Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's a Jungle

Members of the Pride:

Here is the morning report from the law firm executive director ("E.D."):

"It's an honor and a privilege, a duty I perform
With due sense of decorum and with pride
With deference and great respect very much the norm
Plus a hint of sycophancy on the side
To lay before my managing partner all the facts about his realm
To fill him in on all the lawyerly news…

Yes, yes, E.D., get on with it!

In order that His Majesty stands sturdy at the helm
Aware of all the law firm's latest views

E.D.! The morning report!

Er-- yes, Sire-- the morning report:

Clerks are going ape, Big Dogs remain above it all
Secretaries remember, though won't tell what 'tis that they recall
Litigators are snapping up fresh first years from the ranks
Showed interest in my children but I quickly said "No thanks!"
We haven't found the prebills and the drinkers have a hunch
Not everyone invited will be coming back from lunch

This is the morning report
Gives you the long and the short
Every grunt, roar, and snort
Not a tale I distort
On the morning report

The corporate guys have got a beef
About this season's grass
Green committee has been thwarted
In attempts to save their gas
Lady Lawyers in the pink and
Chasing secretary birds
Saffron is this season's color
Seen in all the lads
Moving down the rank and file
To near the bottom rung
Far too many dirt lawyers are
Quite frankly in the dung


This is the morning report
Gives you the long and the short
Every grunt, roar, and snort
Not a tale I distort
On the morning report."

Thanks E.D.!


Saturday, January 24, 2009



This week of change has energized a number of people who have new jobs in Washington with the new administration, while others (including I suppose those who just lost their jobs, in Washington and elsewhere!) are less enthralled with the direction of the country. Every day this week the news included reports of more business and law firm layoffs. I suppose that many of the law firms that optimistically held on to staff through 2008 are now waking up to the realization that they are not immune from the economic cycle.

If you are one of the lucky ones changing to a new address in DC, no need to read further today. But for those of you who seem to have no choice at the moment but to consider a different career direction (and even for those who do), there are a number of helpful resources out there. Googling "legal career alternatives" revealed 80,300,000 hits. If I were diligent I'd review them all for you and provide some helpful direction about which are the most useful. But I am not. The best place to start is your alma mater's alumni office, both undergrad and law school. Good luck deciding what you want to be when you grow up!

I do want to plug one particular direction today: political careers. Ever considered elective office? Even in your dreams? She Should Run, a project of the Women's Campaign Forum, lists a number of training programs, both partisan and nonpartisan. Be sure to check out Emerge America on the left, and National Federation of Republican Women, on the right. Women lawyer leaders often have particular aptitude in the political arena, so don't be shy. Consider your place in public policy, if you are realizing that private practice isn't your thing.

Run, girlfriend, run!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Drew's Alligator


Isn't this a cool photo? My nephew snapped it while on vacation in the Carribean last month. I wanted to use the photo but didn't really have a reason, so I did what I usually do when trying to write posts to this blog: free association. Hmm, alligator—litigator—nothing there but alliteration. American alligators live in swamps, they float with just eyes and nose above water until striking some hapless prey that comes for a drink…nope, still nothing. Alligators have the most powerful bite, and grab their unsuspecting prey then thrash in a death spiral until the poor victim drowns… I give up. No material relating to alligators seems useful when writing about leaders and lawyers and their relationships with each other.

On a completely unrelated topic, let's talk about email. Email is a wonderful tool, but I am continually astonished at how poorly it is used in client and lawyer relationships. Here are some observations about inappropriate uses of email for communicating with lawyers:

Email as Badminton Birdie: Lawyer receives email, responds with a query or tidbit of information rather than looking up the information or completing the analysis, and lobs it back over the net. The birdie floats in the air for some time, until someone else asks a question or adds a tiny bit of information, then lobs it back. The ubiquitous blackberry is making this game ever more attractive, because it is nearly impossible to actually provide substantive legal advice from a blackberry screen, but it is really easy to just lob the task back, down, or up. And if by chance the birdie has been lobbed into a gutter and no one has bounced it back, it can sit there for months before someone realizes that things aren't progressing. Just stop it. Do the work rather than playing a game, and follow up every important email with a phone call. Seems obvious, but apparently it's not.

Emotional Email: This has been discussed many times in the popular press, but it bears repeating. Never ever send an email when in any emotional state other than professional detachment. Sarcasm is absolutely off limits, even with "friends." Ditto anger, frustration and annoyance.

Email Jokes: Humor, too, should (almost) never be transmitted using a professional email account. I once relayed what I thought was a very funny Google joke (their April Fool's posting last year) and intended to make fun of myself, but it was received quite differently. Who new. Oh well, lesson learned. Best to reserve funny things for your friends outside of work.

