Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The Project for Attorney Retention released the results of its 2009 survey of law firm advancement of women to partnership yesterday. They noted that women make up 40% or more of the new partner classes at 23 major law firms, but 14 firms failed to make any female partners. They interpret the data as showing that new partner classes show little progress overall for women lawyers. They see good news in the fact that at 23 of the 100 firms surveyed, the new partner classes were at least 40% female. The bad news is that the gain is offset by the failure of 14 firms to make any female partners. Check out the PAR press release for details about the 100 firms they surveyed.

It does make me wonder, though, whether the raw data really provides much information at all. I do certainly agree that statistics on advancement to partnership for women are an important indicator of progress in addressing bias in the profession. However, the data on partnership "success" begs for a little more analysis for a couple of reasons. First, over the past 20 years the number of firms that use non-equity track for partners has certainly had the effect of increasing the numbers of attorneys that achieve the public title of "partner," but that doesn't necessarily equate to elimination of bias. If those positions carry less money, less economic security, and don't lead to equity partnership at the same rate for women as for men, the mere fact of granting the title can be used to obscure the lack of progress in actually addressing bias in the profession.

Second, it addresses advancement by women lawyers at only one relatively early point in time—basically at the 8-10 years out of law school period. In looking at retention rates for women, a more telling statistic would be measurements of achievement at 10, 20 and 30 years out of school. By 10 years post-JD, one might expect that parity is evidenced by women in a firm attaining the title of partner (whether equity or non-equity) in proportion to the number hired. By 20 years, one might measure the number who have attained equity partner status. By 30 years, one might measure the number who have substantial books of business on a par with the leading producers at their firms. I'd really love to see those statistics for all 100 firms on the PAR list.

In any event, as I read this today and thought about the implications of the data, I was reminded of the sad joke among young lawyers about the prize of earning the title of partner at a law firm: it's like winning a pie eating contest, where the prize is more pie. That's not necessarily success, or achievement.

For those of you who are trying to win the prize, one sure piece of advice: better like pie!


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Semantic Satiation, Gen Y and the Recession

Semantic satiation is the formal term for what happens when you repeat a word until it loses its meaning. I've certainly reached semantic satiation on the two words used most often in today's news: "stimulus" and "bailout." What the heck do those words mean anymore? It seems that every family unit other than mine is getting a "bailout" and that the "stimulus" should somehow make everything better. But I couldn't even begin to articulate how those concepts actually are supposed to work to fix what ails the economy. And I really don't feel stimulated by the new laws that went into effect this past week.

As frustrating, confusing and disconcerting as the economic environment is for me, I am quite sure it is exponentially more worrisome to young lawyers. Each week another round of layoffs is announced, and I know they hit the young lawyers the hardest. When I ask that demographic about how they are doing, they put a happy face on it and cheerily reply, "Well, I haven't been laid off yet!" It seems only yesterday (okay, it was about a year ago) that the chief goal of those Gen Y workers was to convince us old folks that to keep them, they must be allowed unlimited flexibility in when, where, and how much they would work. Plus a lockstep annual raise of $10,000 to $20,000, plus a bonus if they worked a 2000 hour year. At the time I often grumbled that all we needed was one good recession to fix that mentality.

Sadly, we are not in "one good recession;" this is a horrible economic readjustment that will color our remaining careers. The economic crisis has dramatically altered everyone's mindset—those of us who've dutifully squirreled away a 401k so we could ratchet back our frantic work schedules in our 60s, only to see it evaporate; those who just started families and were looking forward to a work environment that valued "balanced hours," only to see our spouse/significant other (or self) laid off entirely; those who finally bought a dream house only to suffer buyer's remorse and realize it's not worth the price paid. It is not easy to find anyone in the legal profession who isn't facing a real attitude adjustment.

Gen Y may have the biggest adjustment to make. They can no longer expect a "B" just for showing up. There are no longer trophies for everyone on every team, because darn it just being on the team is worth a prize! That wasn't real in their childhood, and it certainly isn't now. In the real world, nobody gets a raise just for hanging around. The economics of the last decade weren't real, it was all an illusion. Now the curtain is lifted and the reality of how to earn a living stares us all in the face.

The new, old reality: earning a living is hard work, and those who work the hardest, the smartest, and add the most value, will be the most likely to achieve financial stability. I also believe that there are certainly going to continue to be impediments for some groups (women, working mothers, the disabled, minorities, and so on), and some of those hard won diversity gains will be put to a real test in this environment. And for some, health crises or just plain bad luck will undo years of really hard work; there are no guarantees even for hard workers.

Financial security is most likely to come to those who ask, every day, in every task, is my work the best it can be? The answer to this economic environment is a constant question: how can my work be better? What more can I do to help this client? Are there any other ways to solve this problem? Have I added real value to this project?

