Finding Balance

Success is in the eye of the beholder

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This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Success is in the eye of the beholder."

A pdf of the article can be found  here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Success is in the eye of the beholder

I attended a luncheon recently for Rochester-based women attorneys who had graduated from my alma mater, Albany Law School. The event focused on the different paths through which women attorneys could find professional fulfillment.

Over lunch, each table discussed the various issues faced by women attorneys and at the end of the meal, each group offered a report summing up the gist of the conversations.

The attendees consisted of, for the most part, two different groups of graduates: those who graduated from law school in the mid-2000s and more “seasoned” attorneys like myself, who had graduated prior to the mid-1990s. Missing (for the most part) were women attorneys who graduated between 1995 and 2005.

Initially, this puzzled me, but I later realized that many of the “missing” alumni likely had very small children. Of those who had young families, some were no longer working and were out of the legal loop altogether; others were working full or part-time and were no doubt desperately juggling the demands of work, family and life. For most of these women, attending an alumni luncheon was a time-killing luxury they could ill afford.

Nevertheless, their views were represented, I believe, by those of us who had been there, done that. And, this soon became apparent as each table reported back to the group regarding their discussions. Although many topics were covered, one recurring theme cropped up repeatedly: that the definition of “success” is different for each person.

In other words, you need to define success for yourself and understand that your concept of success must be flexible, since your frame of reference tends to alter the concept of success as well. If you buy into someone else’s concept of “success,” you are bound to be miserable.

It is so important for young attorneys and law students — especially women — to acknowledge and embrace this concept, since the failure to do so has the potential to drastically affect their sense of self worth down the road.

This is because many young women lawyers envision having children, but simply cannot, or will not, acknowledge that starting a family will fundamentally alter their priorities, and, quite possibly, their definitions of success. And if these young women have not yet accepted that their concept of professional success may change over time, then they are in for a rude and uncomfortable awakening — one that begins the moment that they announce their pregnancy to the world.

For me, the internal conflicts that I felt during my pregnancy and in the years that followed were tremendously difficult. I wrestled with feelings of personal inadequacy and worried that I wouldn’t be able to maintain the high professional standards that I expected of myself. I also worried that I would be incapable of both working and mothering my child in a way that would not render me an unfit parent.

I continued to experience feelings of inadequacy a few years later when I decided to take a hiatus from the legal field to care for my children. I suffered from extreme guilt and truly felt as if I had singlehandedly derailed the entire feminist movement and failed women lawyers everywhere.

In retrospect, I gave myself far too much credit! Nevertheless, had I understood that success is a fluid, and very personal, concept I’d have fared much better and spared myself much unnecessary angst.

So please, young women lawyers and law students: Understand and accept that success is in the eye of the beholder. Realize that it is a fluid concept that changes over time. Never let anyone else define success for you — not your colleagues, mentors, parents, professors, career counselors, or classmates. Only you know what success is for you. Delegate that determination at the risk of your happiness.

Nicole Black is of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester. She co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise, and is currently writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA in early 2011. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com


Dear Judge Kaye

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This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Dear Judge Kaye."

A pdf of the article can be found  here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Dear Judge Kaye

In early May you sat on a panel sponsored by the American Bar Association held during the Women in Law Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

As reported in a Legal Intelligencer article, “Judges Provide Tips for Female Litigators,” there were more than 500 women in the audience. Also sitting on the panel were U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Norma L. Shapiro, and U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Texas, Barbara M.G. Lynn.

Advice offered during the seminar addressed the appropriate attire for women attorneys, the levels of confidence that women should exude while in court, how loudly women should speak in court and that women should “woman up” and avoid crying in court.

As I understand it, during the discussion you indicated that you “endured” private practice for 21 years before becoming a judge and suggested that women lawyers should “agonize privately” in the face of difficulties at work. You also lamented that women were leaving the practice of law saying, “If you don’t stay, then the rest of this conversation becomes kind of academic.”

Before I address those comments, I would like to preface my remarks by saying that I admire you greatly. You are a beacon of light in the upper ranks of an otherwise male-dominated profession and have always been an inspiration to me.

