Finding Balance

[BALANCE] Is BigLaw Nearing Extinction?

There have been a number of interesting articles and blog posts as of late that support my oft-repeated hypothesis that BigLaw is a thing of the past run by dinosaurs.

First, as explained in this Legal Blog Watch post, general counsel of a major corporation, Sun Microsystems, recently stated on his blog that big law firms are slow to embrace the changes in the marketplace brought about by technological advancements, and as a result, are nearing extinction.

Another factor that I've predicted will have a dramatic effect upon BigLaw is the mass exodus of Gen X and Gen Y attorneys from law firms due to a huge generational rift.  Gen X and Gen Y lawyers in general, not just women, have very different values than their Baby Boomer bosses.  As explained by Carolyn Elefant in this post from Legal Blog Watch, a recent article discusses this very issue.  One solution offered in the article is:

(M)oving to a salaried system or one with a lengthy partnership track to allow lawyers to "preserve any semblance of quality of life in their 30's." She also endorses job sharing and staffing cases with more lawyers. Though these solutions may cost more, in the long run, they may help guard against attrition.

Great ideas, in my opinion, and ones that would counterbalance the huge amount of time required to run a household and a family.  Many Boomer partners have no idea how much time and energy those tasks require.  This post from Legal Living cites a CNN article which indicates that:

(S)tay-at-home moms put in about 92 hours of unpaid work per week, and working mothers aren't far behind.

It is for that reason that working mothers try to work as quickly and efficiently as possible while at their "real" jobs.

Interestingly, Carolyn Elefant suggests in this post at the Legal Blog Watch that as a result, the institutionalized "billable hour" may in fact disparately impact women lawyers who have children:

I wonder whether some enterprising lawyers might bring a class action suit against law firms, arguing that the billable hour disparately impacts women with families -- and thus, violates Title VII. The evidence is already there: More women leave firms than men when they have kids, and there's a disproportionate number of male partners. A group of lawyers could simply file a complaint at the EEOC, which has already shown that it's not shy about taking on Biglaw. At this point, the billable hour is so well entrenched and has been so thoroughly critiqued that any more calls for its elimination ring hollow -- particularly when those calls come from firms that aren't even changing their approach! By contrast, a lawsuit about the disparate impacts of the billable hour just might capture law firms' attention.

It's a fascinating idea. In my days at my former firm, employment discrimination was one of my main areas of practice, and thus this idea really interested me.  I wonder, however, if it would be difficult to establish that the disparate impact affects women more than it affects parents of either sex.

Lady Law Is Not Entirely Inflexible

Drlogo11_2This week's Legal Currents column, which is published in The Daily Record, is entitled "Lady Law Is Not Entirely Inflexible."  The article is set forth in full below, and a pdf of the article can be found here.

My prior articles can be accessed here.


The law can be all encompassing. It’s always been that way — hence the saying “the law is a jealous mistress.”

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

Recently, an interesting study was conducted by the Massachusetts- based Equality Commission. Entitled “Woman Lawyers and Obstacles to Leadership,” the report concluded that “female law-yers continue to face intractable challenges in their attempts to become partners, causing them to abandon law firm careers — and the legal profession entirely — at a dramatically higher rate than men.”

In attempting to explain this disparity some echo U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s language in the recent decision Gonzales v. Carhart, claiming that the reason for the variance is the special bond between a mother and child, and that women can’t help but stay at home with their children. Others allege that women make the decision to have children and must, therefore, face the music when it comes to the consequences of that choice.

I disagree. The mother and father are involved in the decision to have a child, and fatherhood affects a man’s life just as much as motherhood affects a woman’s. Once the decision to have children is made, each family must determine how to incorporate realistically that choice into their everyday lives.

Women and men with advanced degrees have more options available to them as a result of their education and work experience. As a result, professional couples, not just women, are taking a hard look at their lives and making choices that allow them to improve the quality of their family’s life. For some couples the most viable option may be for one parent to take temporary hiatus from the workforce.

Such occasional detours along one’s career path should not prevent a lawyer from having a fulfilling and successful career through the course of a lifetime. Yet, as the Equality Commission’s report indicates, the decision to scale back hours temporarily, or to take a brief hiatus from the law can have a drastic and debilitating effect on a legal career.

