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Law firms seem to be really, really interested trying to figure out what all those "confusing" and/or "confused" young associates want. In fact, they're willing to do study after study after study--and hire consultant after consultant after consultant--to try and figure out the answer to this oh-so-elusive question.
The Maryland Daily Record recently addressed this issue in a lengthy article that essentially rehashed all that we've heard before: associates would happily work for less compensation in exchange for flexibility and more interesting work. They're bored, overworked and feel under appreciated.
One wonders how many times it needs to be said before changes are actually implemented? Me thinks that nothing will change anytime soon, but perhaps I'm overly cynical.
From the article:
Whereas 25 or 30 years ago, associates joined a firm for life, associates today feel freer to switch firms in pursuit of their financial, professional and personal goals...
The NALP Foundation, which conducts research on the legal profession, found in 2000 that 59 percent of associates who had been out of law school for about five years had already left their first firm.
In 2005, that number was 78 percent, according to statistics cited by the consulting firm Hildebrandt International Inc.
A recent survey by the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia showed that of 551 attorneys polled, three-quarters of the women and half the men were considering leaving their jobs in the next five years.
Every time an associate leaves, it can cost a firm up to $350,000 to hire and train someone new...
But according to associates and associate retention experts, the major reason associates leave is not money. The top motivators are grueling hours, boring work and poisonous firm culture, they say...
“[F]orget about being able to balance work and family, they can’t even get a date because they’re so beholden to the whims of the partners,” Chanow said. Associates want to have “time with their family, time to meet people if they don’t have family, time to climb a mountain.” ...
Chanow said long hours are especially tough on women with children, so they end up leaving firms at even higher rates than men do.
She said they are especially likely to leave if they feel they have no chance of becoming a partner.
Some women look around and see that no woman has made partner in their practice group in years, so they assess their chances as slim and decide to leave, she said...
Gallagher’s Linda Jones said salaries matter more to law students trying to decide where to work than they do to associates deciding whether to stay.
“Studies always show that compensation may be really important on the front end, but as long as people are satisfactorily compensated, it’s not the most important thing,” Jones said.
Denise Howell, of Bag and Baggage fame, is working on her next article for her American Lawyer column, which will be about law firm women's initiatives and has asked me to try to get some feedback from my readers for her. Keep in mind that her deadline is next Monday, 4/28/08.
Do any of you have any thoughts or anecdotes about her basic
premise, which she describes as follows:
Just about every big firm has a women's initiative, or at minimum a
diversity committee. They're supposed to identify problem areas and
work on solutions. But they're a quagmire: primarily window dressing
and PR vehicles, with no real voice in management. Even if they're
able to engage sympathetic support from on high, they struggle with
the fact the women (and/or minorities, depending on the committee's
scope) in the firm have no unified agenda. There are generational,
seniority, and family status divides that make it difficult if not
impossible to serve the interests of every constituent. So the
efforts get watered down and dumbed down, ultimately wasting
everyone's time in an endless series of meetings and occasional events
that accomplish little or nothing.
Personally, I pretty much agree with her premise--these initiatives serve a purpose, but are not particularly effective, since those who run things at the top of the law firms aren't receptive. PR is the only reason that firms even acknowledge and/or sponsor these types of initiatives.
I received the following email from a regular reader regarding the photo to the right that I use on this blog on occasion:
I want to thank you for writing your blog. I love it, and often share postings with co-workers...
I don’t, however, necessarily love the photo of the headless, ultraslim, pencil-skirted, stiletto-ed woman that accompanies many posts. Although this is an aesthetic I too occasionally aim for at work, I think the stereotypical aspects of it might detract from the seriousness of the information and opinion.
(I’ll keep reading anyway though.)
My responsive email, in part, was as follows:
I appreciate your comment re: that particular image. I do what I can
with this blog. I only have a limited amount of time and a limited
number of non-copyrighted images available to me, and this blog is a
side project of mine.
That particular image is simply representative of the conservative law
firm image and how women are supposed to fit into it. I use it with
posts that discuss law firms and women lawyers. It's not intended
to represent how women are supposed to look.
After giving it some thought, I've decided to leave it up to my readers. Majority rules. What say you, fair readers?
In it he discusses ways in which to assess your current career satisfaction and ways to pinpoint areas that might need change in order to increase your wellbeing.
Rather than "balance", he prefers the term "synergy". I've toyed with the idea of "elasticity", which is sort of in keeping with his concept of synergy. I think I like the idea of work/life synergy.
How about you?
From the article:
Women lawyers have been on the leading edge of this larger cultural and professional trend. Acknowledging that they want work that’s rewarding on all levels, they’re seeking what I call work-life synergy.
Work life synergy is not the same as work-life balance (a highly-charged topic that’s garnered a lot of media attention and brings people off the sidelines to debate the business and practice of law)...
(T)he American Heritage Dictionary defines “synergy” as the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. Seen through this lens, work and life aren’t separate and competing forces: they intertwine. There’s no duality that compels statements like “live to work” or “work to live.” Synergy results when you infuse your life with meaning...