I have followed your tireless attempts to eradicate the inequities in our profession and forward the careers of women lawyers, and I have the utmost respect for your efforts in this regard. Your hard work and altruistic spirit is unrivaled. You are a true leader and you are undoubtedly one of my heroes.

For those reasons, it pains me to say that I disagree with the advice you offered women attorneys.

First and foremost, I don’t think female attorneys, or male attorneys for that matter, have an obligation to “stick it out” as a lawyer if they are absolutely miserable with their career choice. We’ve all been handed just one life to live, and it can change quite suddenly, when you least expect it, as I unfortunately learned when my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer just three weeks before our wedding. He’s long since recovered from that illness, but the experience drastically changed my worldview.

As far as I’m concerned, we’d best make the most of this life while we still have it. “Enduring” an unhappy, day-to-day existence out of some sense of obligation to a profession that seems reluctant to accept you for the person you are seems pointless at best, and torturous at worst. As women, we bring a different set of experiences,
skill sets and perspectives to the practice of law, whether due to socialization, biology or a combination of the two. Our profession currently seems unwilling to accept that which we bring to the table. We are expected to behave like men in our professional lives and are penalized for failing to do so.

On the flip side, we’re also penalized if we allow those “masculine” behaviors to cross over into our social and private lives. Our lives have become a bizarre, complex waltz wherein we wear different hats, depending on our environment, and attempt to modify our behavior accordingly lest we face the wrath of a judge, colleague, neighbor or preschool teachers.

Perhaps one day our profession will accept women for who they are and embrace the unique skills and perspectives they bring to the table. Until then, many women will abandon the profession for greener pastures rather than endure the misery of non-stop scrutiny and unending attempts to alter their “feminine” personalities.

I don’t blame women for leaving, I blame our profession; however, I have faith that attitudes will change over time and more women will stay on the legal career path.
Judge Kaye, I’m quite sure your hard work and tireless efforts on behalf of women in our profession has not been wasted. Slowly, but surely, more women lawyers will rise through the ranks and hold positions of power, inspired in large part by the shining example of women like you.

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Appropriate Attire for Women Attorneys

Drlogo11

This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Appropriate Attire for Women Attorneys."

A pdf of the article can be found  here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Appropriate Attire for Women Attorneys

Earlier this month I had the privilege to attend a local alumni event sponsored by my alma mater, Albany Law School: “Successes and Challenges Facing Women Attorneys.”

It featured Lauren Stiller Rikleen, attorney and author of “Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law.” Stiller Rikleen gave an amazing presentation full of depressing statistics about the fate of women lawyers in our profession.

I think my favorite depressing fact was that women lawyers who are married see decreases in income, while married men see increases. The statistics regarding the disparities in the career paths and incomes of women attorneys versus male attorneys was striking, but not unfamiliar to me. At this stage of the game, men and women simply fare differently in our profession for any number of reasons.

The Chicago Bar Association also held an event targeted to law students this month, “What Not To Wear Fashion Show,” which was covered by the Above the Law blog. The show’s panel consisted of judges, law professors, lawyers and fashion industry experts who offered advice on appropriate attire for lawyers.

Apparently, the event should have been called “What Women Lawyers Shouldn’t Wear,” since the vast majority of the advice centered on appropriate attire for women attorneys, with male attire being a mere afterthought.

One issue that appeared to be of great concern to the panelists was that women should avoid revealing their “form,” lest they “tempt” the “married men at law firms” or “distract” the judges.

Yes, apparently the panelists, one of whom was a judge of the feminine persuasion, actually suggested that it is the job of women lawyers everywhere to hide their “form” in order to ensure male attorneys stay focused on the task of practicing law.

One wonders how male gynecologists manage to perform their job in the face of seemingly insurmountable distractions, but I digress.

The panel reminded me of one with a similar focus, held in Memphis in 2008, at which a group of lawyers and judges met to discuss the issue of a dress code proposed by a number of Memphis Bar Associations.