The time is ripe for change and I believe the impetus for change will be the generational divide. Generation X and Y employees have far different values than the Baby Boomers and, as the workforce becomes populated with more Generation X and Y employees, their values will become the norm. Their collective refusal to bill hours 24/7 will become increasingly evident as they abandon high-paying jobs requiring inhumane hours for jobs offering a better work-life balance, albeit at lower salary.

The legal field has recognized this fact far more slowly than other fields such as accounting and, as a result, has failed to respond in any meaningful way to lawyers’ requests for accommodation and flexibility.

The private sector in large metropolitan areas such as New York City, which traditionally sets the standard for firms across the country, has been especially unwilling to bend to the demands of a new generation of lawyers. As a result, dissension is growing among the ranks of lawyers, and among younger lawyers in particular. Many are simply leaving large law firms in search of greener pastures, and they represent a lot of lost talent.

I believe that Lady Law is far more flexible than those at the top of the legal hierarchy. As more lawyers refuse to be absentee parents and slaves to the billable hour, the landscape, slowly, will change. Only time will tell if I’m correct. In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

[BAlANCE] Many Female Lawyers Dropping Off Path to Partnership


                                                 This Boston Globe article has a discussion of an interesting study conducted by the Massachusetts-based Equality Commission report on Women's Obstacles to Leadership.  The study concludes that:

"(f)emale lawyers continue to face intractable challenges in their attempts to become partners, causing them to abandon law firm careers -- and the legal profession entirely -- at a dramatically higher rate than men, according to a local study to be released today.

As explained in the article:

The dropout rate among women lawyers is overwhelmingly the result of the combination of demanding hours, inflexible schedules, lack of viable part-time options, emphasis on billable hours, and failure by law firms to recognize that female lawyers' career trajectories may alternate between work and family, the report found.

In attempting to explain this disparity, some echo Justice Kennedy's language in the recent Supreme Court decision Gonzales v. Carhart and claim that the reason for this variance is that there is a special bond between a mother and child and women can't help but stay at home with their children.  Other allege that women make a choice to have children and must therefore face the music when it comes to that choice.

I disagree.  The mother and father make a choice to have a child.  And each family is faced with the issue of how to realistically incorporate that decision into their everyday lives.

Every family is different and every family's situation is different. One path is not necessarily better than the other or more "true" to nature. Of course motherhood affects a woman’s life, just as fatherhood affects a man's

But parenthood doesn't preclude parents from having a fulfilling and successful careers over the course of a lifetime. Occasional detours along the one's career path should not affect a person's ability to practice their profession over a span of 30 years or more.

And, as I've repeatedly stated in the past, as more and more Gen X and Gen Y men refuse to be absentee fathers and slaves to the billable hour the landscape will slowly change--of that I have no doubt. In the mean time, we do the best we can under the circumstances and wait for aging, inflexible dinosaurs at the top of the legal hierarchy to retire and fade from sight. This too shall pass.

For more on this study, see:

Additionally, please note that I've added a new link of interest to the "Seeking Balance" section of my sidebar: Mommytrack'  Carolyn Elefant explains that it is a "a website with a mission to provide time-crunched, over-extended, multi-tasked-out moms an informative and entertaining resource to help alleviate some of the stress associated with working outside the home while raising a family."  Head on over and check it out.

[BALANCE] Can Family Responsibilities Discrimination Lawsuits Make a Difference?

Via Point of Law I learned of a increasingly apparent theory of workplace discrimination--Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD).  As explained in this article from the American Prospect Online Edition, claims based upon this theory are not based upon one specific federal statute:

Although there is no federal statute for FRD, lawyers tend to cobble together existing ones, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, when filing lawsuits. Employees have also successfully sued on claims of wrongful discharge, breach of contract, and infliction of emotional stress. Mothers, who now know their rights because of the internet and increased media coverage, are filing most cases, many of which are filed under Title VII, which prohibits sex discrimination.

Successful cases establish that employees -- both men and women -- are penalized not because of their gender, but because of their gender role.

