The Importance of Team Play for All Lawyers

My most recent column in the ABA Journal was published this week and says it all. Read this article for all you need to know about team play. It is essential for success in the practice of law today, and you need to learn to be a team player.

https://www.abajournal.com/columns/article/in-defense-of-the-team-what-basketball-and-law-practice-have-in-common

Businesses know this. MBA programs are designed with the team approach in mind. But the law profession has been reluctant to follow suit. However, many of the clients today have C-suites full of young MBAs, and THEY know how effective organizations should be run in this multi-faceted and global business environments. So, it is time that the law profession got with it to do the most effective work and to keep the clients who know better.

Happy reading!

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The Joys of Conservation

Tomorrow is Earth Day. It is always celebrated on April 22nd and has its roots in the student protests surrounding the US involvement in the Vietnam Conflict in the late 1960’s. It was conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, the great state of my birth, and it led to important US environmental legislation and a global recognition of Earth Day in the 1990’s.

Here are some Earth Day facts to share with your friends:

Senator Nelson founded Earth Day after witnessing a massive oil spill that leaked millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in 1969.

The very first Earth Day sparked an environmental movement and led to the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later that year.

The observation of Earth Day was also influential in passing environmental legislation like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Education Act, and more.

In 2009, the UN designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day.

And it is estimated that over a billion people participate in Earth Day every year, making it the largest secular observance in the world.

Earth Day has become a special day of celebration for me. My family respected the environment and contributed to environmental causes like recycling and water conservation long before it was popular. As children we were taught the importance of these commitments and our responsibilities to get involved.

And concerns for the environment and protection of nature are still very important to me today. The volunteer work that I do as a board member of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust has become a passion, and every acre of land that we protect with tools like conservation easements and fee acquisitions of pristine lands is a cause for celebration. Sometimes it is preservation of a large parcel of land in the Shenandoah Valley, often a farm that has been in a family for generations, and other times it is only a few acres that add to the enjoyment of nature in urban settings in the communities of Northern Virginia bordering Washington, DC. All of these opportunities improve the quality of life for residents of those areas and help reduce the effects of climate change.

Did you know that tree canopies reduce the carbon footprint? Did you know that trees take in carbon and emit oxygen. So every acre of natural forest that is saved is a benefit to climate control. Natural forests also benefit water quality, reduce erosion and provide homes for wild animals.

There is so much that all of us can do in the fight to preserve green spaces and reduce the effects of climate change. Lawyers are naturals for this work because of their advocacy training, knowledge of the legislative process, and understanding of land use issues. So, I encourage you to get involved!

Check out this link to the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust to see how your talents can be used there and in similar organizations throughout the country.

Happy Earth Day!

Career Counselors, Law Students, Lifestyle, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Young Lawyers, Listen Up! What You Say About Yourself Defines You

Marshall Goldsmith is one of the most influential leadership trainers in the country. I have taken his course and am a certified leadership counselor through his organization. I based my book Top Down Leadership for Women Lawyers on much of what I had learned from Marshall.

Below are excerpts from one of his recent blogs on his website. The gist of it is that what you say about yourself through your behaviors and your speech determines whether you receive positive or negative recognition and how successful you will be.

Here is a summary of what Marshall has to say:

My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams. I want to help you make your life a little better.

Start by refusing to define yourself as a jerk. Here’s how it happens.

We all have that relative who is always late. She comes in and says, “Oh I am so sorry, I am always late.” Or, we hear another relative who always makes embarrassing gaffes. He excuses himself saying, “I always say the wrong thing.

In reality, these people who “admit” their mistakes are setting themselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, they are giving themselves permission to always say or do the wrong thing.

The fact is that what we say about ourselves, both positive and negative, defines who we are.

How about the boss who, on the positive side, says things like… “I am usually able to figure these things out,” or “I am dedicated to outworking the competition.”

On the negative side, the boss may say things like…”I am a bad listener” or “I am not detail oriented.”

These little sayings add up to your definition of who you are. They are a group of behaviors that you define as “me.” The more we talk, the more we define our unalterable essence.

Well. Let me alter your perspective.

If we buy into our behavior definition of “me,” which most humans do, we can learn to excuse almost any annoying action by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”

As you read this column, think about your own behavior. How many times does your “need to be me” get in the way of building positive relationships with the important people in your life? How many times have you rationalized inappropriate behavior by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”?

There comes a moment for all of us when change becomes possible, when we realize that stern allegiance to our chosen behavior is pointless vanity. We realize that we are hurting our chances for success.

Shedding the “excessive need to be me” is a defining moment. It’s an interesting equation: less me + more them = more success as a leader.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself resisting change because you are clinging to a false, and/or probably pointless, notion of “me.” Free yourself from those behaviors to reach your full potential.

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What’s Happening in Law Firms Today?