The proposed rule at issue was: “All attorneys should wear appropriate attire. Men shall wear coats, ties, slacks and appro- priate footwear, which does not include athletic shoes or shoes without socks. Women shall wear professional and conservative attire, such as dresses with jackets, suits or pantsuits (with appropriate tops), and appropriate footwear, which does not include cocktail shoes or sandals or athletic shoes.”

I think my favorite part of the rule is that the attire for women is specifically described as “conservative.” For some reason, men need not dress “conservatively.” Presumably 1970s-style leisure suits would be perfectly appropriate for men to wear court.

One also wonders how cold-weather-climate attor- neys such as myself are expected to handle the issue of boots in the winter. Boots most certainly are not “appropriate footwear” under the proposed rule. They are an absolute necessity, however, when you have to walk a few blocks to court in the middle of an Upstate winter. Men have the luxury of slipping “rubbers” over their (flat) shoes. Many wear the unattractive foot coverings into court as well, and I’ve never heard any complaints about that particular practice.

The Memphis panel, like the Chicago one, seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about the fashion choices of women lawyers, paying mere lip service to the choices of men. Another day, another sexist panel.

One day, perhaps, “fashion” panels that seemingly exist solely to criticize women attorneys will be looked upon as tacky tribunals of generations past.

One day, there no longer will be a need to hold panels focus- ing on gender disparities in promotions and pay.

One day, the gender of an attorney will be a mere afterthought.

When I entered law school I assumed, naively, that day had long since arrived. Now I simply hope that day will come at some point in my lifetime.

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Lawyers Need to Get a Life

Drlogo11

This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Lawyers Need to Get a Life."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Lawyers Need to Get a Life

Last week I attended the “Get a Life” conference in Chicago. Its goal? Help attorneys discover how to “run [their] practice without running [themselves] into the ground.” It was a great conference —really interesting and knowledgeable speakers, relevant and timely topics, great people, delicious food and good times.

The Total Practice Management Association did a great job, and it was well worth the trip.

Most notably, TPMA managed to put on a conference unlike any other I’ve ever attended. The overriding theme of the unique exhibit hall was difficult to miss: Practice law, but enjoy your life. Thus, in one corner, there was a large bunch of roses to smell. In another, a patch of green grass to walk on, a Wii game console in
another, and free massages were offered the last corner of the room —not your average law conference.

As I listened to the speakers discuss topics ranging from legal marketing, practice management and work/life balance, however, I wondered why it is that lawyers need to be taught how to “get a life.”

Why is it that the practice of law tends to eradicate the semblance of a normal paced life? How does our profession manage to suck the joy from the lives of
attorneys, leaving behind stressed out, argumentative, humorless individuals, eyes glazed over from fatigue, their personal lives in ruin?

I mulled over those questions as I absorbed the useful information being presented and became increasingly depressed at the notion that legal conferences of this nature were even necessary.

Without question, however, they are.

The practice of law is uniquely stressful, alienating and inflexible. Many lawyers leave the profession for greener pastures, including, somewhat ironically, many of the speakers at this conference. And, truth be told, they seemed much happier than some of the lawyers who were sitting in the audience.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that leaving the law is the only way for lawyers to be happy. Those lawyers who unexpectedly lost their law jobs as a result of the recent economic downturn would be well advised to take a long, hard look at their lives and assess their level of career satisfaction, however.

Those who determine that the practice of law is more draining than it is fulfilling should look at their fate as an opportunity to pursue an alternative career. An unplanned job loss might very well be the incentive someone needs to “get a life” —a happier, more satisfying life outside of law.

If the practice of law continues to bring you joy, despite its inherent stresses, tweaking the ways in which you manage and promote your practice will reduce the stressors and increase career satisfaction.

The conference was designed to provide information and tools for accomplishing that very task. Attendees learned that targeted, effective marketing and online networking can bring clients in the door. Likewise, focused, intelligent hiring —and firing — strategies can reduce unpleasant management issues down the road.

Similarly, outsourcing and the creative use of new technologies can simultaneously simplify a practice and cut costs.

If you enjoy practicing law, take steps to ensure that you will continue to do so.  Make it a point to attend the “Get a Life” conference in 2010 and learn how to eliminate stressors and streamline your practice.

