Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bar Associations Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow?

I write to you from magnificent Chicago, on the first day of the ABA Annual Meeting. Just arrived here this afternoon, grabbed my badge and the program, and found about half a dozen interesting MCLE programs on topics I know very little about. I am most interested to hear from John Ashcroft tomorrow on "Lessons from History: A Conversation with Former Attorneys General." We shall see who has learned a lesson.

Despite the fact that thousands of lawyers have descended on Chicago, it is apparent to most that ABA membership is declining. I don't know whether the ABA will survive the economic turmoil and the new paradigms in information technology that are changing the way lawyers get and give information. What I do know is what membership in local, state, and national bar associations has meant to me. Here's my perspective, just so you know.

Very early in my career, I joined a local group, San Francisco Women Tax Lawyers, which was sort of a misnomer because it wasn't exclusively women, or lawyers, although the lunch gatherings did focus on tax topics. It's defunct now, but for about 15 years it was the only game in town for young women tax lawyers and many accountants as well. The other local group of tax lawyers wouldn't admit members who hadn't been in practice for at least 10 years—this policy was described to me back in the early 1990's as an intent to keep the conversations at a high level (which was pretty silly, their programs were no more high level than ours). It seemed obvious to me even then that the point was to exclude newcomers and to protect an old boys' network. The fact that it was almost exclusively a white male only group didn't seem to dawn on the leadership at the time. That group is now nearly defunct too, I think.

In any event, after spending several years as a board member of the Women Tax Lawyers, I moved to the statewide exempt organizations committee of the tax section of the California State Bar. That group was, and is still, a vibrant community of really committed lawyers, who share in writing the California treatise on nonprofit corporations, educating other lawyers as well as the legislators in Sacramento, and doing all sorts of appropriate but generally thankless tasks to improve the law in California. The California State Bar Tax Section's committees have always welcomed new members, have well established avenues for movement into leadership, is respected in the state and at the national level for its contributions to Congress and the IRS, and provides real value to its members. Membership is basically free, meeting fees are very low, and the cost of a plane ticket to the other end of California now and then is pretty modest.

After moving up the ranks in the statewide committee and serving as its Chair, I then moved on to the ABA Business Law Section, nonprofit corporations (now called nonprofit organizations) committee, worked my way up the committee structure, and then served as its chair. That particular ABA subcommittee, and the Business Law Section in general, seems to welcome new energy and provides real avenues for members to contribute to publications, webcasts, and speaking engagements. But it, too, has its challenges. It's part of an enormous business enterprise that seems to be struggling to attract new members. It is expensive to participate, because the two meetings each year are usually far from home and costly to get to, and the dues and meeting fees are very pricey.

In looking through this admittedly very narrow lens, one might be tempted to conclude that the very local topical bar associations are dying out because they lack a critical mass, that statewide networks (at least in California) have a critical mass and can continue to thrive, but that national bar associations will continue their decline because they are too massive, too expensive, and aren't nimble enough to change as necessary to meet tough economic times and changing information technologies.

Over the next few days, I'll blog my thoughts and perhaps Tweet them as well, and let you know how things look here on the ground. In the meantime, if anyone out there has the same or a different perspective, please comment!


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Men Love to Hear Themselves Talk

Here's a great interview: In the NY Times Corner Office column today, Carol Smith, Senior VP at Elle Group, gives some provocative remarks about the differences in style between men and women managers. It's a quick but fun read for anyone in management. In explaining why she thinks women bosses are better managers, she opines that women "tend to be better managers, better advisers, mentors, rational thinkers. Men love to hear themselves talk." Amen to that.

I also wholeheartedly agree with her comments about interviewing a prospective hire over a meal. She notes that you can usually learn more about a person over a meal than in any other interview format. How the person orders, what they order, how they treat the wait staff, conversational skills, and personality: it all comes through in an authentic way over a meal. Conversely, in my view, the most useless way to get to know an interviewee is in a group interview or, worse yet, a "round robin" drop in where various parties drop in and out of a conference room. I suppose that's useful if a major job requirement is stamina. But otherwise, I don't find it very productive.

In any event, the one bit of her advice that I disagree with is the point about not sitting at the head of the table. Her rationale for choosing a seat in the middle of the table is to show a willingness to be part of the process and part of the decision, and that does seem sensible. However, if the group is large, then it's nearly impossible to keep track of body language and engagement when half of the participants are out of the line of site. I like to be able to watch everyone, to follow the body language so that I can really read the interpersonal dynamics. That's particularly important in contentious or difficult meetings. For some guidance on interpreting body language, take a look at Born to Be Good, The Science of a Meaningful Life, by Dacher Keltner, a great book I reviewed some time ago at Evolution.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Real and Imagined Risks: Distracted Driving vs. Social Media Policy

I've been ruminating over the past few days about the sense and nonsense in a lot of law firm policy development. Last weekend I tweeted Kevin O'Keefe's article with recommendations about development of law firm policies on social networking but now I want to spend more than 140 characters commenting on it. I wholeheartedly agree with Kevin's advice in his post Law firm social media policy : Inclusion is key in developing. He wisely advises inclusion of a wide group of stakeholders when developing the policy. Of course it's a great idea to be inclusive when developing any law firm policy, but especially so social media policies, given the generational differences. He not only addresses the need to include many, but he also realistically recognizes that committees of lawyers are "likely to be slow moving and could chill real input." Wow, that's an understatement!

