Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year

New Year's Resolutions

Note to self:

It is that time of year, must make a commitment to something to better my self and my law practice in 2009. I do think it is going to be a great year, notwithstanding the scary roller coaster ride of 2008. Here are my top ten practice development resolutions:

1. Use Twitter to its capacity as a law practice development tool

2. Post to blog at least twice a week

3. Rework my business plan using SMART and SWOT

4. Connect with my favorite clients to be sure they know I value their trust

5. Add to LinkedIn page weekly

6. Practice Frugality

7. Spread Happiness

8. Eat less

9. Exercise more

10. Obsess less

Ok, that's enough for now.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 29, 2008


Coupon Clippers:

The buzz in the first quarter for most law firms will be watching expenses, and keeping clients happy and close. As we enter 2009, let's muse on effective cost cutting, as compared to silly and annoying pseudo-savings.

That font of all knowledge, and one of my fundamental sources of inspiration, Wikipedia, provides the following thoughts for achieving frugality: "Common strategies of frugality include the reduction of waste, curbing costly habits, suppressing instant gratification by means of fiscal self-restraint, seeking efficiency, avoiding traps, defying expensive social norms, embracing free (as in gratis) options, using barter, and staying well-informed about local circumstances and both market and product/service realities."

Now, I don't recommend barter as a particularly effective business method, it creates all sorts of tax issues and being a tax lawyer, I prefer to avoid tax issues and not invite them (besides, spending money on tax advice is NOT frugal).

Here are some thoughts on what I think is frugal in a law practice, and what is not:


Catered lunch meeting of six partners to discuss local circumstances, service realities, client service opportunities, and common client contacts.


Sending each partner out to buy her own lunch (15 minutes x 6 x $500/hour lost productivity = $750). Pizza would be cheaper.


Providing regularly-scheduled in-house MCLE (double bonus: young partners and associates gain experience preparing and presenting materials)


Allowing all attorneys to choose own continuing education programs, from Hawaii to New York, without budget or oversight constraints.


Supporting key local bar associations by sponsoring events.


Paying for a table of rubber chicken lunches that no one but unproductive associates will attend. Negotiate with the group the same sponsorship recognition by paying the net cost, without the lunches. Only the hotel loses out. (Unless the hotel is a client, in which case buy two tables.)


Encouraging double-sided printing and copying to reduce paper costs.


Discouraging the use of books and encouraging on-line research. Someone needs to explain to me how re-printing a code section or case time after time is more cost effective than using a book. Seriously, on-line research is NOT frugal if the researcher repeatedly prints the same materials.


Meeting with at least one client contact a week for coffee, lunch or another social event.


"Hunker down"


Engaging the entire staff, associates, paralegals, and administrative support, in seeking out cost-savings and better client service strategies.


"Business as usual."

In sum, the essence of frugality in the practice of law is the same as frugal living in general: prudence in avoiding waste. In other words, a frugal lawyer exercises good judgment in deciding how best to avoid wasted money, effort, time, and energy. The turn of the year is a good time to reflect on ways to be prudent in the practice of law for the benefit of our clients, prudent in the management of a law firm for the benefit of our staff, and prudent in energy spent on law practice for the benefit of our families. Modeling frugality is as important for law firm leaders today as it has ever been.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas to all.

See you next week.


Saturday, December 20, 2008



Last week I promised to define more glass metaphors for you. According to the Wikipedia entry on the topic, "Glass Elevator" apparently refers to
The rapid promotion of men over women, especially into management, in female-dominated fields such as nursing. Men in these fields are promoted with ease – they actually have to struggle not to advance due to facing invisible pressures and expectations to move up from where they currently are. This is based on traditional gender roles and stereotypes that men are expected to be in the chief roles, while women are to be in the subordinate positions. Therefore, in the fields where men are less common, they receive differential treatment that favors them to exert their authority and control in the workplace.

I thought this was interesting even though not particularly relevant to any aspect of the legal profession that I know about.

I've got to think of a new metaphor on glass to immortalize my contribution to the field. Perhaps those who write about limitations on women in leadership position would be called "Glass Blowers." The safety instructions for novice glass blowers read something like the following:

Working glass is inherently dangerous, involving heavy materials that can be razor sharp, so hot that damage can be done before feeling occurs, with chemicals immediately poisonous, dusts that can damage the lungs, and heat sources that can wreck the eyes. Understand the safe practices required and use them to blow beautiful glass.