It is hoped that FRD lawsuits will make a difference in the structure of the workplace.  From the article:

FRD claims might help expand part-time work opportunities, as well as challenge inflexible work hours and constraints on working from home. But she concedes that the way an organization is run is so deeply entrenched, it can be hard for those involved to think the demands of a business can be met efficiently any other way. Until managers in the workplace can move beyond that way of thinking, the "ideal worker" will thrive at the expense of everyone else.

It would be wonderful if this theory proved correct, but I'm somewhat skeptical.  Lawsuits can accomplish many things, but in my opinion changing the behavior and the underlying stereotypes that motivate behavior is a difficult feat indeed, and lawsuits are not necessarily the best way to do to go about it.  That being said, lawsuits can change the way an entire industry does business, as is evident from the changes that have occurred in the large accounting firms as a result of a high profile gender discrimination lawsuits.

As I've said in the past, I believe that the generational divide will be the true impetus for change.  Generation X and Y employees have far different values than the Baby Boomers and as the workforce becomes populated with more and more Generation X and Y employees, their values will become the norm.  And,their collective refusal to work ridiculous hours will become increasingly evident as they abandon high paying jobs requiring inhumane hours for jobs that offer a better work-life balance, albeit at lower pay rate.

Only time will tell if I'm correct.  And, in the meantime, we have the FRD lawsuits that may not change the way those currently at the top of the food chain think, it may have some effect upon their outward behavior.  And, I suppose that's better than nothing. 

[BALANCE] Why Are Gen Y And Gen X Women Leaving Law Firms in Droves?

Why are younger women jumping ship?  Call me a pessimist, but as I've mentioned in the past, I suspect it's because life in a law firm (and many other legal offices as well) offers no balance.  It's the law firm first, everything else last.

And, this article, entitled "We're Outta Here," from the California Lawyer supports my hypothesis.  (Hat tip:  Bag and Baggage).  This was such a great article that I'm going to highlight large parts of it prior to offering my commentary at the end of this post.

The article first considers why turnover is so high for young women at law firms and then suggests that it's likely related to a generational shift in values.

First, the high attrition rate is discussed and some eye opening statistics are provided:

The past few years have witnessed the highest levels of associate attrition ever documented, with an average annual attrition rate for both sexes of 19 percent, as recently reported by the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education. Within five years of entering a firm, more than three-quarters of associates leave. Female associates were nearly twice as likely as males to depart to pursue a better work/life balance.

The article then addresses the ever increasing generational gap

There is a growing disconnect between the last two generations of women lawyers, a development that is most apparent in large firms. Female senior partners from the baby boom say they are frustrated that the younger women don't want to give the same amount of blood to their careers. And many of the younger female attorneys look at the few women at the top and label them drudges who sacrificed too much personal freedom for their jobs...

Another point of disconnect may be that the generations now making their way though law firms—the Gen Xers born in the mid-1960s and '70s and the Gen Yers born in the 1980s—have a different view of work than the women who came before them.       

"The employment contract has changed," says law professor Williams. "This generation may have seen their parents work their whole lives and get laid off. They think, 'I'm not interested in that.' They say, 'Partnership is like a pie-eating contest—and the prize is more pie.' "

Another issue discussed was that the younger generations seek a better work/life balance:

A different view of life has also emerged, creating a divide that has set off perhaps the most contentious battles between the generations: The older women sacrificed parts of their lives for work; the younger ones resent work interfering with their lives...

Some say that the younger generation of women is taking a closer look at the apparent success of their elders—and concluding that the sacrifice isn't worth it.       

The junior associate leaving her big firm observes: "I thought I could do it all. Why not? So many have done it before me. Then at a closer look I see, no, they haven't. They cut corners; they just weren't professional corners." 

Another woman, a fourth-year associate currently at a midsize firm in Southern California, notes: "Two of the three most senior women were never married, and they never had kids. They want to see women succeed, but they're not helpful about how to balance work and family, or how to do well and also have a life. They don't have experience in how to do that."

The article then explained that law firms are finally beginning to wake up and smell the coffee out of economic necessity:

In the past, firms expected attrition as part of their pyramid structures, but with attrition now at the highest levels ever, firms are starting to realize that losing associates is both expensive and bad for business.       

