Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Greatest Fictional Lawyers?

Several of my readers lately have commented that my posts have stopped railing against the machine that keeps women from succeeding as leading lawyers, and yes I suppose I am getting a little weary of carrying the flag.  But every so often, I'm stopped dead in my tracks by some inane article showcasing the battle women still fight to be respected in the legal profession for their talents.  If even the ABA can't see that it is part of the problem, my job is not yet done, and I'll keep on alerting my handful of readers that there is still work to do.

I like the ABA, I really do.  I've been a member since I was in law school, have chaired a substantive committee in the Business Law Section, and next week I'm moderating a panel discussion at the Annual Meeting (scintillating topic:  "Focus on the 990: Special Issues Relating to Governance and Compensation Reporting for Nonprofit Organizations," I know you're really looking forward to attending).  But sometimes I am just appalled at the utter lack of understanding about what it means to promote women in the legal profession.  This month's edition of the ABA Journal reaches a new low in being dismissive of women lawyers, and condescending to boot.

In The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers, the Journal manages to find 23 interesting male characters, many of whom I truly admire and many of whom did inspire me and many other women to join the legal profession.  How is it possible, then, that the ABA could only manage to mention two women?  The named lawyers were selected based on the quality of the character as "an instrument of truth, an advocate of justice, the epitome of reason," the supposed standard by which great fictional lawyers are measured against the greatest of all time, Atticus Finch.

So who are these two women that make the ABA lists?  Ally McBeal, who "to a generation of young women, portrayed lawyering as a way to mete out justice, meet guys and pay for expensive shoes" and Patty Hewes (of Damages):  "a living, breathing example of a woman who can be more like a man." 

Okay, so great women fictional lawyers are those who are in it to either "meet guys" or "be more like a man" or are just so frivolous they are in it for the shoes.  Is there a single woman lawyer who actually was inspired by either of those characters for those reasons? 

And for you men out there, do any of you think women lawyers are actually inspired by these characters?

Come on ABA, you can do better.  If it is really impossible to find fictional women lawyers who meet the standard set for the article, then just leave women off the list altogether.  Promoting a vision of women lawyers that is frivolous, or, worse, worth mention because the character shows a woman "can be like a man" is so insulting it would be better had you just left out women characters. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Good Mommy, Denial Mommy, Avoidance Mommy

This post originally ran in March 2009, and it's still one of my favorites.  Last weekend I was blessed with the presence of both of my sons, one home from law school and the other taking a break from his internship in a lab at UCLA.  Mom and Dad were here for a visit, too.  It was a lovely weekend, and validation of my twenty-five years as a Slacker Mom:

My sons are supposed to come home for the weekend. The oldest is driving up from Pasadena to take possession of his father's rarely used golf clubs because he (Number One) is about to accept an offer of admission to a top ten law school. Number Two wants to take possession of my antique Minolta SLR camera so that he can take actual photographs to develop in his girlfriend's dark room. (Whatever. He's 21). Ahh, for the good old days when parenting was simpler…

A couple of days ago a good friend of mine came by to lament the frustration she felt one evening when she planned to do an hour or so of work at home after a family dinner with her 9 month old and 4 year old. Unfortunately her 9 month old didn't get the memo, decided to poop in the tub, and caused a dramatic change in the evening work plan. Instead of cleaning up transaction docs, she bathed the baby, sterilized the tub, disinfected all the bath toys, and actually tried to stay cheerful through it all. Then, after sharing this news with me, she found out her best client had just moved all their legal work to another law firm.

Another colleague came by Wednesday to chat about the fact that she thinks she's ready to let the after-school nanny go this coming fall, since her son will be starting high school. We chatted about the logistics of high school schedules, latchkey kids, and the toll it takes on a working lawyer mom when the decision is made to send the kid home to an empty house, sans nanny.

I don't have any new or novel answers to these dilemmas, but I do like to pass on the wisdom from the many working moms that have traveled these paths before us. When I was young (long, long ago) I used to feel an acute amount of stress about these sorts of things. At the time I started practicing as an associate at a top notch law firm I was 27 years old, and had a 4 year old and a 9 month old. That was a decade before mom lawyers generally felt like they had a right to be respected as committed lawyers, and working moms were assured a place on the partnership track. There wasn't much support, but there was a pretty clear opinion divide about how good mommies behaved, and how bad mommies behaved. Good Mommy was expected to spend about 9 to 10 hours of daily face time with the darlings. Anything less, well, bad mommy, bad lawyer. I seriously worried for years about whether I would ever be nominated for the Mommy of The Year Award (I never won, and now I think I am too old to be considered).