You deserve to have a life, and this conference will help you to get on the right track.


Lawyers-Get a Life!

Gal2 Last week I attended the "Get a Life" conference in Chicago. The goal of the conference was to help attorneys discover how to "run your practice without running yourself into the ground."It was a great conference-really interesting and knowledgeable speakers, relevant and timely topics, great people, delicious food and good times.  The Total Practice Management Association did a great job and it was well worth the trip.

Most notably, TMA managed to put on a conference unlike any other I've ever attended.  The overriding theme of the unique exhibit hall was hard to miss: practice law, but enjoy your life.  Thus, in one corner, a large bunch of roses to smell, in another, a patch of green grass to walk on, a Wii game console in another corner, and free massages in the last corner of the room.  Not your average law conference.

One thing that occurred to me as I listened to the speakers, was how depressing it was that this conference is even necessary.  However, it most certainly is.

The practice of law is uniquely stressful, alienating and inflexible.  Many lawyers leave the profession for greener pastures, including, somewhat ironically, many of the speakers at this conference.  And, truth be told, they seemed much happier than many of the lawyers sitting in the audience.

In this economy, many lawyers have lost their "law" jobs. Perhaps they'd be well advised to look at their job loss as an opportunity to get a life--a happier, more satisfying life outside the law.

Alternatively, if you insist on practicing law, I insist that you attend this conference in 2010. Because you deserve to have a life, and this conference will get you on the right track.


Lawyering Is Quite the Balancing Act

Drlogo11 This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Practicing Law in the 21st Century."  The article is set forth in full below and a pdf of the article can be found here.

My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Lawyering is quite the balancing act

“What struck us as we reviewed the results of these forums was that the attorneys’ responses — regardless of their number of years in practice, size of firm, practice setting, etc. — were consistent on one central point: They all were having a very difficult time achieving a balanced life in the law. Again, we wish to emphasize that when we refer to a balanced professional and personal life, we embrace ... not only attention to private interests, family and friends, but also involvement in bar association, civic, and community activities, all of which contribute to achieving a well-balanced life. … Most felt that, at the time they decided to go to law school, they didn’t fully appreciate the extent of the demands a legal career would place on them.”

— New York State Bar Association’s “Final Report of the Special Committee on Balanced Lives in the Law,” March 7

As the recent NYSBA “Final Report of the Special Committee on Balanced Lives in the Law” concluded, the law can be all encompassing.

It’s always been that way, hence the saying “the law is a jealous mistress.”

Attempting to balance one’s chosen career with other non-legal obligations such as the demands of life outside of the office can be a delicate and difficult balancing act for both male and female lawyers.

Prior to becoming a lawyer, I didn’t give the idea of work/life balance much thought. All I’ve ever really wanted to do is litigate.

I spent the first half of my life methodically planning and creating a strong foundation for the first few years of my life as a litigator. But, I was shortsighted and failed to consider that life might throw me a curve ball when I least expected it — in my case, just three weeks before my wedding, when the man I would soon call my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Not surprisingly, that diagnosis changed me. It changed everything.

I’d met the man I loved and was going to live happily ever after, as both a lawyer and “wife,” much as that term annoyed me. Maybe we’d have kids, too. Who knew?

And then, on that fateful day in April 1998, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. If he survived, there was a good chance we would face fertility issues. Fertility issues, of all things — when I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids. And, he might die, although, we were assured his particular cancer was “quite curable.” Apparently, we were supposed to feel good about that.

I tried to feel hopeful, but it wasn’t easy. The most difficult times of the day for me were the commutes to and from work. I would find myself stuck in rush hour traffic, seemingly unable to think of anything but the horrible cancer that was invading his body and ruining my marriage before it even began.

Once at work, I was fine (in large part due to the support and understanding of my then-supervisor Jill Paperno, for which I am eternally grateful).

My demanding schedule as an assistant public defender kept my mind more than occupied during the day. Immersing myself in my work seemed to do wonders for my outlook, and at the time I prided myself in the fact that I’d missed only two days of work throughout the entire course of his treatment.