Meanwhile, the talent market is becoming increasingly competitive because the number of law school graduates is static while law firms' hiring needs are increasing. And now that about half of all law school graduates are female, firms that don't hire and retain women will likely find themselves short on talent.       

Accounting firms, which faced a similar problem in the early 1990s, could provide a case study for law firms on how to retain women. Back then, the accounting firms hired more than 50 percent women but found most left before becoming partners. So the accountants did the math and took action...

If law firms want to get the best and brightest young women to join them and stay, they will likely need to change radically and adopt different definitions of sacrifice and partnership...

At the end of the article was a really interesting series of charts that summarized generalizations that can be made about each generation:

Baby Boomers       

Born: 1946 to 1964       
How many: 78 million       
What they grew up with: The civil rights movement; assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King; Vietnam War; TV in every home; sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll; Woodstock; Roe v. Wade; Watergate       
Values and characteristics: Love/hate relationship with authority; optimism, personal gratification; team players; strong work ethic       
Work ethic: Driven       
Presence in typical law firm: 45% to 60%       
Roles in firm: Partners and leadership            

Gen X   

Born: 1965 to 1980       
How many: 59 million       
What they grew up with: HIV/AIDS epidemic; hippie parents; latch-key kids; corporate downsizing and restructuring; fall of Berlin Wall; first personal computers       
Values and characteristics: Not impressed by authority; distrust of institutions; want personal space; informality; self-reliance       
Work ethic: Balanced       
Presence in typical law firm: 40% to 50%       
Roles in firm: Associates, junior partners            

Gen Y      

Born: 1981 to 1995       
How many: 60 million       
What they grew up with: Oklahoma City bombing; 9/11 terrorist attacks; the Internet boom; ubiquitous technology; economic prosperity       
Values and characteristics: Receptive to authority; civic duty; patriotism; diversity; self-confidence; achievement; challenges       
Work ethic: Selective       
Presence in typical law firm: Less than 5%       
Roles in firm: Summer associates, first- and second-year associates            

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; NALP Foundation

This article really hit the nail on the head.   Younger women (and men) are leaving firms because their values are different than the previous generation's.  They don't buy into the idea that the one with the most toys (or pie) "wins" and simply aren't willing to sacrifice their private lives for the sake of the almighty firm. 

I can't emphasize enough that it's not simply women who feel this way. By way of example, I recently caught up with a male classmate of mine from law school via email.  He had previously worked in a large firm in a large city and now owns a successful law-related company.  In other words, his is the alternative legal career that many of my generation seek out. 

In one email, he explained why he left life in a law firm:

I'm a lot happier now that I'm not practicing.  I loved law school, and practice when I was single, but when you mix in a family it doesn't seem a realistic career path if you want to have any quality of life.

Straight from the mouth of a Gen X lawyer of the male species.  It's the mantra of a generation of young lawyers.

And, if legal employers don't take heed and change their ways, and quickly, they may very well find themselves facing a shortage of bottom feeders.  And, without the grunt workers holding up the foundation of the system, it'll all come tumbling down. 

Some of you may be shaking your heads at my naivety.  You think that I'm totally off base.   You think that there will always be plenty young 'uns available to fill entry level positions.  You think that an associate is a dime a dozen. 

10 bucks says you're a Boomer.  Care to wager?

[BALANCE] Once Off the Legal Ladder, Can you Get Back On?

Yesterday I was reading a magazine for which my sister is a deputy editor, New York Family.  There was a section that focused on working mothers and consisted of interviews of a number of working women.  In one of the interviews, an executive director of a hospital opined that she didn't judge women who left work after having a child.  But then she added the one comment that strikes fear in the hearts of parents who are considering leaving their current job:  "(T)he hard thing is, 'How do you get back in?'"

How do you get back in?  And what does that even mean "to get back in"?  Is it as hard as many would claim?  Is your professional life over if you leave work when your children are young--smack dab in the middle of what some would claim is the most important part of your climb up the ladder to a "successful" career?

My answer--nope, your career is not over.  Your legal career with that particular employer is probably over.  And, you may have to re-define what "success" means to you.  In particular, you'll have to ignore how other lawyers, especially those in law firms, define a "successful" legal career. But, you will be able to re-enter the workforce and have a successful and fulfilling career when you do decide to return to the working world.

