Sunday, March 22, 2009

Our Courts

Here's a fun new site for lawyers and educators: Ourcourts.org. Promoted by my first lawyer hero, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, it is a site aimed at civics educators teaching middle school kids. The site is a collaboration between Georgetown University and Arizona State. It isn't fully functional and the game I most wanted to play, "Do I Have a Right" won't be available for a while. But there is plenty of good stuff in there, including links to many other sites that have civics education games and materials. I am especially intrigued bythe teaser at Ourcourts.org for The Redistricting Game, which promises to teach "about districts, redistricting, and constituents. You will be given information to help you make your decisions, but good luck trying to make everyone happy."

In any event, my favorite page in Ourcourts.org is Talk to the Justice. This is Justice O'Connor's blog with comments from kids. In response to the question "What should President Obama look for when he chooses people to nominate to the Supreme Court?" she first looks to her readers for comments, and then agrees that diversity is important, along with indicators of fairness, impartiality and other qualifications. The comments from kids ranging from 5th through 12th grade are the most fun. It seems the younger the respondent, the more pithy and useful the response is. Devon, from Arizona, writes that when selecting a new Justice for the high court, President Obama "should think about the right type of a judge like they know what the right laws are, they get along with kids and they’re a good person outside the court and they like sports and they shouldn’t be too talkative." Excellent advice, Devon.

I realize that the site is aimed at idealistic young kids, not cynical middle-aged women lawyers. So I tested the site on my daughter who turned 14 today (Happy Birthday!). Given the fact that it was before 8 am on a Sunday morning, she was trying to write a paper on Jan Van Eyck, and it was me who was asking for her comments, the fact that she spent 3 minutes at the site was a remarkably good indicator that in a school environment she might actually learn something from it.

In any event, send the link along to the teachers you know.

Cynthia

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reinforcements

The March 11, 2009 establishment of the White House Council on Women and Girls is a step in the advancement of societal recognition that the contributions of women and girls are important to our culture. The Council was established last week so I suppose I am a little late in my observation of its importance (I think blogs and twitters are supposed to report and opine on everything immediately, without thought or reflection, and I'm not so good at that). But it's really the public reaction (or relative lack thereof) in the last 10 days that is most interesting to me.

Some interesting and thoughtful commentary on the Council can be found out there—see Kathleen Parker's op-ed piece, and Rose O'Malley's rebuttal. There are a just few other interesting posts and articles, see, eg., Politico, and a wish list you can add to at Feministing. I didn't find much else of interest in my quick search, though. It seems the national opinion laser has been focused on AIG bonuses rather than women's issues (Hey, does anyone know the proportion of women who got those AIG bonuses? That might also be an interesting blog topic).

Anyway, lest anyone think I have something against men and boys, I don't. Three of the four most important people in my life are men and two of them actually read what I write here, so I definitely don't want to offend them.

I'll leave it to all of you thoughtful women and men to form your own opinion about the President's motivation in establishing the Council. It has been my observation, though, that the stereotypes that restrain women's achievement are alive and well, even in the most progressive law firms. For me, personally, the stereotypical reinforcement started at my first job as an associate, where I was explicitly told to take a 50% pay cut because "you have two small children and wouldn't you rather work part-time anyway?" Much more recently, I was invited to sit at a table of all men at a firm function a year or so ago as the "token woman." And also within the past year, being asked if I'd be available for a meeting on a Friday, because another partner remembered that I worked from home one day a week (never mind that I had never worked from home regularly on Fridays, and my Monday out-of-office schedule had ended 4 years earlier).

My point is not that these events were defining moments in my career or even remotely affected my abilities and contributions as a lawyer. What they do illustrate is that behaviors by a woman lawyer that reinforce limiting stereotypes are remembered and used by the workplace, in ways that CAN be limiting. The best reaction? I honestly don't know. Calling attention to these sorts of comments and behaviors usually backfires, because the reaction reinforces yet another stereotype (the overly emotional, hypersensitive, hormonal and/or hysterical woman). But ignoring them, hiding them, or pretending they don't exist doesn't create progress either.

I hope the President's new Council on Women can at least acknowledge that these stereotypes do exist, and a healthy debate can make this a better country.

In the meantime, let's fuss about bonuses and vent our collective frustration on the poor souls who work for AIG.

Cynthia

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Luck



Yesterday morning I saw two rainbows on my way to work, at different places along my route to the BART station. It's not unusual to see a rainbow at this time of year here, but it is pretty surprising to see two in one day. And it being the eve of St. Patrick's Day, that wonderful celebration of all things sort of Irish, free association of ideas took me down a somewhat predictable path. Being Irish by education ("Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame…"), I felt perfectly free to convince myself that I was experiencing deep thoughts on some topic.

