Define That Term #272
The New York Legal Blog Round Up

NYSBA Journal Commentary

Checkmark On p. 52 of the February 2008 NYSBA Journal appears the following, which I drafted on behalf of NYSBA Gender Equity Task Force Commission, of which I am a member. 

While my fellow committee members assisted me in editing the final work product, the body of the commentary was drafted by me and was to be attributed to me, but for some reason, that didn't occur.

In any event, the commentary is relevant to my readers, and I'll be posting it here and at my Women Lawyers blog.

Now, without further ado, here it is:

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Historically, legal employers have been steadfastly and notoriously reluctant to change the way business "has always been done" despite a growing outcry from associate attorneys struggling to balance their professional and personal lives. "It will affect our bottom line" is the oft-repeated refrain, offered to justify employers' resistance to altering the traditional workplace structure.

Requests for flexible work schedules, more varied networking opportunities, and alternate methods of determining compensation have generally been ignored, or granted in theory, but not enforced in practice. As the ranks of entry-level attorneys became increasingly more diverse, and women represent over 50% of the attorneys in the "pipeline" of new graduates, the refusal to consider such requests for change has disparately impacted women and minority attorneys. The predictable result has been a dramatic under-representation of women in the partnership ranks and the exodus of women and minorities from the profession altogether.

In recent years, as Generation “X” and “Y” law graduates have entered the workforce in increasing numbers, attrition rates have skyrocketed, as has the corollary cost of recruiting and training new lawyers to replace those who leave in search of greener pastures.

The reason for this phenomenon is simple: the values and traditional lifestyles of those at the top of the legal field contrast starkly with those of recent law graduates, both men and women. Yet, the economic impact of the high associate turnover alone has been insufficient to cause legal employers to re-evaluate the way that things have always been done.

Over the past year, however, the economic impact of their failure to adapt to changing times has been brought home to legal employers, as their long-time corporate clients demand more diverse legal teams reflective of their own organizations. At last, the potential loss of these core clients, combined with the increased costs associated with high attrition rates, has caused many employers to sit up and take notice. Those poised at the upper echelons of the legal field would be well advised to embrace change – and take advantage of the newfound flexibility offered by technologic advancements. Rather than seeking ways in which to avoid complying with clients' demands for diversity, perhaps it is high time to re-evaluate whether the inflexible workplace environment is due for a major overhaul. Your clients will be satisfied, your associate attorneys will be newly content, thus reducing the costs created by high attrition rates, and your profit margins will increase. Turn your clients' request on its head and you might just realize that their demand for diversity doesn't create a new problem, it solves an existing one.

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