Work-life balance is a luxury, not an entitlement. There are no trophies just for being. There is real competition out there: for every client, there are many excellent lawyers wanting to help. Now, more than ever, good enough, isn't.

Better sign off now. I need to get back to work.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Business Casual, or, What (Not) to Wear, Revisited

I wrote a while ago about the dilemma that women attorneys often face when getting dressed in the morning. In my post back on election day, November 4, 2008, I mused on my reactions to the wardrobes of women in politics. Women in business are judged the same way, and I've observed many times over the years that what a woman wears dramatically affects how she is perceived as a professional. That November post has been one of my most read, which is surprising to me because I think many of my other posts are either smarter or funnier.

But the point, I suppose, of the objective statistical analysis of my blog hits is that readers google "what women lawyers should wear." I realize now that although I pointed out in my earlier post that the appearance of a woman lawyer really matters, I didn't give much advice about what proper attire is. Sorry about that.

If you send me a photo of yourself dressed for business, and tell me what your agenda is for the day, I can tell you whether you're likely to be viewed as a competent lawyer in San Francisco. But that wouldn't necessarily be helpful in North Carolina, North Dakota, New Mexico, or New York. It all depends on context. But with 20 years experience in hand, I suppose I do have some opinions, so here they are:

1 If it doesn't fit, don't wear it. Get a good tailor and spend the money to have your clothes altered. Being under-tall, I have been challenged by too long sleeves and too tight… stuff. Suffice it to say that I finally learned the hard way and found a good tailor.

2 If it is worn out, don't wear it. Yes I know it is a pain to go shopping but you just have to replace that suit.

3 Business casual is a misnomer. For a woman lawyer, this means dress for business. If you wouldn't want to be seen dressed as you are by your most promising new client, it is not business casual, it is casual. Every event I am invited to seems to suggest business casual. Perhaps that is helpful to men (no tie required, dress shirt and trousers) but it is completely unhelpful guidance to me if it is professional event. I just read that as business attire, period.

4 When in doubt, dress up, not down. Much better to be dressed too professionally, than too casually. I love to bring associates in to meetings with clients, and sometimes it is spur of the moment, but it really doesn't help when they show up dressed as if going to a law school class. Lawyers who are already on Best Lawyers lists and have their name on the front door can usually dress however they like; the rest of us mere mortals have to dress to impress all the time.

5 Find a Professional Shopper, or, add five reliable retailers to your Favorites. It took me years to figure out an efficient way to manage a professional wardrobe because I had no money, no time and no help. Most women lawyers I know don't particularly enjoy shopping for clothes and shoes: it's very time consuming, very expensive, and except for the models who became lawyers, it's a reminder of an ongoing discouraging relationship with the dressing room mirrors. It would be ideal if professional shoppers were affordable, but if that's really not in your budget, find a few web retailers that consistently have business attire that fits your context, with sizes that fit, and just order lots of clothes each season that you can take to your tailor to determine whether they can be altered to fit you and look good. It is a necessary cost of doing business.

6 Shoes matter. If there is anything I hate more than shopping for business wear, it is shopping for shoes. Ergo, When shopping, sort shoes on your favorite shoe retailer website, most expensive to least. Then, order away, get every pair you like, walk around in them on your bedroom carpet for hours, and then return the ones that don't work. They are easy to return. And throw away every old pair with shredded heals.

7 Little Black Dress. Always works for evening events. Buy five of them (several for warm weather, several for cold and 3 different sizes) and you're all set.

In any event, if you want to send that photo, send it to I'll respond right away.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The New Communication Paradigm


I've been packing up my house to move, the first move in more than 20 years for my family. This is the house where I raised three kids, so you can imagine how many precious things we've uncovered, and how much junk! We've been to St. Vincent de Paul with so many loads of fine quality household stuff that they lock the door when they see us coming. So despite our attempt to find new homes for so many of these treasures, lots are finding their way to the recycle bin. I also found my tax returns all the way back to 1984—including years of nanny tax returns! Those I will definitely keep just in case the President someday calls and asks for my help.

So this urge to purge has extended itself to my office, and I've been cleaning off bookshelves and tossing law practice periodicals that I kept for one reason or another. I usually can't figure out why I've kept a particular issue. One did catch my eye—the September 2004 issue of Law Practice from the ABA Law Practice Management Section. The issue included a lot of stuff that now seems obvious but at the time were probably the reason I kept the issue. However, it is a brief, regular column "Technology in Practice" that caught my eye today. The columnist, Erik Heels, wrote a bit about website design and the benefits of blogging. I didn't know a single lawyer who blogged in 2004, and I only know a few personally who do so now. The same was true of LinkedIn in 2004—I'd heard of it, but no one was using it.