I read a study a few years back that suggested that professionals who have left the workforce to care for their children should try to return to the workforce within three years, at least on a part-time basis.  The reason given for that recommendation was twofold:  employers have a tendency to believe that you've been out of the loop for too long after more than a three year break, and more importantly, you face a psychological barrier after three years that prevents you from believing that you can do it.

So, keep that three year marker in mind.  And, don't listen to those who say you can't "get back in."  You can.   It'll take some creativity.  It'll take some ingenuity.  You'll have to think outside the box.  And, you'll have to network.  But you can do it.  And, you will.  And, you'll succeed--on your own terms, and, most importantly, on your own schedule.

[BALANCE] Litigating As A Woman Attorney--It's Quite The Balancing Act

I recently came across a great article from the American Lawyer via entitled: Obstacle Course--To make it in the male-dominated world of litigation, women have to break through old stereotypes to build top-tier practices.  The article discusses the challenges faced by female litigators--both inside and outside the courtroom. 

Inside the courtroom, women litigators confront "subtle gender expectations":

(F)emale litigators...are in a unique bind. They're expected to attend to all of the details of running a case; and yet, to advance their careers, they must resist becoming the stereotype of the "pleasing" female. They're expected to be tough advocates for their clients, but not too tough, lest judges or opposing counsel call them the dreaded b-word. Many balance the long and unpredictable hours of litigation with family responsibilities, but many also feel they must work harder than men to prove that they are serious about getting the good assignments, and eventually the prize of partnership. They must consider the implications of every gesture, from bringing coffee to mentioning child care problems.

(W)omen today still face reminders that the playing field isn't level in or outside of the courtroom. Assistant U.S. attorney Ruemmler remembers an elevator ride with one defense lawyer in the 2004 Enron Nigerian barge trial who said to her: "While we're picking the jury, why don't you go get us some sandwiches?" Ruemmler, 35, was one of three lead prosecutors. ..

Outside the courtroom, women litigators juggle the demands of family with their highly demanding area of practice:

For women struggling to balance the demands of work and family, litigation presents many challenges. By definition, litigators work on companies' most pressing matters. Clients want to reach them 24/7, and it's hard to lobby for the largest cases if you try to draw hard lines on your personal and family time. Plus, travel is routine, and shifting court schedules guarantee unpredictable hours.

It's a schedule that doesn't mix well with family or a life outside the office. Of course, litigators who are fathers also struggle with finding this balance. But the burden of family responsibilities still falls disproportionately on women, many say. And the years leading up to the brass ring of partnership often converge with women's prime childbearing years. ...

Litigators aren't just balancing the demands of their own clients; they must also devote time to finding new ones. Most firms today demand that partners generate significant business. But the traditional modes of winning business from the male-dominated corporate boardrooms-dinners, weekend social outings, rounds of golf-are additional demands on time that are hard for those with families to meet.

I thought that this article raised some excellent points and its analysis of the issues that women litigators confront on a daily basis was spot on. 

Litigation has always been the area of law that I enjoy the most.  I love the thrill of picking a jury and find the adrenalin rush (after rush after rush) of trial to be exhilarating.  Some of my fondest memories as an attorney occurred during jury trials. 

Catching a witness in an outright lie during cross-examination is particularly rewarding.  Even more rewarding was the not guilty verdicts that followed in record time after successful cross-examinations of complainants and cops.  I love trying cases--always have, always will.

And yet.  And yet.  I have a family--a husband and young children whom I actually enjoy spending time with on a daily basis.  Little children who are growing up so fast--so quickly.  And, I love watching them grow.  I love watching their minds develop--their little personalities emerge.  I love them more than life itself, and unfortunately, I can't say the same about about litigation.   I enjoy it and it's in my blood, but I can live without it--for now.

So, research and writing it is.  And, it's good thing.  I've always enjoyed and excelled at that aspect of practice--almost as much as I enjoy litigating.   But, the call of the courtroom is ever present.  I'll hold it at bay for now.  But, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger:  I'll be back. 

You can count on it.

[BALANCE]--Are White Men the Best Lawyers?