Now that I think about it, leadership in a law firm is quite similar: it is inherently dangerous, involves huge egos that can be razor sharp, the stress of the work can cause damage before it is felt, the atmosphere can be poisonous, the long hours can damage health and the fine print can certainly damage the eyes. Good advice would be to use safe practices, and persevere to create a beautiful career in law.

For tons of information about the art of glassmaking, visit Murano, Italy, or "glassblowing" on Answers.com. See Wikipedia's entry on the Glass Ceiling for definitions of the Bamboo Ceiling, the Concrete ceiling, the Glass Closet, the Sticky Floor and the Sticky Ladder.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Glass Cliff, Part 2: Differences in Perceived Suitability

Curious Ones:

My last post described some intriguing research into whether men and women react differently to the idea that the "glass cliff" exists for women. As you may recall, the "glass cliff" refers to the concept that women are more likely than equally qualified men to be placed in leadership positions associated with a higher risk of failure and criticism, where the positions involve organizations or units that are in crisis. Tonight's discussion focuses on the recently published study, The Road to the Glass Cliff: Differences in the Perceived Suitability of Men and Women for Leadership Positions in Succeeding and Failing Organizations. Researchers S. Alexander Haslam and Michelle Ryan described three carefully designed experiments to test whether there is evidence that, all other things being equal, a woman will be perceived to be more suitable for a precarious leadership position, as compared to a man.

The researchers studied three groups of decision makers: management school graduates (Study 1), high-school students (Study 2) and business leaders (Study 3). In each study, the participants were asked to select a leader for a hypothetical organization whose performance was either improving or declining. Interestingly, participant gender was not found to play a consistent role in the decisions and judgments evinced in the above studies.

Haslam and Ryan noted:

"Consistent with predictions, results indicate that the likelihood of a female candidate being selected ahead of an equally qualified male candidate increased when the organization's performance was declining rather than improving. Study 3 also provided evidence that glass cliff appointments are associated with beliefs that they (a) suit the distinctive leadership abilities of women, (b) provide women with good leadership opportunities and (c) are particularly stressful for women.

These studies demonstrate that the glass cliff phenomenon … can be reproduced under laboratory conditions, where key variables (in particular, candidates' biographical details and the precise nature of the positions) are controlled. This is important, as, in the absence of this data, it could be argued simply that women prefer, and actively choose, leadership positions which are more risky … or, more drastically, that women leaders are actually the cause of organizational crisis ... Indeed, whatever else they do, these studies surely demonstrate that the previously observed association between organizational crisis and women's appointment to leadership positions has an underlying causal structure inconsistent with attributions to women's incompetence. In light of the invidiousness of such beliefs, this is no trivial point."

The authors discussed a number of possible reasons for this difference, and areas ripe for further investigation. I would like to believe that the rationales they suggest are wrong: that sexism and in-group favoritism are not the reason for the glass cliff and that gender discrimination is not used in a pernicious way to throw women into hopeless situations. I would like to believe that their findings are not just based on the relative minority status of women in senior management and a desire by those making the appointment to superficially promote women, but to do so only in hopeless situations. I would like to believe that group dynamics protecting the status of men, and reacting against social change are not the cause, and that women are not just used in these situations to simply to signal radical change in the organization and attract attention.

I would like to believe that glass cliffs are not a reaction to threats to the existing status hierarchy because women are starting to break through the glass ceiling into senior leadership positions. I would like to believe that this threat to the status quo is not being countered culturally through discriminatory practices that reduce the prospects of success on the part of low-status group members.

I would like to believe that the reason women are selected more often for very difficult and challenging assignments, is because, all other things being equal, we believe a women will do a better job.

Next up, musing on the glass escalator.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Glass Cliff, Part 1: Gender Differences in Explanations

Glass Makers:

I learn something new every day. I thought I had pretty much heard of all the ways that the glass metaphor had been used to describe the limitations on women in business, but turns out there are many other ways that glass imagery is used to describe female problems in business (see, e.g. previous posts on the glass ceiling, glass cutter awards and the Glass Hammer Network). This week we'll concentrate on the glass cliff; next week the "glass escalator", then the "glass bubble", and thence to the "glass elevator" and perhaps the "glass is always greener" and "the glass is half full." But I digress.

The "Glass Cliff" was first coined by Dr. Michelle Ryan and Prof. Alex Haslam of Exeter University, United Kingdom, in 2004. My comments today are on their 2007 article Reactions to the Glass Cliff: Gender Differences in the Explanations for the Precariousness of Women's Leadership Positions, published in the Journal of Organizational Change Management. (I'll discuss their even more intriguing recent study in my next installment.)