With a healthy dose of self-inquiry and candor, you can gain insight into what’s meaningful to you by investigating how your work as a lawyer typically impacts your energy state. Like a detective, examine how your daily professional doings—including the people and issues you engage and the interactions you have—augment or deplete your energy. Do they make you feel upbeat, positive and excited or bring you stress, anger, resent ment or even physical illness?...
If your work-life connection is out of sync, you need to reassess what you’re doing, how you’re doing it or who you’re doing it for or with. Keeping this energy-meaning connection in mind, it’s easy to see that you can experience work-life synergy when you:·
Manage your time effectively
Form mutually energizing relationships
Perform tasks that you’re passionate about...
When you hone your skill set and cultivate this synergy in your life, you maximize your experi ence and effectiveness as a legal service provider. You also send the important message that you won’t tolerate professional and workplace environments that fail to support your intention to find and sustain meaning in your everyday pursuits.
If you think the headline is depressing, wait until you read the article. It seems that there women aren't interested in managing law firms or, that the women who are interested aren't qualified, or that women are too faint hearted to handle it, or that women at the top are suddenly dropping out...or something.
I'm actually not quite sure what the point of the article is, other than to pointedly point out, point by point, that there aren't a lot of women at the top.
I get it. Point taken!
(It's really not a bad article--it's just hard to read it without a little cynicism sneaking in.)
Here are a few choice (and mostly depressing) excerpts from the article:
For the scant few women who run some of the nation's biggest law firms, it's lonely at the top. And it seems to be getting lonelier...
"It's not for the faint of heart," said Jerry Clements, the woman in charge of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell. As managing partner of the 700-attorney law firm, Clements said the shortage of women in leadership positions is, primarily, due to a "timing issue."...
The pool of lawyers who want to run a law firm is relatively small, but the pool of women lawyers eager to take on the tasks is even smaller, said Valerie Ford Jacob, co-managing partner of 684-attorney Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in New York...
Because so few women are included in the upper ranks of law firm management, finding a match between qualifications and a desire to do the job is uncommon, she said.
Just 8 percent of law firm leaders are women, according to a report released in November by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL)...
But the numbers aren't favorable for women in that regard, either. Among the law firms in the NAWL survey, 15 percent reported that they had no women on their highest governing committees. Some 25 percent of the law firms reported that women make up 10 percent or less of their governing committees. Only 10 percent of firms reported that women total 25 percent or more of their highest governing committees...
"Unless you put women in roles to demonstrate their leadership ability, the partners will not elect them to lead the firm," she said.
So, fellow women lawyers, I've a question for you. But, first, let me set the scene.
A friend of mine is on a committee with two men, and their task is to set up a panel for a seminar. Many of the panelists will be judges and other "important" people. A similar panel was held in the distant past, and as a result, there is a notebook full of materials (the handouts--about 100 pages or so) from that seminar.
Throughout the meeting, the self-declared "leader" of the committee tended to talk to and make eye contact with, the other male, for the most part. He also, on a few occasions, when discussing things that needed to be done or decisions that needed to be made, would say "you and I...oh and (women attorney)...need to do..."
At the most recent meeting, the leader handed my friend the notebook (which had been in possession of the other man all along) and asked her if she would look over it and determine which materials might be useful for the upcoming seminar.
Now, this might sound like somewhat of an innocent request, but keep in mind that the only tasks that remain, now that the committee has met a few times and has agreed upon the format and content of the seminar, is to contact the judges and other "important" people.
Presumably, those tasks will be left to the men, since my friend has now been assigned what is essentially an administrative (and extremely dull) task. Furthermore, it's pointless since the notebook consists mostly of old power point presentations prepared by prior participants, none of whom will be on the panel this time.
Typical, in my experience. Woman tend to be assigned the "background" stuff, much of which is essentially administrative. Women are assigned grunt work while men get all the glory.
So, knowing this, how does one respond when "asked" to perform a menial task when serving on a committee with men?
Shouting "No, you sexist pig! I'm not your secretary!" is essentially ineffective, since the request seems so innocent.
Calmly refusing without declaring sexism would likewise be ineffective, since the end result is to make one appear to be unhelpful and disagreeable.
Make a "joke" about giving the woman the administrative task?
What does one do?
This type of situation is an example of what is so frustrating about practicing law as a woman. The sexism is so subtle and is based upon the underlying assumptions and stereotypes of those with whom you interact--that woman are more organized and thus more adept at the behind the scenes tasks. So, women repeatedly receive dull, background assignments of lower importance.
And, although women are purportedly on "equal" footing, they are constantly talked over and interrupted. Women are excluded from mixed gender groups by virtue of body language and eye contact. When women manage to get a word in edgewise, their contribution is discounted as irrelevant or unimportant. And yet, when a man makes the same point 2 minutes later, it's met with declarations of genius.
These things are so subtle, and yet so effective at making women lawyers feel like second class citizens.
But, the issue remains. What does one do? How does one avoid being an "overbearing bitch" in these situations?