I firmly believe, though, that new communication tools—blogging, on-line social networks, Twitter, YouTube, and so on—have now reached a tipping point and are very rapidly becoming "must-haves" rather than novelties. I think this is true in part because they are ubiquitous in huge sectors of our client bases. Those who speak the new language of communication will be more in tune with client technology, business practices and communication tools. Lawyers who "get it" will provide more value-added advice to their clients than those who don't. They'll stand out from those who are behind the curve.

I also think that this new communication paradigm will be used in the ferocious competition for clients that is coming in this protracted economic downturn. Survival in private practice may come to those who are not only excellent lawyers, but also excellent communicators. Lawyers who are most adept at communicating with current and prospective clients are the ones who will have the best chance at building a strong and loyal client base. Those planning to retire in a few years won't develop these new communication skills—mostly because they lack the sense of urgency that drives learning a new language. But for every excellent lawyer who is competing with other excellent lawyers for good work from good clients, learning, understanding, and using the new language skills will be essential.

How often do you see a leader in a field other than law direct you to her blog, Facebook or LinkedIn page, YouTube videos and Twitter? If you haven't noticed it yet, you will soon. Being followed as a notable blogger, poster, and twitterer will be much more important than being profiled by a news reporter, commended in a tombstone ad by your colleagues, or interviewed for a gossip column in the local legal paper. Lawyers who are out at the front of their fields, commenting on what is important and maintaining a following based on excellence and quality, will be the leaders that clients notice.

I'm not suggesting that these tools will take the place of face-to-face communication—of course they won't. But, just as the telephone, the fax machine, and emails revolutionized law practice for past generations of lawyers, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and their progeny, will do the same for ours.

Where can I find and follow you?


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Haiku #2

Done, the stimulus
Lawyers hope for good work, soon
Winter, Spring...Summer?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Leaders are held accountable for behaving with integrity. Acting with integrity is not always easy, because sometimes there are competing values in a particular situation, and choosing a course of action that is consistent with what we think is right isn't always that easy.

I do think that integrity is something a person needs to work on continually. It's not necessarily something one is borne with, or suddenly decides to practice. Instead, it is a daily commitment to hold oneself accountable for decisions. People who practice integrity engage in a daily dialogue: Were the decisions I made consistent with that I said I would do? Did I hold myself accountable? Did I ask my colleagues whether I had done so?

If I say I will evaluate whether I've acted with integrity, how to begin? To be a person with integrity who says I'll ask others whether I've acted with integrity, I guess I have to ask, or I won't have integrity.

Well, I did publish a list of things I said I would do and you can hold me accountable: The New Year's Resolutions posted on December 30, 2008. Apparently most people abandon their Resolutions in January, so here we are on February 11, and I've restated my published promises here. You all can hold me accountable, too:

1. Use Twitter to its capacity as a law practice development tool. Well, I did post to Twitter more than 20 times. I am following at least one Twitterer that is truly useful to my practice. Not exactly to its capacity, but we're only 42 days into the year.

2. Post to blog at least twice a week. Check. I've published 13 posts in 42 days.

3. Rework my business plan using SMART and SWOT. Uhhh, working on it.

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

5. Add to LinkedIn page weekly. Check.

6. Practice Frugality. Well….uhhh….still working on that

7. Spread Happiness. Yes, I think so! Ask some of my followers.

8. Eat less. I have eaten fewer vegetables. That counts. I didn't say less of what.

9. Exercise more. Well more than I exercised in December.

10. Obsess less. I've been thinking about this one a lot.


(Figure it out yourself—do you expect me to explain everything?)


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Leading by Example

Fellow Motivators,

My kids' pediatrician is the wisest man I know. Our sons and daughter have been his patients for more than 20 years now. Dr. Tom told me many years ago as I was struggling with something or other that our children raise us, not the other way around. That certainly has been true in my life, most probably because I started this parenting thing when I was in my early 20s and hardly grown up myself.

It has been my observation, though, that it is our teenagers who really force us to grow up, whether or not we are ready to, or want to. One of the most significant lessons they teach is to lead by example. Teenagers are all over hypocrisy. You know that your thirteen year old really is a teenager acting in an age appropriate way when he or she challenges you in a very big way, for the first time, about some action of your own that is not consistent with the values you are trying to teach or the behaviors you expect to see.

Adults may be more accepting (or at least usually less confrontational) about behavior by purported managers that does not follow stated policies or organizational procedures, but they sure don't respect hypocritical behavior. And those who do not act consistently with their stated values don't seem to be very effective as leaders.