The "Glass Cliff" describes the idea that women are more likely than men to be placed in precarious leadership positions. In Reactions to the Glass Cliff, the authors report on their analysis of men's and women's reactions to descriptions of this subtle form of gender discrimination. The paper presents a qualitative analysis of the study participants' spontaneous explanations for the glass cliff.

Here's the study described in Reactions to the Glass Cliff: participants read an online news story about the glass cliff phenomenon, which described evidence from business and politics that supported the existence of glass cliff leadership positions for women, and briefly described the potentially negative implications of these positions for women. The article did not speculate about the processes underlying the glass cliff. After reading the article, participants were asked to participate in web-based research related to the glass cliff. The respondents indicated their attitudes towards the phenomenon on seven-point scales. One question measured the belief in whether men or women were more likely to be placed in risky or precarious leadership positions; three items measured how problematic the glass cliff was for women: "How dangerous do you think glass cliff positions are for women?" "How unfair do you think the glass cliff is for women?" and "How often do you think women are placed in glass cliff positions?" and a single item measured the likely outcome of the glass cliff. Participants were then given the opportunity to respond to an open-ended question which asked "What do you think leads women to be appointed to 'Glass Cliff' positions?"

According to the researchers, women were statistically more likely to explain the glass cliff in terms of pernicious processes such as a lack of alternative opportunities, sexism, or men's ingroup favoritism, and men were most likely to favor largely benign interpretations, such as women's suitability for difficult leadership tasks, the need for strategic decision-making, or company factors unrelated to gender. Of most interest to the researchers was the fact that over 50 per cent of male respondents questioned whether the phenomenon existed at all. In contrast, it is striking that only 5 per cent of women expressed doubt about the phenomenon's existence.

The researchers concluded:

"Importantly too, the present research suggests that those who are most likely to be in a decision-making capacity (i.e. men) are precisely those who are least likely to recognize the dangers associated with glass cliff positions and most likely to downplay its existence or explain it in terms of benign or inadvertent processes. Such a finding emphasizes the subtle nature of the glass cliff as a barrier for women, and again suggests that managing the change associated with women's increasing representation in the workplace will not be a straightforward process."

Next up, The Glass Cliff, Part 2: Differences in Perceived Suitability


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fair Measure

Fellow Assessors:

The ABA's Commission on Women recently published its second edition of Fair Measure: Toward Effective Attorney Evaluations. In her forward to the second edition, Pamela Roberts notes that although women comprise roughly half of law school graduates and 30% of all lawyers, they represent only about 17% of partners in private firms. And it is reported regularly in the legal press (and obvious without seeing it in the paper) that progression once in the partnership is equally disappointing, with very few women partners attaining prominent and powerful positions in their firms.

Reviews of women attorneys at all levels must be fair and impartial, and it takes a very conscious effort to counteract the insidious effects of unconscious gender bias and "maternal wall" bias. Fair Measure provides a wonderfully user-friendly format, including a CD-ROM and a handy orientation that sends the reader to the relevant section based on the reader's role in the firm: firm administrator, managing partner, executive committee, or evaluating attorney.

What's that you say? Your firm doesn't have a gender bias problem because you hire equal numbers of women and men? You have just as many women advance to partner as men? Maybe so, but if that is really true, the following assessment will validate your view. If your firm thinks it is gender-bias free, it's probably just in denial. Gender bias is so ingrained in business settings that it takes a conscious effort to counteract, unless you are a firm of one. In that case, you are right, you won't need to do any self assessment. But remember, it is not just men who evaluate women in a biased manner, many supervising women demonstrate implicit bias against women, and particularly against women with children. The maternal wall is still standing quite intact.

So here is the Bias-Free Evaluation Checklist from Fair Measure:

1. Does top management communicate a commitment to a clearly defined and articulated evaluation system that is bias free?
2. Has the firm conducted any programs on gender bias?
3. Has the firm conducted any programs on how to avoid gender bias in the performance evaluation system?
4. Are partners held accountable for advancing the careers of women lawyers in the firm?
5. Does the firm's compensation system include financial incentives for training and supervision by senior associates and partners?
6. Are women visible in firm management committees and roles?
7. Have the firm's personnel policies been reviewed for potential gender bias?
8. Has the firm conducted an internal (and/or external)analysis of hiring compensation, retention, attrition, and advancement of attorneys with particular focus on different rates associated with gender?
9. Are male and female at all levels in the firm included in the design, implementation and monitoring of the evaluation process?
10. Does the firm have a written performance evaluation policy that sets forth the process and timelines?
11. If the answer above is yes, does the policy include a method for attorneys to raise concerns if the policy is not adhered to?
12. Has the firm discussed with its attorney evaluators proper techniques for conducting a performance evaluation?
13. Are recruitment criteria consistent with attorney evaluation criteria?
14. Are attorney evaluation criteria consistent with admission to partnership criteria?
15. Has the firm recently reviewed its evaluation form to ensure that the criteria and standards are consistent with the firm's strategic goals and gender fairness policies?
16. Are the performance objectives rated on the evaluation form specific, measurable, tied to position requirements, descriptive of the skills or experience the attorney must gain in order to achieve each objective, and measurable?
17. Is there a second tier of review (before appraisals are finalized and results communicated to the attorneys) that analyzes and compares all attorney evaluations for consistency, job-relatedness, and fairness?
18. If yes, does the review include a statistical analysis that correlates the gender of the attorney being evaluated with the overall scores or outcomes of the evaluation?
19. If yes, is the feedback provided through the evaluation process reviewed to ensure that it is: (1) specific, (2) factual, (3) tied to job requirements, and (4) based on concrete examples of behavior, performance and conduct rather than personality?
20. If the foregoing are all yes, is action taken to correct any concerns identified through the second-tier review?
21. Does the firm's current evaluation system include a self-analysis by the attorney being reviewed?
22. Does the firm's current evaluation system include an upward review system?
23. Are action plans developed for each attorney based on the results of the evaluations?
24. Does the firm's evaluation committee coordinate its policies and procedures with the assignment, mentoring, recruiting, promotion, and training functions in the firm?

So, how do you measure up?


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sacred Cows


It is that time of year again: Time for New Year's Resolutions, out with the old, in with the new. Auld Lang Syne. The best time of year to go on a hunt for sacred cows in the work place!

A sacred cow is any habit, process, report, or such that saps the productivity and effectiveness out of the workplace. They are sometimes obvious, and sometimes more subtle. I know I've found a sacred cow when the response to "why do we do it this way?" is "because we always have." When that is the first explanation for anything, a pile of cow manure may be close by.

The New Year is a great time to institute a firm-wide sacred cow hunt. Ask staff to join in the fun and identify things that can save time, provide better client service, avoid common mistakes, or simply make the day easier for anyone. Beginning the year with an attitude that seeks out change is a great way to move the firm culture into a more entrepreneurial one.

For lots of ideas about finding sacred cows, get your copy of Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers by Robert Kriegel and David Brandt.



Sunday, December 7, 2008


Cheerful Ones:

Last week I wrote about Twitter and the idea that keeping in touch with the work team is a fundamentally important task for the group leader. I don't really think that simple communication tools like Twitter really promote much in the way of communication, it is merely a fun toy at the moment.

But I do continue to believe that regular informal check-ins are critically important. For workers who are fundamentally competent at their work, personal problems are usually the source of performance problems. And I have yet to find a means for keeping an open line of communication relating to those problems that works better than one-on-one informal conversations. I do this with "Happiness Lunches;" the conversation revolves around two questions: "Are you happy?" and "Do you have any advice for me?" Asking open-ended questions like these often leads to a good discussion of whatever is working well (or not) at work, and sometimes at home, depending on how comfortable our relationship is.

I learned today, though, that happiness at work doesn't seem all that important to overall personal happiness. BBC reports that happiness is spread quite effectively among personal social networks, and it is not only the people who live closest that affect a person's level of happiness. The British Medical Journal reported on a Harvard Medical School-led study where the researchers used data on adults who took part in the US Framingham Heart Study - set up to look at the risks leading to future heart disease - between 1971 and 2003.

Apparently live-in partners who become happy increase the likelihood of their partner being happy by 8%, and similar effects were found for siblings living close by and neighbors. The relationship between people's happiness levels seemed to extend up to three degrees of separation - to the friend of a friend of a friend. The analysis also showed that close physical proximity was important for the spread of happiness. A person was 42% more likely to be happy if a friend who lives less than half a mile away becomes happy.

Even though the Harvard researchers didn't seem to think that work relationships matter all that much, I still think it is worthwhile to check in on happiness both within work-based relationships, and with significant others. Since a lot of lawyers don't have much of a personal life anyway, perhaps that explains my impression that happiness at work is contagious.