In this article she discusses the differences in the ways that men and women interact and perceive each other. In my experience, many of her observations are right on point. The sub-titles of the article should give you a good idea of what to expect:
While Our Goals May Be The Same, Our Strategies For Solutions Vary
Women Often Still Feel Like Outsiders
Men And Women Are Divided By Language
Men And Women Are Motivated Differently
Reciprocity Means Different Things To Men And Women
Men And Women Bear Different Life Responsibilities
My favorite part of the article is the concluding paragraphs, where she responds to the (maddening, in my opinion) claim by some that working women have a made a "choice" and have to live up to the ramifications. I agree 100% with her take on this issue:
Some men (and more than a few women) respond that these issues are the result of life choices. Families with an at-home partner add that they are making the financial sacrifice to have someone manage the home front, so they feel working women have no right to have their life choices subsidized by business.
I don’t think this is an either/or proposition; one reality doesn’t cancel the other. Rather, we need to acknowledge that the structure of our society forces women lawyers to assume burdens and make choices that most of their male counterparts don’t share. Women-owned business is the fastest growing segment of the US economy, and as hard as it is to start a business, these businesses are succeeding equally with businesses started by men. Many observers believe that this trend reflects the impulsion of women to set up organizations that respect the realities of their lives. These new businesses require women to work hard, maybe even harder, than they do in the corporate world, and yet they succeed. Freed of the necessity to accommodate to structures that sometimes feel unfriendly, women are finding ways to be successful. The lesson here is that women aren’t failing to accommodate to the corporate world anymore than the corporate world is failing to accommodate women. Clearly there are ways that work for women to work.
Both genders can take steps to ameliorate the current situation. We all need to become aware of how our unconscious differences create misunderstandings. Recognizing that this is a team issue rather than a “women’s issue” is another essential component to leveraging a law firm’s investment in talented women employees. And while women lawyers need to take the responsibility for understanding the ground rules in the arena they have chosen, men need to develop a sense of appreciation, and perhaps some humility, about the home court advantages they may take for granted.
From Findlaw comes an article about the British study discussed in this prior post. In it, Douglas Kmiec discusses what he believes are a number of flaws in the study, including, as previously discussed, equating productivity with billable hours.
From the article:
First, (the study concluded that) women with children bill fewer hours. Second, flexible hours were found to have a negative impact on a man's productivity, but not on a woman's. Third, men with babies at home still work overtime; women generally do not. Fourth, men who have a stay-at-home partner get a lot done, whereas women who have stay-at-home partners don't receive any particular advantage from it.
Fifth, women without children work the hardest of all - harder than men with or without children...
In light of these findings, is there a way to create a fairer, more equal workplace - one that actually supports, rather than undermines or competes with, families? We like to think work is for the benefit of men and women, not the other way around. Moreover, I believe the workplace has a special obligation to accommodate the needs of the family as an irreplaceable cultural building block.
Yet, relying on earlier research, the study notes that the obvious way for women "to balance work and family is to reduce their family commitments, which may be accomplished by having fewer or no children." But this sacrifice is not reasonable to require.
Rather than asking still more sacrifice from working parents, we should instead consider changing the law to make their situation easier. For instance, a tax code amendment could allow workers who are also primary caregivers for children (a description that - enlightened attitudes aside - still overwhelmingly applies to women) to keep more of their income. Moreover, discrimination law could be altered: Under existing law, pregnancy - which we might view as "pre-birth child care" -- cannot be a basis of discrimination against women. Why, then, should care delivered post-birth be a valid basis for discrimination?
In this area, employment practices in the United States still reflect 19th-century attitudes. It is time we explore new employment relationships, conceived in extendedterms.At a minimum, we should better facilitate the entry and exit and reentry of women into the marketplace. The partner track for women with young children can be longer. Universities can rethink hiring practices in order to open the doors to mothers with J.D.s and Ph.D.s returning to the classroom to teach.
I agree 100% with Kmiec's conclusions, but am not at all convinced that our government or the legal profession is ready, willing or able to embrace the changes that he proposes.
The sexist assumptions of our culture are so ingrained that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to change the attitudes of those at the top of the ladder who are responsible for implementing policies and setting the tone for the country, the profession and the individual workplace.
Call me a pessimist if you'd like. I prefer the to call my perspective that of a reluctantly resigned realist.
This article addresses the problems with the current workplace set up for professional women--especially lawyers--when kids and family responsibilities enter the picture. The basic premise is that employers' alleged attempt to accommodate women during their early family years--so-called "part-time" employment--is nothing more than lip service.
From the article:
Part-time employment has failed to deliver either at home or in the office, with large numbers of white-collar workers suffering career burnout and family stress.
Those hit hardest are women professionals who had looked to part-time work as a way of balancing family responsibilities and working life.
But a report to be published today says many part-time professionals are being confronted with reduced incomes, career dead-ends and the inability to find enough family time.
It warns that many businesses will not be able to attract and retain "knowledge workers" if they do not address the imbalance between work and family life...