To lead organizational behavior, firm leaders have to model the desired behavior consistently. When law firm leaders don't manage staff with fairness and dignity, when they fail to obtain retainers and have collection problems, when they fail to include others in decision making, no amount of chastising and berating and policy posturing will have any effect. On the other hand, those who daily model a professional attitude of value, inclusion and respect, with exemplary professional practices in business development, honesty and integrity in professional interactions with staff, clients and partners, appropriate time commitments, reasonable collection statistics, and consistently competent performance, will inculcate the same values in the firm.

For further reading on the subject, see the discussion in Leadership Challenge, by Kouzes & Posner, on the foundation of leadership: credibility.

Self consciously,


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Upcoming Events


Here are some events this spring of interest to women lawyers and rainmakers. Nothing on the West Coast, oddly enough.

February 12-14, 2009:

Join LPM and other ABA entities in Boston for the ABA/LPM Midyear Meeting. There are two programs of interest to ABA Women Rainmakers at the ABA/LPM Midyear Meeting:

Linking Public Service and Business Development

Mindbugs: The Psychology of Ordinary Prejudice

The ABA Women Rainmakers Committee will be holding an open meeting on Thursday, February 12, 2009, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. for all members of the group to discuss upcoming events and future plans.

March 5, 2009:

The Second Annual PAR Conference for Law Departments and Law Firms: Strategies for Advancing Women Lawyers in Turbulent Times will be held at George Washington UniversityWashington DC.

March 27-28, 2009:

“Opt Out” or Pushed Out will address the controversial phenomenon described by some as “opting out," the supposed trend of professional women leaving the workplace to devote their energies to family care-taking, full time.

Sponsored by Yale Law Women


Sunday, February 1, 2009


My favorite scientist is Charles Darwin. Ever since the days of high school biology and my experiments with rabbits (yes, two became many, many more), I've had a strong interest in understanding how living beings evolve. My daughter wrote a paper on Darwin this weekend so I am feeling quite reacquainted with my inner scientist today.

I've also often pondered why so many lawyers in private practice are so unhappy. A 1990 study at Johns Hopkins University found that of the 104 occupations they studied, lawyers were the most likely to suffer depression, and were more than 3.6 times more likely than average to do so. If anything, the unhappiness in the profession has increased since then. We all know anecdotally how few of our peers feel a daily connection to nirvana from the endless stream of emails and phone calls, posturing and arguing, technical research and writing, and committee meetings that are part and parcel of law firm life.

I chose Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, a just-published work by Dacher Keltner, as our book club selection for February to integrate these themes of evolution, lawyers, and happiness. Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, is the director for the Greater Good Science Center, and is coeditor of Greater Good magazine. Though not focused at all on the legal profession, I looked for insight in his analysis of evolution, Darwin's Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and a connection to a meaningful life. Are there any implications for the legal profession from the scientific study of the evolution of positive emotions: smiles and laughter, teasing, touching, love, compassion, embarrassment, gratitude and awe? Yes, there certainly are.

I'll just focus on one chapter here, but I encourage those interested in a meaningful life to spend some time with Born to Be Good. The chapter, "Smiles," explains why smiles appear in both expected and unexpected places: on the faces of winners and losers, those watching an amputation, eating sweets, facing adversaries, experiencing pain, and feeling affection. The key to understanding smiles is not in the shape of the mouth, but in the "wellspring of the soul—the eyes." Researchers tell us that the muscle around the eye is the happiness muscle—the orbicularis oculi. This muscle surrounds the eyes and when contracted leads to the raising of the cheek, the pouching of the lower eyelid, and the appearance of crow's feet, the most visible sign of happiness. Smiles that involve the happiness muscle—termed "Duchenne" or "D Smiles" for the scientist who discovered the muscle—differ in many ways from non-D smiles. D smiles are indicators of positive emotional experiences; Non-D smiles are associated with the activation of negative emotions.

Keltner traces the evolution of D smiles. From the original non-D smile associated with fear and submissiveness in hierarchical primate species, the D smile evolved with species that are more egalitarian, and came to be a display of friendly intent that triggered behavioral processes that allow for close proximity and cooperation. Keltner writes that the roots of human happiness are found in those moments when individuals move toward one another: toward cooperative and intimate ends. D smiles, he writes, are social chocolate: perceiving a D smile triggers a release of dopamine in the recipient of the smile, bringing about powerful feelings of warmth, calmness, and intimacy. The right kind of smile increases trust, and social well-being rises among the participants to the exchange.

I can think of a lot of ways the study of smiles and positive emotions in private law practice can influence the happiness of the lawyers involved, but that would take quite a lot of blogging. But I'll leave you with one assignment: next time you have no choice but to attend a relatively uninteresting meeting that will involve some degree of emotion in the other participants, instead of doodling, keep a log of the D and non-D smiles of each participant. Armed with the research skills learned from Born to Be Good, you might compile interesting data about the relative evolution of the primates your practice and the degree to which they have evolved.