Law firms are changing. The pandemic has changed just about everything in business, and law firms are no exception. So what are the big changes that law firms and their members are experiencing these days?

The biggest news involves bonuses. The Internet is jumping on an almost daily basis with news of the ongoing bonus war and one more BigLaw firm added to the big bonus list. Even big signing bonuses for associates, sometimes up to six figures.

All of this bonus activity has caused me to wonder what is driving it. After all, the law business has just come through a difficult year where most everyone is working remotely and the brick and mortar offices are sitting empty but very expensive for those firms with long-term leases. On the other hand, most firms are finding that there is no diminution of the quality of the work and profits look good. So it is a bad news, good news analysis.

The answer to this bonus activity appears to lie in the increased lateral movement in large law firms these days. The lateral movement is particularly significant among corporate transactions attorneys, and bonuses are a mechanism that firms use to retain talent and keep clients in place. According to one legal recruiter, “I definitely feel like corporate associate recruiting is the busiest I’ve seen since I’ve started my business.” Another source describes the lateral activity right now as “absolutely absurd.”

So there is that. But it’s hardly a panacea for the increase in mental health issues, stress and burnout in the legal profession during these trying pandemic times. The question will be whether money will solve these problems. My guess is that it will not, but it will keep people in place for the near future and it will be a significant factor in the competition for market leadership.

And there also are other changes in law firms related to the pandemic. With the success of remote practice in terms of law firm profitability and the convenience of working from home for many practicing lawyers, the next challenge I expect is whether the five-day-work-week at the office will survive. According to some sources, law firms are beginning to address the benefits of bringing everyone back to the office full-time. One source reports that offices are being reconfigured with the concept of telecommuting in mind and with a reduction in personal office space in lieu of more collaborative spaces.

And this is likely to create yet another bidding war. One that is about lifestyle not money.

Only time will tell.

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

The Student Loan Forgiveness Program Works!

The substantial student loan debt that many law school graduates incur follows them a long time into their practices. It hangs over their heads like dark clouds, and it affects their life style options. Those options are not limited to expensive vacations and other choices that may seem extravagant. No, they include options for home ownership, education choices for children, and job flexibility.

Some young lawyers have the ability to have their loans paid off by family members or other interested parties. That is indeed fortunate for them, although I always hope that those “pay-off” scenarios include leaving portions of the debt with the young lawyers. They need to have a financial stake in their futures.

But other young lawyers must look elsewhere for loan forgiveness, and the current federal program is the place to start until additional loan forgiveness becomes law — as is being promoted by the Biden administration and certain members of Congress. See this article on options for federal student loan forgiveness, and discover what might be available for you.

The public service option for those employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization is a place to start for young lawyers. It is an especially good opportunity for those of you who think that you cannot take another day in private practice. Billable hours and representing the establishment do not appeal to everyone, but the high salaries keep them there.

And for those who say it never will happen for them and that the effort for loan forgiveness is too weighty for a young lawyer with practice responsibilities, check out this success story.

Is this a perfect fix? No. But hopefully you have learned by now not to sacrifice “good” on the altar of “perfect.” It is a dead end.

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

When Will Women Be Safe?

I am so disturbed after yesterday’s news out of Georgia where eight women were killed in what look to be hate crimes. All of the facts are not in on these horrific crimes, but just knowing that all the victims were women is disturbing enough. When you add that these women may have been targeted because they are of Asian descent, it is all the more disturbing.

I hope that the Violence Against Women Act finally passes this time around, and I hope that we start to do a better job of educating young men about how to show respect for women. So many of the crimes against women happen in the home, where one in fifteen children in the U.S. witnesses domestic violence, and it is a cycle that repeats itself. Demonstrating respect for the women in the home is critical to stemming the tide of this most regrettable form of violence.

And, we also must start to take sexual harassment, gender discrimination and gender bias in the workplace more seriously. Even though harassment, discrimination and bias cannot be equated with violent crime, they can leave life-long scars and negatively affect opportunities for women.

Looking back at my career as a lawyer, I thought we would be much further down this road by now. When I began law practice in 1979, it might have been understandable that the presence of women in the law profession was still new and that there would be a learning curve for the men who controlled the profession. Well, the days of that learning curve are long over, and what has resulted is just a convenient series of excuses to justify slow progress on inclusion, retention and advancement for women lawyers. According to the most recent statistics published in February 2021 by NALP, only 22% of equity partners in major law firms today are women. And those results have not changed appreciably in the last ten years that NALP has issued its annual diversity reports. Gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and gender bias play a big part in these unfortunate statistics, and it is time that our profession figured this out.

The hatred and resentment toward women needs to stop. I have no patience for men who say that women are getting too much preferential treatment these days. That women are taking jobs and positions away from men and that it is not fair. Not fair! Apparently these men know nothing of the last four hundred years of American history when women were considered to be chattels owned by men, when women did not have the right to vote until 1920, and when women worked both at home and outside the home at the same time to be good caregivers for their young children and to help build a secure future for their families. And the list goes on. Yes, apparently that part of history has been forgotten by some.