In any event, he notes that by using wikis and allowing true anonymity in crafting a policy a good result is likely to emerge from a group of lawyers. Several wise comments from Kevin's followers develop his points nicely. I would also add that not only does his recommended approach lead to a good policy development, it will also have the added advantage of educating the participants about the technology and its usefulness across the law firm spectrum of concerns--from recruiting, to professional development, to retention, risk management, and of course to marketing and practice development. Focusing on social media policy only from a risk management perspective is a huge mistake that misses the mark altogether. Although inept public statements by text message, tweet, blog, or comment on a website may well pose real risks to the posting individual, I just don't believe that these communication tools pose a real risk to the law firm. An overwrought risk averse policy focused on social media use throws the baby out with the bathwater.

On the other hand, one very real risk seems to be widely ignored by law firms. In yet ANOTHER New York Times article that states the obvious, Driven to Distraction: Drivers and Legislators Dismiss Cellphone Risks, Matt Richtel writes that

"Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe."

No kidding. Is there anyone out there that seriously disagrees with that proposition? Everyone has known this for years, the government apparently quashed the evidence, but now it's published so it must be true. And yet a huge percentage of the population continues to speed along with less attention to the road than after a day of drinking at the law firm's holiday party or annual partner dinner.

Where are the blawgers and policy wonks on this much more real risk? Handwringing over social media policies is rampant in seminars, risk management conferences, and management committee meetings all over the country. Lots of ink (or bytes, I suppose) is being spilled on policies addressing whether and how to "manage" risks of social media, yet the much bigger risk of cell phone distraction by lawyers slides by as an acceptable risk. The management approach that "everyone will talk on the cell phone while driving so there's no point in trying to police it" is about as good an approach to management as "everyone's going to drink at the firm party, so no use encouraging use of taxi's."

In any event, the contrast between the imagined risks of a new paradigm for communication presented by social media, and the real but ignored risks of cell phone use, is probably best explained by fear of the unknown. I suspect that most lawyers in a position to address policy making in a law firm are folks who have no first hand experience with social media, and this fear of the unknown seems best tackled by legislation. On the other hand, the same group of managers has been chatting on cell phones for years, and like drunk drivers believe that they won't get caught, and in any event believe they are excellent drivers who won't get in an accident. The downside risk to the law firm of an accident caused by a lawyer chatting on the phone seems much, much greater to me.

So if you really need to call a client on the drive to your next meeting, get a cab voucher from the office manager, but don't get behind the wheel. And remember, partners don't let partners drive distracted.

Gotta go, my phone's ringing.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Calling All Women Partners


One of my favorite organizations dedicated to the advancement of women in the legal profession, the Project for Attorney Retention (PAR) last Friday announced that they are looking for data for a survey of partnership compensation. Specifically, PAR and its co-investigators, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession are working together to examine the experiences of women law firm partners regarding business development, related compensation and partner evaluation practices with the goal of developing recommendations and best practices. If you are a woman who is a partner in a law firm, please contact PAR for a link to the survey and ask all the women law firm partners in your network to do the same. Individual responses will remain confidential and anonymous and will be reported only in the aggregate.

The PAR blog post suggests that it only takes about 20 to 30 minutes to answer the questions, but I managed to finish in about half that time. Perhaps I wasn't thoughtful enough…

In any event, it is important work, so do respond.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

Haiku #7

Patriotic means~
Shopping, spending, consuming
Dollars, multiply!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Compilation of Inspiring Quotes on Leadership, Women, Lawyers

In January of this year I added a sidebar widget to showcase a quote each week from a woman leader that I found meaningful. The women quoted include artists, lawyers, journalists, politicians, teachers, scientists, and "ordinary women" such as Anne Frank and Helen Keller. I hope their words of inspiration are as helpful to you as they have been to me. The following quotes were used on this blog from January through June 2009:

Elizabeth Dole
Women share with men the need for personal success, even the taste of power, and no longer are we willing to satisfy those needs through the achievements of surrogates, whether husbands, children, or merely role models.

Margaret Thatcher
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.

Pearl S. Buck
To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.

Georgia O'Keeffe
I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life -- and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.

Michelle Obama
Service is a limitless opportunity, it is the reason why we breathe.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Well-behaved women seldom make history.

Eleanor Roosevelt
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Sandra Day O'Connor
The power I exert on the court depends on the power of my arguments, not on my gender.

Maria Montessori
Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.

Marianne Williamson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

Dorothy Parker
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

Sandra Day O'Connor
We don't accomplish anything in this world alone... and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.