Hmmm, rainbow, pot of gold, St. Patrick's Day, luck, women lawyers. That's it—a deep thought! Does luck play a role in the success of law practice business development? My answer: yes, and no.

True legal talent, hard work, good health, and passion for the law, the clients, or the cause are essential for a lawyer who wants to develop a thriving private practice. Those who work hard to develop skills, satisfy client needs, and passionately devote themselves to their career over a long period of time usually have a good chance of developing an economically viable practice. But many lawyers have all of those things and yet never build a sustaining book of business. On the other hand, some lawyers manage to get lucky, strike gold in one or two years, but never sustain that book because they lack the other pre-requisites.

I personally believe that the opportunity to develop a satisfying and economically sustainable law practice depends on lucky breaks, for women and men alike. It certainly has been the case in my career. I've been extraordinarily lucky in many ways. And except when my inner imposter tells me otherwise, I do think that I have some talent, and I know I have worked hard. But without a lot of lucky breaks, I would not have the wonderful clients and referral sources that have enabled me to have a healthy book of business, and one which is relatively stable regardless of the economic conditions.

So that is my unsupported opinion based on my analysis of anecdotal evidence; let's develop some actual data. Please respond to the survey question in the sidebar, and by all means, feel free to comment.

I'm thinking now is a good time to go buy a lottery ticket.

Cynthia

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Haiku #3

Happy to help you!
Best manage—by walking 'round
Trust blossoming now


Cynthia

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Where ARE you going?

Last July (2008) it became illegal in California to talk on a cell phone while driving, unless using a handsfree device. Then in January of 2009 California outlawed texting while driving. Good ideas, both of them. So the bubbleheads who chatted at 70 miles an hour with obstructed vision, and the bobbleheads who were texting, are less evident. But now it is the lost, weaving and bobbing, speeding up and slowing down, cutting across lanes without notice, who are the danger on the road. I really wish they'd outlaw these ridiculous navigation systems that tell drivers, on the fly, where they are to turn left, turn right, veer right, stay left, make a u-turn, and then put it in reverse, all in the accent of your choice.

I've been a passenger in cars driven by these lost souls. After getting in the car, they realize they don't have the faintest idea how to get to their destination. By simply typing in an address, a lovely voice begins gently giving directions, but alas, only about 10 yards before each turn. The hapless driver then has a moment's notice to change lane, set the turn signal, slow down and then execute a safe change of direction. These drivers don't look for landmarks, pay no attention to cardinal directions, and have little sense of speed or road conditions. They just blissfully motor through life relying on a computer to tell them where to go. They exemplify the "ready, fire, aim" approach to auto travel.

Don't rely on a Garmin for your career directions either. Take a look at the existing maps that are out there, and pay attention to the landmarks on the way to your destination. Leave some time in your life to reflect on where you want to go, and then consider asking real people for directions. And let those around you know when you are thinking of making a turn. I think you'll enjoy the journey more, too.

Cynthia

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I Have a Bad Feeling About This...

For my Sunday posts I try to look at current events for emerging trends and issues in the legal industry in general, and of interest to women lawyers in particular. This weekend two things caught my eye--one, a snappy graphic in the New York Times, and the other, a layoff tracker at Law Shucks.com.

Hannah Fairfield's story, Why is Her Paycheck Smaller, illustrates in a complicated graphic the differences in average paychecks across a number of professions and industries. According to the data, women lawyers on average earn 20% less than men. The on-line graphic is easier to read than the print version.

The Layoff Tracker reports that as of February 18, 2009, there had been over 4,500 layoffs at big law firms since January 1, 2008. There were 2,915 (1,231 attorneys, 1,684 staff) in calendar 2009 - 1,375 (537 attorneys, 838 staff) in February alone. The raw data further down the page shows another 250 attorneys laid off last week, bringing the total number of reported layoffs at big firms in 2009 to about 1500. I don't think these numbers count the lawyers laid off from in-house positions, or from small firms.

I wonder if there is any way to measure whether the layoffs disproportionately hit women, working mothers, part-time attorneys, and minorities; I suspect we'll find out soon enough. If they do, the wage disparity is unlikely to improve over the next decade. On the other hand, perhaps since women lawyers are paid less for the same work, the pricier men will be laid off. Not sure that's how it works...

I'll try to be more cheerful next weekend, even I am depressed now.

Work hard this week,

Cynthia