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September/October 2017 Newsletter

Happy Fall!  I hope you are enjoying the crisp autumn air and the beautiful fall foliage.  It is a wonderful time of year to enjoy being outside in nature.  Here I am hiking in Great Falls National Park.

What’s Up at Best Friends at the Bar? 

In September I delivered the keynote address at an Oklahoma Bar Association conference in Oklahoma City.  The subject was Owning Your Career, and there was standing room only.  I really enjoyed the time I spent with accomplished young women lawyers who are balancing careers and personal lives to great success and satisfaction.  My next stop is NYC where I will speak at Gibson Dunn in mid-November.

Future engagements also include the Women Lawyers of Charlotte/Mecklenberg County Bar Association in January and Catholic University Law School in early  2018.

Work on the manuscript for the new book for Millennial lawyers and the new program on Soft Skills for Lawyers continues.  Late fall and winter is a great time to honker down in my cozy home office and get these projects completed.  I can’t wait to get them out and ready to assist young lawyers.


Women in the Board Room:  Research shows that having women on corporate boards positively affects business.  Although it is logical to assume that the presence of women in governance at law firms would have a similar effect, the number of women in positions of leadership and management at law firms continues to be small compared to the number of women in private practice.  Here are some recent study results and numbers that should get your attention:

  • A study by Kramer, Konrad and Erkut shows that a critical mass of three or more women can cause a fundamental change in the boardroom and enhance corporate governance.
  • Even one woman on a board can make a significant impact. Credit Suisse looked at 2,400 global corporations over eight years and found that large-cap companies with at least one woman on their boards outperformed comparable companies with all-male boards by 26 percent.
  • Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with women on their boards had significantly higher returns on equity (53%), better sales (42%), and a two-thirds greater ROI than companies with all-male boards.

It is time to pay attention to the evidence and keep up with your corporate clients!

 Mentoring Gone Wrong:  I counsel a lot of associate lawyers, and I hear stories about mentoring — or lack of it— that make me crazy.  These young professionals turn to me and others in my field because law firms are not doing a good job of mentoring and developing the talent of young associates.  In other words, my business is growing because some of you are failing to do your jobs.

Whether it is because law firm leaders are too busy or because they do not care, failing to mentor young lawyers is wrong and shortsighted.  There is an inherent promise in a job offer to a young lawyer that goes something like this, “We are going to help develop your skills and enhance your career path to benefit you and the firm.”

So many big firms are failing miserably at this.  They are ignoring entry level lawyers to the degree that they barely acknowledge the existence of associates except as work machines.  Partners don’t have conversations with the young lawyers, and they rarely give them feedback that is not negative.  They don’t help young lawyers understand how their drudge work fits into the big picture and why it is important to the client, and they let them sit alone in their offices all day every day doing tedious work without a simple, “Hello, how are you doing?”  So little can go a long way, and so much more needs to be done.

Here is an article from a partner in Big Law that helps to make these points.  For him the importance of mentoring began when he was a summer associate at the same law firm he is with today.  Granted, his experience as that summer associate may have been exceptional, but he makes excellent observations about the responsibility that law firms have for mentoring and talent development.  I hope you read it and model it.

Also see my recent blog on the subject of mentoring and YOUR RESPONSIBILITY for it.  Don’t miss the connection between effective mentoring and law firm succession planning.  This could be very important to you in retirement.

Law’s #MeToo Moment:  Sexual harassment allegations are surfacing across industries today, and none of us can act like it does not happen in our profession.  Because it does, and we all know it.  We must be cognizant of what is going on and do something about it.  If you see something, say something applies in legal work spaces as well as it does in matters of national security.  Sexual harassment can be blatant or it can be subtle — like when a woman refuses advances from a supervising male colleague and ends up losing support for her work, receiving bad reviews and eventually being forced out of the firm.  The power differential in law firms is significant, and power gone wrong corrupts.

It is the responsibility of all of us to expose problematic workplace behaviors and cultures.  We need informal complaint processes, qualitative surveys, focus groups and educational programs to raise awareness.  Effective leadership in law firms includes addressing these issues sooner rather than later.

Be My Guest! 

My goal is to keep women lawyers in practice.  However, that does not mean in any one legal setting to the exclusion of others.  Elena Deutch, founder of WILL (Women Interested in Leaving (big) Law), specializes in addressing transitions from private practice.  Here is what she has to say about “Overcoming Inertia.”

I recently spoke with a reporter who was trying to shape a “you against them” story about my business, WILL – Women Interested in Leaving (big) Law, and firms.
The reporter asked, “While firms are trying to keep women, your service helps them leave?” 

“Yes,” I said, “And they are not mutually exclusive!”  Creating work life balance, addressing implicit and explicit sexism, and promoting women, are critically important for the legal profession.

Helping associates and others who want to leave is also vital. Honest and transparent conversations about career desires may be increasing, but are rarely part of firm cultures.   In the absence of candid discussion, by their 7th or 8th year, many ambivalent associates feel pigeonholed, isolated and unsure of their transferable skills. 

Some reasons lawyers remain, even while deeply conflicted, include: mistrust of firm resources, believing they are indebted to a partner who has championed them, and money concerns. Perhaps most importantly, they can’t yet answer the question, “What would you do instead?”

All this combines into a recipe for debilitating inertia, which may go on for years.  In the case of one of my clients, seven years.

What can you do if this resonates?

  • Leverage Your Assets:  Very few lawyers leave quickly or hastily. You are risk averse and measured. Use your talents to your advantage.   Pick two qualities that have helped you as a lawyer, and claim those as strengths. Maybe you are ultra-responsible, a quick learner or a high achiever. Put those to work for your career transition.
  • Tune into Your Curiosity:  Every time you hear that whispering voice saying, “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here,”  or “I’m bored and want more meaningful work,” do not dismiss it as rash or crazy.  Listen and take it seriously. 
  • Believe You Can:  What would you tell a dear friend if they were in your shoes? Would you tell them it’s okay to leave? Now, tell yourself that.  Give yourself permission to leave.  Do it with focus and treat yourself to a coach or a course to give you structure, accountability and tools for success.

The reporter’s story hasn’t run yet, and I have no control over it.  But you have control over your story… what do you want to see in the next chapter?

Learn more about Elena at www.womeninterestedinleavinglaw.com or on Twitter @elenaatwork.  For another perspective and some caveats, also see this article from Above the Law.

That’s a Wrap!

Are you interested in an event at your law firm, law organization or law school?  Contact me for program descriptions and scheduling.  The issues challenging women lawyers are in the public conversation more than ever these days, and you want to make sure your law firm, law school and/or law organization takes advantage of the most recent information and trends to keep up with the competition.

You also are invited to Be My Guest! by contributing a column to a future newsletter.  It is a good way to connect with my readers.

Buy My Books from Amazon and Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers direct from my website.  All of my blogs are reprinted on my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, and most of them also are reprinted on the Ms JD website.  Click “share” and re-tweet to move them on to others and show your support for BFAB.

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My next newsletter will appear in December.  Until then, turn to the Best Friends at the Bar website to keep up with recent happenings on the blogs and social media there.

Happy Thanksgiving!  See you soon!