The premise underlying this post from Overlawyered seems to contend that they are.  In it, Ted Frank expresses his disagreement with the decision of some large law firm clients (such as Wal-Mart) to conduct business only with law firms holding good diversity records, as reported in this article.  At the end of the post, he states:

Stories like this put the lie to any claim that African-American participation in big law firms is hindered by racism; if anything, law firms are forced by this socially-accepted racism to compete against one another to recruit and retain the few African-American attorneys out there, because clients apparently value the sneetches with the stars on their bellies more than sneetches who are merely the best lawyers, and shareholders tolerate this dissipation of value.  (Emphasis added).

Now, I'm a big fan of Overlawyered and greatly appreciate the perspective provided by that blog.  But, I respectfully disagree with the contention that those currently at the top of law firms--the white male partners--are necessarily the best lawyers.

To agree with that premise, one must accept the idea that law firms are not shaped by institutional racism and sexism.  One must accept the idea that people make partner simply based upon their skills as an attorney, rather than as a result of who they know and how much money they bring in as a result of their contacts.  One must accept that idea that partners in law firms are not, at the very least, subconsciously influenced by their socialization in a culture that is subversively racist and sexist.   One must accept the idea that preconceived notions about the role of women or minorities don't exist.  One must accept that clients, judges, and other lawyers do not presume the incompetence of an attorney--a presumption that can be overcome, but it's an uphill battle--simply by virtue of their race or gender and that those very same clients, judges and lawyers presume the competence of white male attorneys until that competence is disproved.

One must accept the idea that legal employers across the board don't penalize women for taking "extended" leaves of absence--a.k.a. "maternity leave"-- during their "peak years" as an associate.  One must accept that idea that women are not penalized for leaving work early due to a childcare emergency while men are not penalized for leaving work early for a golf game.

I, for one, don't accept those notions and thus respectfully disagree with the premise of Mr. Frank's post.  I do agree that many white male partners are excellent lawyers.  However, I think that there are many excellent women and minority attorneys out there who simply got tired of swimming upstream.  Who got tired of having to constantly disprove the presumption that they were incompetent or more competent than their less experienced white male colleagues.  Who got tired of having to repeatedly correct secretaries and lawyers who assumed that they were either a paralegal or secretary, but certainly not a lawyer.  Who got tired of hearing the same old generalizations--the jail is no place for women attorneys--[women or minority] lawyers are too timid, too assertive, too quiet, too brassy--women write better than men--white people write better than black people--white men are better lawyers.  Who got tired, so tired, and simply dropped out of the rat race toward partnership. 

This article, which discusses a recent study regarding the high attrition rate of black lawyers in law firms, tends to support my conclusion, as do any number of recent studies regarding the low percentage of women associates who make partner.

That being said, I can see where Mr. Frank is coming from and certainly respect his opinion and his perspective.  And, I realize that one's take on this issue has an awful lot to do with one's perspective.  But, from where I sit, the decision of those big law firm clients to support diverse law firms makes sense and does no harm.  And, it  may actually do a heck of a lot of good.  But that's just my perspective.

The Wall Street Journal blog also has a post with a lively comments section regarding Ted Frank's post on this issue.

[BALANCE] Will Discrimination Claims Change the Way Legal Employers Do Business?

In a recent case, Alyson J. Kirleis , a partner in a law firm, filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court, alleging, in part, that her firm discriminated against her by treating her differently after she had children.  (Hat tip:  Women's Rights Employment Law Blog).  As reported in this article from the ABA Law Journal Report:

The suit alleges Kirleis was told "gals" in the firm would perform all the work necessary "to prepare the cases for trial for the male attorneys who would try the cases." She alleges she was "deprived of wages and benefits" and left out of social events and client outings...

Kirleis’ suit describes her as an employee, not a partner, saying she "has no ability to make decisions or influence decisions" at the firm. Edward B. Friedman, who represents Kirleis, says that despite the firm’s emphasis in its statement on his client’s shareholder status, Kirleis was "a shareholder in name."...      

Williams says that not only are family responsibility cases increasing, but they also have a better chance of winning for plaintiffs than typical sexual discrimination claims. "If you look at the larger universe of cases against all kinds of employers, [these] cases have a higher success rate—about 50 percent—than employment discrimination in general," she says...