In retrospect, I was taking the easy way out. I avoided the difficult task of confronting reality by convincing myself that my all-important career came first. My husband attended appointments alone, including the doctor’s visit where he was advised his cancer was more serious than originally thought.

If I could do it all again, I’d have been by his side more often throughout this trying time.

Judging from the results of the NYSBA’s study, I’m not alone in my misgivings about the demands of my chosen career. Perhaps the results and recommendations of the study will assist in bringing about a much-needed change in the profession and in the attitudes of those at the top of the legal ladder.


The Never-Ending Day

Drlogo11 This week's Daily Record column is entitled "The never-ending day."  The article is set forth in full below and a pdf of the article can be found here.

My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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The flu season in Rochester has been vicious this year, due to the mass proliferation of a particularly virulent, vaccine-resistant strain that knocked otherwise healthy adults off their feet for a week or more. The flu affected the lives of many working parents for weeks on end as one family member after another succumbed to the illness.

In my case, my youngest child was particularly hard hit since she developed recurrent ear infections and a lingering upper respiratory infection that morphed into a serious croup infection. The difficulties encountered by families with dual working parents when an illness such as the flu strikes can sometimes seem insurmountable, since it is nearly impossible to conduct “business as usual” when work, family life and illness collide.

As an example, I offer the following description of one day in my life that exemplifies how challenging it can be balance work, family and life in the face of an illness such as the flu.

To set the stage, my youngest had a horrible cough, with the annoying side effect of her vomiting during severe coughing spells. This seemed to occur, for the most part, late at night when she was in bed.

The following is a crazy, and yet fairly typical, day for me since my entire family was hit by the flu 7 weeks ago:

6:30 a.m. Wake up, shower, and get ready for the day.

7:45 a.m. Eat breakfast and help get older child ready for school, although my husband had the day off, so it was mainly his job.

8 a.m. Check and respond to e-mails, read news headlines online. Post to one of my blogs.

8:30 a.m. Leave for the office.

9 a.m. Arrive at the office. Pick up files and discuss pending pro- jects with colleagues and my wonderful legal assistant, Heidi.

9:30 a.m. Go to grocery store to pick up food supplies for a dinner we’re making for people close to us who are going through a very dif- ficult time.

9:40 a.m. Go to TJMaxx to buy a birthday present for my eldest daughter’s friend’s birthday party the next day. Stand in line for 10 minutes.

10:15 a.m. Arrive home. Wrap the birthday gift. Get a cup of cof- fee, set iPhone alarm for

11:27 a.m. and perform legal research on West- law, while my husband and youngest daughter are at the pediatrician.

11:30 a.m. Go outside and get my eldest daughter off the school bus. Make her lunch. My husband arrives home and advises that our youngest has yet another very bad ear infection and has been pre- scribed stronger antibiotics.

11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Draft a letter to New York State Court of Appeals seeking leave to appeal a criminal case while my husband makes baked ziti for our friends.

3 p.m. Drive back to the office and oversee preparation of enclosures for letter to the Court of Appeals. It takes longer than expected.

4:30 p.m. Leave the office and drive home in the middle of a snow storm. Stop at the pharmacy to pick up antibi- otics for our youngest.

5 p.m. I arrive home. Everyone piles into the car and we head to our friend’s house with the baked ziti.

5:30 p.m. We arrive and visit for half an hour or so.

6 p.m. We then head to the Pittsford Wegmans and eat take out. The kids and my husband watch kid’s movies upstairs while I do the weekly grocery shopping downstairs.

8 p.m. We arrive home and give our youngest the antibiotics. She doesn’t like the taste and begins to cry, which causes her to cough. She promptly vomits right onto to the piles of laundry waiting to be put away, which consist of freshly washed sheets and blankets that were vomited on two nights prior.

8:05 p.m. I clean her up and take kids upstairs to get them ready for bed. My husband cleans up the mess, throws the soiled bed linens into the washer and puts away the groceries.

8:30 p.m. The kids are in bed, but don't settle down until about 9 p.m. We attempt to watch television, but begin to fall asleep on the couch around 9:45, so off to bed we go.