Anne Frank
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Sandra Day O'Connor
That's my ranch upbringing. If something is broken, you repair it yourself and you don't care if it's beautiful. You just care if it works.

Katherine Hepburn
When I’ve been unsuccessful, I’ve been controlled. When I’ve been successful, I’ve been in control.

Abigail Adams
These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.

Jane Goodall
As a small child in England, I had this dream of going to Africa. We didn't have any money and I was a girl, so everyone except my mother laughed at it. When I left school, there was no money for me to go to university, so I went to secretarial college and got a job.

Helen Keller
Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.

Sarah Bernhardt
One should hate very little, because it's extremely fatiguing. One should despise much, forgive often, and never forget. Pardon does not bring with it forgetfulness; at least not for me.

Georgia O'Keeffe
One can not be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work.

Molly Ivins
You can't ignore politics, no matter how much you'd like to.

Mae West
Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.

Madeleine Albright
There is a special place in Hell reserved for women who don't help other women.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.



Thursday, July 9, 2009

Will BigLaw Blog?

Question of the week at BigLaw: Why Blog? Or Twitter, or Facebook, or YouTube, for that matter?

A recent post on's Legal Blog watch summarized some recent musings by lawyers on why big firm lawyers don't seem to be very interested in blogging. Apparently, according to a post at LexBlog, 41 percent of the 200 largest firms now have blogs, a 110 percent increase from LexBlog's first survey two years ago. But none of these blogs is published under the name of a top-10 firm. James M. Beck, counsel in the Philadelphia office of Dechert, in a post at the blog Drug and Device Law, sums up six reasons why they don't:

1. Lawyers at the most profitable firms are stupid.

2. Lawyers at the most profitable firms are too busy.

3. Lawyers at those firms won't stoop to blog.

4. Lawyers at those firms don't want to give away their product for free.

5. Lawyers at those firms lack the necessary skill set.

6. Lawyers at those firms believe that blogging is unlikely to yield a decent return on investment.

I think it's a little more simple than that: most law firms are just plain slow to change. Many, many law firms publish newsletters, and most of those are now distributed by email rather than on paper (although I do still get a few of those paper newsletters). It won't be long before lawyers realize that all the time spent writing pieces for newsletters can be leveraged by being uploaded to a blog. The challenge will be to find someone in the firm who will get the firm's blog on the radar screen of enough clients to make it seem worthwhile. In my experience, it's not writing the blog material that takes time and extra effort, it's generating a following, finding a path to the right readers, and making sure that the message isn't just my voice shouting in a forest with no one around to listen.

I also think that the number of firms blogging will expand dramatically as the new wave of young lawyers who are digital natives come into the work force. Many of them apparently are furloughed at the moment, but once they come on line, I predict that the expansion of law firm marketing into the blogosphere will expand pretty dramatically.

Another way to think of big law firms is as tall ships, with smaller firms, and solos, as relatively smaller sailboats. Naturally, the smaller the ship, the more nimble it is. But as the competition turns with the wind to pick up speed, so will the large ships. They may be the last to move in the right direction, but once they do, they'll likely pick up speed and momentum pretty quickly. I don't think they're stupid, arrogant, or too busy. They're just slow to change.

In any event, the lawyers who don't like to write for books, periodicals, or newsletters, are not suddenly going to decide to write for blogs. It will still be a relative minority of lawyers who authentically jump on board. But make no mistake about it, there are still plenty of those types of lawyers at BigLaw who'll jump on board.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Coaching Leaders

Hey there team, you may not have noticed, I finally took a 4 day vacation! So I missed my last Wednesday post, and today's missive will be brief. I spent my long weekend with my husband, horse, and trainer at a fun show. All three of them are the best: best hubby, best horse, best trainer/coach in the world! I'll leave my praise for my husband and horse to a more appropriate audience, but I do want to publicly thank my coach for her patient, honest feedback that helps me to be a better rider. Without a coach I'd still be bumping along at the free walk rather than improving my skills in fun venues with wonderful friends.

So my train of thought this week was on coaching and its importance to lawyer leaders. It's a tough job, if not an impossible one, to coach lawyers on leadership skills. Peer reviews, 360 reviews or upward reviews are virtually useless mechanisms for providing coaching or feedback to law firm leaders, because the politics and economics of law firms make it impossible for anyone else within the law firm to provide honest feedback. It's silly and delusional to think that powerful economic key personnel who are the majority owners of a law firm will get any constructive criticism from the others in the firm. A strong, experienced former law firm partner who has studied law firm leadership can provide effective coaching, but only if the lawyer involved is open to constructive help.

There are some terrific consultants out there who try to help lawyers in developing these skills, some are in the side bar of this blog and I'm sure there are others out there who are equally qualified. If you really want feedback, find a coach who isn't merely a cheerleader, who understands law firms and their eccentricities, and who isn't afraid to be fired for speaking the truth. And then listen to the advice you get--it's probably the truth that your peers and subordinates wish they could tell you.