Which brings us to Emoticons. I hate the things. But email doesn't convey a proper feminine vocal manner, one that speaks sweetly and deferentially and makes the point in a demure but accurate way. As one prone to sending brief email transmissions, I really wish there were some way to add to the text of every short, assertive message, the following disclaimer, in pink, right below the reminder to be green:

"This message is not intended to annoy anyone, it is merely a brief message of instruction or information. It should not be relied upon for assessing the personality characteristics or professional suitability of the sender. It is just information you asked for or that you need to know."

You can email me at cynthia@womenlawyerleaders.com :)


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Turn the Page

Fellow Authors:

The world is, literally, abuzz with talk of a new chapter, change, optimism, opportunity. It is a good and hopeful time we live in at the moment.

I sometimes hear about young attorneys stalled with anxiety over mistakes, failings and disappointments. It is a good thing to recognize that a missed deadline could have been averted with better habits, that forgetting to shepardize caused the partner involved to completely lose confidence in your work, that failing to spell-check made a memo look amateurish, that failing to confirm the tax consequences of an agreement resulted in a malpractice claim. Some of these mistakes do bring about the end of a work relationship, or at least set one on an uphill climb toward redemption. But it is not a good thing to let obsession over unfortunate events limit the ability to move on.

Thinking of these unpleasant events as chapters, rather than completed novels, helps with forward motion. I remember some memorable chapters in my life: "Before I Understood Partnership Tax" and "I was Afraid to Speak in Public" and "The Time I Missed David's Kindergarten Halloween Parade." But those were just chapters in the story, not the entire novel. The book of one's professional career has many chapters. Missing a deadline, losing a job to the recession, missing children's events because of professional demands: these are chapters, and sometimes really just paragraphs or footnotes.

If you don't like the chapter you just wrote, maybe it is time to turn the page, and start writing a new one.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Haiku #1

A New Year begins
Partners, lawyers: work harder

Labor never ends


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bedtime Stories

Sleepy Ones:

Tonight I will tell you a Bedtime Story.

Once upon a time there were two lawyers, Lawyer One and Lawyer Two. They each went to a fine law school and were fast friends so they decided to practice together in a wonderfully fun practice area advising fabulously prosperous clients with interesting problems. Each was married to a supportive and kind spouse, who, though not a lawyer, understood the demands of a professional career.

The practice generated about 4000 hours of client work a year, or about 2 "FTEs" of legal work. Each partner worked hard, they enjoyed the camaraderie of practicing together. They worked happily side by side for many years.

Then one day each of them decided to have children and they each miraculously appeared at work with two perfect children, ages 2 and 4, with perfect smiles and loving, easy dispositions. Lawyer One was happy and satisfied working 2000 hours a year, but Lawyer Two really preferred to work only 1000 hours a year so that quality time could be spent with Thing One and Thing Two.

There really wasn't an option of not providing the additional 1000 hours of legal work each year, so an additional lawyer (Lawyer Three) was hired to do that additional work. Lawyer Two didn't expect Lawyer One to pay the entire cost of Lawyer Three, but Lawyer Two also thought that Lawyer One should support work-life balance and should bear some of Lawyer Two's share of the cost of Lawyer Three, because work-life balance is an admirable value, and besides, Lawyer Three might someday be profitable, so it was an investment from which Lawyer One would benefit someday.

The practice thrived through good times, and because Lawyer Three didn't share in profits, Lawyer One was reasonably happy with the income, and valued Lawyer Two's partnership and friendship, so didn't complain. Then times became harder, and the fabulously wealthy clients were a little harder to come by. The group income slipped a bit, Lawyer Three left the firm, and it was not possible to hire a replacement to cover the extra 1000 hours. So Lawyer One began working 3000 hours per year, while Lawyer Two continued the balanced life of 1000 hours. It wasn't Lawyer Two's fault that the economy had soured, or that Lawyer Three left. But Lawyer Two believed in work-life balance, and that net income should be shared in direct proportion to hours worked. So Lawyer Two's income remained constant, and Lawyer One took proportionately less, but worked harder year after year. This continued for a while, and then Lawyer One moved to Iowa to farm corn.

Sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Workplace Infighting


Today I'll be brief but insistent--you must read Peggy Klaus' article in today's New York Times: A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting. She writes about women who bully other women more than they bully men, and posits some reasons. In the law profession as everywhere else in business, bullying by women remains a hurdle to workplace success for women, yet is one that many a woman shrinks from acknowledging, lest she be labled an "overemotional, backstabbing, aggressive (and you know what's coming) bitch." We must all maintain constant vigilance, to call it when we see it in others, and to be absolutely certain that we never bully anyone, sister or brother.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rose Colored Glasses


I have needed glasses since I was about 10. Like most young children who are nearsighted, once I got my first pair of glasses I was amazed at how much I had been missing in the world around me. As I got older my vision got worse each year for several years, then stabilized. Until I reached 45, when my near vision started to go! Horrors! Suddenly I needed multi-focal lenses just to get through the day. I couldn't see distant objects, and I couldn't see to read. Another reason to thank Benjamin Franklin!

Some women aspiring to law firm leadership need a sort of multi-focal lens through which to view organizational relationships—few have naturally perfect 20-20 political vision. This month's book club selections, "It's All Politics" and "The Secret Handshake" by Kathleen Kelley Reardon, provide a lens for understanding power and effectiveness. Read these books (the Amazon links will take you to them), they are terrific corrective devices that can help with near- and far-sighted "political impairment."

Ms. Reardon acknowledges that organizational politics aren't simple, and she also, thankfully, doesn't glorify political savvy. Her approach helps the reader to discern the difference between functional, effective office politics, and dysfunctional, pathological and destructive political players who are best avoided. The books help the reader understand her own political comfort zone, the prevailing political climate in the firm, and some methods for being effective. In some cases, the best answer is to find a climate more suited to your own style, rather than trying to fit into a political environment that is antithetical to your own values.

One thing that I do see clearly is that wearing only rose-colored glasses is likely to be ineffective, and that some understanding of the realities of office politics is necessary to be comfortable and effective in any organization. Other types of "corrective lenses" would also be helpful. Women in law firm leadership may need corrective lenses to recognize gender bias, emotional competencies, business finance, and so on. The key is knowing which glasses to wear at each moment of the day; wouldn't it be great if there were progressive lenses that made it easy for your vision correction to shift based on the situation?

I'll be seeing you,


Monday, January 5, 2009

News of the Week

Leading Ladies:

Anita Cicero, a practicing attorney at Drinker, Biddle & Reath's Washington DC office, muses on the challenges of taking on the management mantle: See Tightrope of Managing a Law Office.

Women's eNews announced on December 28, 2008, its 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2009: one man and 20 women dedicating their lives to improving the well-being of all women and girls. They take their work into schools, board rooms, legislative chambers and beyond. Good reading and good reason to be hopeful about 2009.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Seagulls, Ostriches, Condors and Ducks


As many of you know, we are in the midst of the 109th annual Christmas Bird Count. From December 14, 2008 through January 5, 2009, the National Audubon Society organizes volunteers throughout the Americas to "take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists will head out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house in the middle of winter."

My office manager and I have enjoyed watching a pair of gulls (at least we think it is the same pair) return to a rooftop outside our window overlooking San Francisco Bay, where they have nested each summer for the past 5 years. We watch the hatchlings emerge from the nest, feed from their parents, take their first fledgling flights, and then molt into adult birds. From my bedroom window I've also watched the usual variety of backyard birds, and the occasional grey heron that eats the neighbors' koi.

Travis Bradberry, Ph.D, apparently also does some birdwatching. He writes about the worst type of boss--the seagull manager:

The roots of seagull management can be traced back to the days when "micromanager" was the worst non-expletive you could utter behind your boss' back. Managers' fear of this label has grown so intense, they keep their distance from employees, assuming a good boss is one who spends as little time as possible breathing down people's necks.

Some managers can even stick it out for a while. They keep their distance. They give people room to breath. That is, until they spot someone who needs their help. But instead of taking the time to get the facts straight and working alongside their staff to realize a viable solution, reformed micromanagers swoop in at the last minute, squawk at everybody and deposit steaming piles of formulaic advice before abruptly taking off and leaving behind an even bigger mess.

Seagull managers interact with their employees only when there's a fire to put out. Even then, they move in and out so hastily — and put so little thought into their approach — they make bad situations worse by frustrating and alienating those who need them the most.

For some ideas on how to deal with law firm managers who are seagulls, check out Dr. Bradberry's book: Squawk! How to Stop Making Noise and Start Getting Results. It's on my Amazon list.

All this bird musing has led me to my own thoughts on law firm leaders as birds, and I have some wonderful imagery in mind: Ostrich Leaders (heads in the sand); Condor Leaders (feed on dead flesh and bring themselves to near extinction from the build-up of toxins); Duck Leaders (fly in strict formation, rotating leaders when the front bird tires out, but easily attracted to decoys, and, well, hunted) … and so on.

I could continue this all day but I think you get the idea.