Employers defending family responsibility cases are "losing, and losing big," Williams says. The largest recovery Williams has uncovered for such a claim was a jury verdict of $1.5 million awarded to a former deputy prosecutor...

"Unfortunately, law firms are some of the most difficult places to work for people with families," says Cunningham-Parmeter. "We’re always going to have discrimination lawsuits we’re familiar with—harassment based on race, sex, national origin and religion—but the emerging area is in family responsibilities, and it’s all based on sex stereotypes, on what roles workers are presumed to assume at the workplace and at home."

Her allegations regarding her treatment by her male counterparts were echoed in a recent report released by the Women's Law Association at Harvard Law School , which is described here and summarizes the difficulties encountered by women lawyers across the board.  Specifically, "(t)he report found that many women believe their firms don't provide opportunities to make partner or foster an environment that values diversity and family."

As for her claims, in my experience, the most difficult hurdle she'll have is to convince the Court that she was, in fact, an employee.  Otherwise, she doesn't fall within the protected class.  I'd be interested to see how that issue is decided by the court, since her other claims won't even be heard if she doesn't prevail on that issue.

Perhaps if enough claims alleging discrimination due to family responsibilities are successful and result in verdicts in excess of one million dollars, legal employers will take notice and begin to make much-needed changes.  And the higher rate of success of these sort of claims is likely to light a fire under legal employers as well. 

Change takes time.  And, "old school" lawyers are retiring every day, so there's still hope yet. 

[BALANCE] Is Balance Easier to Find Across the Border?

After the 2004 elections, I briefly considered a move to Canada, but eventually discarded the idea as I slowly emerged from my post-election depression.  But, when I came across this article, I again wondered, ever-so-briefly, if a permanent trip across the border was in order.  Sadly, however, it turns out that our Canadian counterparts seem to be in the same boat as we are when it comes to work/life balance, so I guess I'll stay put for now.

The article describes the results of a study which concluded that in order to attract and retain new hires, Canadian law firms needed to redefine their concept of a "successful" lawyer.  The article provided some interesting statistics and echoed many of my own opinions regarding the current legal workplace model:

The cost of replacing a young "associate" lawyer, one who is not yet a partner, is $315,000 in separation costs, recruitment and training, the study said.

The second report revealed that nearly two-thirds of all lawyers, male and female, have difficulty balancing their work and family life. And, given a choice, many would opt for a firm that valued family and personal time, they said.

In this third report, Catalyst examined lawyers' attitudes and perceptions toward their firms' efforts to address work-life balance. Its conclusions suggest the profession has some tough work ahead of it.

"Lawyer culture" is based on the assumption the lawyer has a non-working spouse or partner who is looking after the family, Catalyst noted. The road to a partnership in a large law firm is paved with long hours and little personal time, the agency also said.

Of course every time I read an article that describes the increasing dissatisfaction of both genders with the inflexibility of legal employers, I feel a bit let down since it always seems to be all talk and no action. The results of any number of studies indicate that turnover due to dissatisfaction is high, but nothing ever seems to come of it.   While everyone outside the legal profession has a strong grasp on the economic impact of high attrition rates, lawyers in the upper ranks turn a blind eye to it. 

The "old school" outlook reigns supreme no matter what the cost and gnarly old lawyers sitting high atop their thrones at the peak of the legal pecking order stubbornly refuse to change the legal employment landscape since "that's the way it's always been done."   What they can't seem to comprehend is that it's not being done that way anymore, despite their repeated and adamant assertions to the contrary. 

Many entry level attorneys, both men and women, have working spouses.  And, once you throw a kid into the mix, it's inordinately more complicated and costly than it was in the "good ol' days"  And if you have 2 kids or even 3--it's a whole new ballgame.  Prepare to juggle 15 things at once while riding a unicycle.  Trust me, it ain't pretty.

Eventually, the legal culture is going to have to change since, without the support of the worker bees at its foundation, it will collapse and the king will come tumbling down from his throne.  Not a pretty picture, dear ruler.  So, buck up and make the change--sooner rather than later.  We'll be waiting.