational Values

In case you missed my recent article in the ABA Journal, I am including some of it here.  The content is very important to all women lawyers as women rise in the profession to levels of supervision and management.  They must be cheerleaders for each other, and they must not give into temptation to right the sins of the past leveled by male practitioners against women in the profession.  To do so would be to unwise and shortsighted.  Here is some of what I wrote in the ABA Journal article:

The senior women need to remember the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she said, “There is a special place reserved in hell for women who do not support other women.” Remember it and post it in their offices for constant reminder.

But that is not all. The attitudes of women lawyers toward male lawyers also need examining. They are equally as divisive and harmful to the profession.

When senior women lawyers become exclusive in their preferences to work with women over men, it is harmful to the profession. When departments full of women lawyers “freeze out” male practitioners in other ways because of built-up resentments, it is harmful to the profession.

And when that kind of “not-female” exclusion also is targeted to unsuspecting young male lawyers—who have had nothing to do with historical grievances—there is potential for even greater harm.

Most of the female lawyers exhibiting these behaviors are motivated by past gender inequalities. They are still smarting from old wrongs. In their negative and divisive actions toward male colleagues, they are failing to recognize that the excuse of “cluelessness” articulated by past generations of male lawyers to explain wrongful attitudes about gender inclusion is no defense for the exclusionary behaviors of women lawyers today.

Today’s powerful women lawyers are not clueless. They are not naive. They have borne witness to the sins of the past, and they know better than to repeat them.

They know exactly what they are doing to their male colleagues and how harmful grinding the ax of resentment can be. They understand that the oft-heard rallying cry, “We don’t need the men,” is short-sighted, imprudent and potentially harmful to our profession. But they don’t seem to be able to help themselves.

We women lawyers must be willing to examine ourselves and our motives. We must be willing to critique our attitudes and change our behaviors—for the good of all lawyers and the profession.

Recently when I was speaking at a conference of the Federal Bar Association, a senior woman judge told me, “The women lawyers are smart, capable, determined and hungry. They are gaining. Soon the men will decide not to compete and will leave firms for in-house positions or businesses or early retirement.”

She said this as if it would result in improvement for the profession. She stated it as a wise, aspirational goal. She said it in a way that made me believe she thought it was what I wanted to hear.

But it did not strike me that way. It struck me as very shallow and unfortunate. It struck me as a way of evening the score, and I could not help but wonder whether that is what we want.

Do we want a reorganization of the profession that will send us back to majority class rule and little in terms of empathy and respect for the other foundational values of our profession?

Do we want a reorganization of the profession based on divisive behaviors and unwillingness to pull together as women and men working toward mutual goals?

I don’t think so, but we need to be careful.

Our lack of professionalism and petty natures may be showing.

For the complete article:

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Let’s Hear It For The Women Lawmakers

Hallelujah!  A record 42 women will be sworn into the US Congress today.  That is something to celebrate.

Congress needs all the help it can get to overcome the partisanship and the log jams that have been created.  Log jams that are delaying the business of the people and taking a toll on Americans in significant ways.  The current government shutdown is an example of the kind of harm that should be avoided at all costs, and it should not be supported by any elected officials.  Essential government workers continue to serve the people without pay — living up to their obligations while the government is not.

So, let’s hope that the women in Congress can make a difference.  That remains to be seen, but we do know this.  Those women will bring the same excellent skills to the function of governing that women bring to the business of law.  Skills like:  A willingness to compromise when it is necessary; excellent soft skills that enhance communication outcomes; an ability to negotiate skillfully and effectively on behalf of others; and empathy and compassion for the less fortunate.  These skills have been missing in Congress in the near terms, and the result is deadlock.

However, women lawmakers cannot turn it around themselves.  It will take the cooperation of the male members of Congress to make that happen.  All the women can do is set good examples and hope that those examples will establish a trend in effective lawmaking.  If they do that, they will be doing the jobs they were elected to do.

And wouldn’t that be refreshing.

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Changing the Model of Big Law …. for Women Lawyers and Millennial Lawyers

I just listened to a podcast on that every young lawyer and law firm leader should hear.  It will confirm what young lawyers know they do not like about Big Law, and it will serve as a tutorial for law firm leaders.

The interviewee is Mitch Zuklie, who has been the chairman of Orrick for the last five years.  I have been following his leadership for a portion of that time, and that is why the podcast caught my attention.   The podcast also validates the messages of my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice.

The theme of the interview is this quote from Zuklie, “If we are going to convince the best talent to choose and stay in Big Law, we need to change the model.”  The changes that he identifies include:

  • Create a great place to work through training and identifying and inspiring talent;
  • Create models for early responsibilities as decision-makers;
  • Create increased interest in career paths and earlier promotion;
  • Create team-oriented problem solving and entrepreneurship models;
  • Increase flexibility to accommodate the needs of young families;
  • Increase periodic feedback and get away from the annual-only review model;
  • Increase the firm’s pro bono commitment; and
  • Increase diversity and inclusion by being mindful of the effects of bad policies and implicit biases.

There is a lot to think about there.  So, if you are wondering why you are not happy in Big Law, you likely will discover it by listening to the podcast.  And if you are wondering why so many associates are leaving Big Law and your law firm, in particular, you law firm leaders will probably discover it by listening as well. 

I hope so.



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