So, today, I am thinking of my sisters. My sisters inside and outside the law profession. My sisters of all skin colors and backgrounds. My sisters who need and deserve protection from violence and unequal treatment.

As we close the book on March and Women’s History Month, we need to resolve to do all that we can to protect the women. After all, it is the women who protected us and gave us the best possible starts in this complicated and challenging world.

It is time for pay back.

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The Law is a Tough Business

In response to my most recent column in the ABA Journal addressing reengineering the law profession — including reforms to law school curricula, bar exam content, the benefits of mandatory apprenticships and improved mentoring — I have received e-mails from readers all over the country. Some of those e-mails are from young lawyers thanking me for writing the piece and also telling me their unfortunate stories. It always pains me to read how isolated and alone young lawyers feel and how disappointed they are as members of a profession that seems not to care about their career development or work satisfaction.

Here are some of those stories.

I heard from a young female lawyer, who has practiced less than a year and is thinking about leaving the profession. She was especially concerned about the workload and the lack of mentoring and career development at her law firm. My response to her was to remind her that the law is a tough profession and that the first years of practice are especially challenging. I suggested to her that it is not prudent to leave a profession after such a short time in practice. It is not good for a resume, and it does not say much for her perseverance. Although I agreed with her that effective mentoring should be forthcoming from firm leadership, I suggested to her that she needs to be proactive. She needs to actively seek out mentors in the firm and to join local bar associations where mentorship is typically addressed and provided.

I also heard from a male lawyer who, after nine years in a law firm, is considering leaving the profession because of unfulfilled expectations. He wrote that he feels like he is still functioning as a clerk and does not receive much respect or interest in his career path. For him, my response was not the same. After nine years, he is likely to know better than anyone else that he needs something different and must make a change. My hope is that he has made enough money in those nine years to buy down any student loans he may have from law school and to accrue enough savings to give himself a cushion. If that is the case, he will be in a much better position to consider alternatives to private law practice. Leaving the profession altogether may be an overreaction, and my suggestion was that he look for a career path that includes alternative legal work spaces or that uses his legal skills in a different setting. I also suggested that he consult with a life coach who specializes in working with lawyers. Those consultants are available in most large legal markets and also can be found on the Internet.

And I heard from seasoned lawyers, who were very complimentary about the column. One of them, a foreign-educated lawyer, had fulfilled the requirements of a mandatory apprenticeship program in her country and found it to be invaluable. Others opined that the reforms I suggest in the column, although laudatory, will never happen. To that I responded that those reforms will never happen if people like me stop advocating for them and stop getting information about reform initiatives into the public forum for discussion.

You can take that to mean that I will not stop trying to make things better for young lawyers. You have my word.

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Taking a Close Look at the Law Profession

The law profession is ripe for a close look at how it is serving its members. And that close look needs to begin at the bottom. It needs to focus on entry-level lawyers and how their experiences can be improved and enriched — for their benefit and for the benefit of the organizations they serve.

My ABA Journal February column was published today and explores reengineering of the law profession — from the bottom up. It includes proposals for changes to law school curricula to produce “practice ready” lawyers, revisions to bar exams to contribute to that same goal, and the need for apprenticeships/internships and effective mentoring to enhance and advance the careers of young lawyers and preserve their talent to take law firms into the future.

A fresh look at these subjects is long overdue and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. The concept of “practice ready” lawyers has been kicked around for years in the profession, but the resistance from law schools, boards of bar examiners, and bar prep companies has been significant. They all have turf to protect that makes initiating change difficult.

Keep in mind that the US is not the only legal market in the world. Other countries approach legal education and legal licensure differently, especially those countries that impose mandatory requirements for post-graduate apprenticeships to assure competency and readiness for practice . In Canada, for example, the apprenticeship requirement is known as “Articling,” and every lawyer in Canada, after graduating from law school and before being admitted to the bar, is required to go through one year of Articling. In British Columbia, that one year of Articling consists of three months of practical courses followed by the bar exam and nine months of practical experience in a law firm.

In the UK, the apprenticeship requirement to become a barrister is known as “pupillage,” and legal licensure in Germany requires a multiple-stage clerkship. These programs are all designed to avoid what happens in America where entry-level lawyers have little practical experience, feel ill-prepared for practice, and suffer feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and loss of confidence as a result. For those who do not receive effective mentoring at their law firms or other places of business, the temptation to leave the profession is strong and too many of them do just that.

So our failure to meet the needs of future lawyers results in loss of talent in the profession and negative impacts on succession plans. That does not make sense, and it does not have to be that way. Kicking the can down the road will get us nowhere. The time for change is now.

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