3 a.m. Our youngest wakes up coughing and can’t go back to sleep. I’m “on duty” since my husband has to work the next day. I finally manage to get her back to sleep at 4 a.m. or so.

The next day, while my husband is at work, my youngest develops pink eye and the birthday party the eldest was supposed to attend  is canceled at the last minute since the birthday girl is sick. And so it begins — yet another never-ending day in the life of a flu-infested household with two working parents.


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.


Legal Bits and Bytes--The Many Benenfits of a Remote Office

In this video I discuss how a remote office/flexible work schedule can actually be beneficial for both the employee and the employer in times of illness.  This video is cross-posted at my new blog, Women Lawyers--Back on Track.

And, just to clarify my goals in creating these videos--I try to do them in one take and interruptions in the form of people smaller than myself, aka my offspring, occassionally occur. So, for example, when I appear to "shush" the camera in this video, rest assured, that's not the case!

   


Gen X, Gen Y and the Legal Profession--Incompatible?

Picv19st51It's been a while since I posted about what I now like to refer to as "legal elasticity."   But, it's been on my mind quite a bit lately, in large part because I was recently invited to join the New York State Bar Association's "Gender Equity Commission" and am co-chair of the "Family and Careers Committee" of the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys.

Not surprisingly, my position regarding the legal profession and its antiquated views of work/life balance have not changed.  As far as I'm concerned, legal employers are in for a rude awakening now that Gen Y has entered the workforce.  Both the men and women of this generation that just graduated from law school last spring are more than willing to work for less money in exchange for a better work life balance. 

In other words, the legal field had better begin to think outside the box and allow more elasticity in work arrangements or pay the price.  If legal employers continue to essentially ignore the demands of Gen X, and now Gen Y, employees, it will soon affect the bottom line.  The rubber band will snap back and then they'll see elasticity in action.

A recent study by Hildebrandt International regarding associate retention supports my theory.  The executive summary of the study can be found here

This study sets forth four different types of associates:

  • Career Practitioners Approximately a quarter of associates have “traditional” aspirations to build a career in professional practice and to develop into partners. They are relatively highly satisfied, and are willing to sacrifice their personal life for professional advancement.
  • Flexibility Seekers About a quarter of associates demonstrate a particularly strong interest in flexible hours and alternative career tracks. They are not any more likely to be in a caring role (looking after children or others) but they do wish to reduce hours and pay. Overall this group is the least satisfied and few wish to become partners.
  • Called Lawyers Slightly less than a quarter of associates can be identified by a love of the law and their interest in pursuing careers in public service or education. Disinterest in partnership does not mean that they do not wish to contribute to the firm and to be involved in management, but they are only reasonably satisfied and firms do not appear to be meeting their needs particularly well at present.
  • Willing Workers Just over a quarter of lawyers identify themselves through a willingness to be managed and their relatively high satisfaction. They do not demonstrate a particular passion for the law, nor a willingness to sacrifice personal life for advancement.

From the summary:

Performance is relatively similar across all groups. Current approaches to associate development and retention seem to be particularly effective at meeting the needs of the Career Practitioners, but they are failing to provide equivalent satisfaction to the other groups. Many firms are therefore only appealing strongly to about a quarter of the associate population, and the ability for firms to address themselves to the other groups will be key to winning the “war for talent”...

The changing demographics of the legal profession make the need to appeal to female associates a business priority rather than a diversity issue. Firms need to address the factors identified in order to improve satisfaction and encourage a larger proportion of female associates to pursue a career as a partner.

The report offers this conclusion:

Associates are not the unhappy collection of unfulfilled employees portrayed in the media. As a group, they are engaged, interested, and happy with their compensation. Very few show any interest in leaving the profession. On the other hand, only a small proportion aspires to partnership. Many are seeking alternatives. Some of this relates to the wide and varied aspirations of young lawyers and some of it to the unattractiveness of private practice to significant segments of the population.

(Emphasis happily added)

Oh snap!  Legal employers sit up and take notice.  If you don't, trust me--you'll regret it.