So, don't worry, be happy.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Scylla and Charybdis


At the moment, a quiet Saturday evening, the seas appear calm and life is good. But on Monday when the focus returns to law practice management, the storm returns, the seas will be violent, and the shores will again appear treacherous. I was reminded recently by Lauren, one of the finest CFOs I know, about the tale of Scylla and Charybdis. As you remember, Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters of Greek mythology who were situated on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Calabria, in Italy. They were located in close enough proximity to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too closely to Scylla and vice versa.

Entering into 2009, business and law firm leaders throughout the world (except in North Dakota) are facing the mythological rock and hard place: should staff and capacity be trimmed to contain costs and preserve income, or should capacity be preserved so that when the economy rebounds, the business is in a position to take advantage of the opportunities? Is the economy now at the bottom, so that the current demand for work can be expected to continue? Or will the work fail to materialize? If the bet is placed on maintaining the current staff, the captain is betting that Charybdis will not strike.

If staff is not trimmed, the business will pass too close to insolvency if the work does not materialize. Law firm leaders who boldly pass too close to the Charybdis with too much expense risk will lose the entire vessel. Those who pass too close to Scylla, like Odysseus, will lose a few sailors but save the ship.
Conventional wisdom, for those choosing to pass close to Scylla, is to lay off the optimal number of employees in one single action. Others suggest that it is better to step down the size of staff, by first cutting the most obvious excess capacity, and then, later, if deeper cuts are needed, the next best layer to cut is more obvious.
Those who choose to try to retain all their sailors will pass close to Charybdis. And those captains will go down with the entire crew.

Choose wisely.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hat's Off

Fellow Movie Buffs:

What makes an ordinary life extraordinary? Many different paths lead a person to an extraordinary impact on those around her. Not too long ago I had the opportunity to see the movie Hat's Off!, which is a film about an extraordinary woman named Mimi Weddell who began acting in her 60's.

The film follows Mimi Weddell over a ten year period. She tried new things at an age when most are pretty set in their ways and finished with experimentation. She is quite the character: confident, courageous, unphased by fear of rejection or fear of failure, and above all, a hard worker.

If you can, watch it with a group of people. It is very interesting to talk about it with others and see how it impacts people differently, depending on where they are in their own life. What resonated with other people in the audience illustrated as much about them as it did about Mimi or the film.

But the fun thing about this video was the opportunity to promote it as a "thank you" to a favorite client, a fun business development event, and a fun firm event all in one. (I love multi-tasking!) We rented a screening room near our office in San Francisco, and invited clients from many different practice areas to join us for a private screening with the director and producer on hand for a Q & A afterwards.

Having never hosted anything like this, I was worried that no one would come, and I'd not only have failed to thank the client but I would have embarrassed them. I worried that people would come but not like the film. That too many people would come. That firm management would be critical of the event as not appropriate. That there would be too little or too much food. And so on.

In promoting a law practice, it is easy to slip into the tried and true methods of reaching out to clients. It is far more risky to try something different, but the rewards can be really wonderful. A one time film event is not quite as "out there" as a blog on women lawyers, but it was new and pathbreaking.

The 84 minute DVD, in eco-friendly packaging, will be available for a limited time during the holidays through the “Hat’s Off” website for $24.95 -- http://www.hatsoffmovie.com/. The site also features a number of trailers, photos of Mimi, and more information about the film.

Enjoy dinner and a movie!


Monday, December 1, 2008


My little birds,

I greatly enjoyed playing with my kids' budding sense of reality when they were little by telling them that I knew who broke the lamp, who spilled the milk, who was watching TV, and who was teasing the sitter because "a little bird told me." It took them well into their twenties before they figured out that I didn't really have a talking bird, but simply had developed powers of observation well beyond their ability to hide things from me.

Effective law firm leaders also develop less crafty, but equally effective, means of keeping a finger on the pulse of partners, associates, and staff. One way to do this is to spend a significant portion of each day walking the halls, sharing meals, and checking in with a cross section of the firm. Obviously, the larger the firm, the more difficult it becomes to stay in touch and also maintain a practice, but conversely, the larger the firm, the more important it is! So what to do, what to do...

One new tool that has intrigued me lately is Twitter. Twitter describes itself as "a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?" I signed up yesterday and will start posting an answer periodically, just to see how it works. I don't yet know anybody else who uses Twitter but I gather that lots of celebs are using it to keep their fans informed. I don't know that it will be particularly effective in law firms, and may well be counterproductive. In a sense, the only answer the firm leaders really want to see, I suspect, is "I'm billing time."