When truly despondent, I'd remember my first heroines—my grandmothers. Working class moms in the 1930's and 40's (which was and is 99 percent of all moms) didn't spend all day in immaculate homes thinking up creative games for their beloved children, or providing them with the best of the best in sports, arts, spirituality, education, travel, electronic devices and entertainment. They just did the best the could with what they had to work with, and they were, by and large, very hard working women with 10 and 12 hour hard labor days. And they didn't have time for therapists, career coaches, or leisurely lunches with mentors.

Many lawyer moms today truly to like their legal work, but feel this acute pull between time at work, and time with the kids. Cleaning the bath toys vs. editing the memo. Preparing a bar association presentation vs. attending the soccer game. Taking Darling to gymnastics class or answering emails. Sneaking a peek at a blackberry vs. undivided attention to the sixth grade concert band performance. Preparing an organic free-range meal from her home grown garden produce and freshly gathered eggs vs. fast food. Dinner with clients vs. studying for the spelling test.

Denial Mommy copes by sweeping up the mess, but doesn't sterilize. So long as the kids put on clean clothes at bed time, it's fine if they just wear the same outfit to school the next day. She uses paper plates for every day meals to minimize the dishwashing duty. She uses all her vacation days for doctor, dentist and teacher conferences rather than a real vacation. Folding clothes is grossly overrated where children are concerned. Ditto sorting colors from whites (in college they'll dump EVERYTHING into one load anyway and live for years in shades of gray).

Avoidance Mommy, on the other hand, absents herself from the challenge—she lets Daddy or Nanny deal with the poopy tub however they like, just doesn't get into the details. Works late rather than confronting bath time. Leaves for work before Darling wakes in the morning to avoid the tearful goodbye, from the 9 month old, and the guilt trip, from the 8 year old. Works even though sick as a dog and infects the whole office, rather than staying home in bed where no one will leave her alone and she won't be able to sleep anyway.

Good Mommy, though, does what her grandmothers did: The best she can with what she has. She knows in her heart that love for the kids and commitment to good work are not mutually exclusive. She makes choices each day based on the relative demands of work, family, and community at that point in time, and then moves on. No one but Good Mommy knows which one is the best choice given the variables presented. In retrospect it may turn out that another decision might have worked out better, but Good Mommy knows that sometimes mistakes will be made, information won't be perfect, and someone will be disappointed. She also manages expectations where she can, so that all her constituencies and stakeholders will appreciate that she's doing her best. She knows that some days the best answer is to avoid one problem or another, some days the best answer is to deny that there is a problem. Only Good Mommy knows the best answer for the moment.

For some truly inspiring coping mechanisms, your best resource is Confessions of a Slacker Mom (see Amazon list). One final note: the exact same things can be said for working dads, except I am pretty sure that Confessions of a Slacker Dad was published about 3000 years ago. It's now out of print, because the guys figured this out a long time ago.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Haiku #19

S F Summertime:
Hot and Cold--Sunny, Foggy
Swimsuit, or Parka?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Misunderstandings and Malice

One adage that serves women lawyers well is Hanlon's Razor

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence

Widely attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, there are apparently quite a few similar phrases (e.g., "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice," "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.")  These are great things to remember when dealing with difficult opposing counsel, recalcitrant staff or associates, or, gosh, in some cases, even clients.  Sometimes it is, indeed, difficult to tell whether interpersonal conflict has come about because of villainy or trickery on the other side, but real solutions can usually be found if the disagreement has simply arisen because some key player is simply clueless (and aren't we all, from time to time).

Next time you think someone is out to get you, step back and consider whether he's just incompetent.  Then deal with that with compassion, patience, and some teaching skills.  If that doesn't work, maybe he is a villian.  But I'll bet in most cases, he's not.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Millennium, Same Glass Ceiling?

In New Millennium, Same Glass Ceiling? The Impact of Law Firm Compensation Systems on Women, released today by the Project for Attorney Retention and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, based on a survey of nearly 700 women law firm partners, concludes that existing compensation systems for lawyers open the door to gender bias because they contain tremendous subjectivity, lack transparency, and because so much of the negotiation surrounding salaries takes place out of sight.

The report finds low levels of satisfaction among women with law firm compensation. Fewer than half the women equity partners and roughly one-third of women income- and minority-partners are satisfied with their compensation. An earlier study, which also found roughly half of women lawyers satisfied with their compensation, found that nearly three-quarters of men were.

The survey tapped a deep vein of anger, evidenced by comments submitted online, over compensation issues among women law partners. “We knew there was a compensation gap, but we were surprised to find such intense dissatisfaction,” said Joan C. Williams, Director of the Project for Attorney Retention.

Roughly one-third of the women surveyed reported having been bullied, threatened or intimidated out of origination credit, a key factor in setting compensation. More than half the women reported being denied their fair share of origination credit.

Many survey respondents reported a lack of opportunities to participate in, or to benefit from their participation in, client pitches. Of the women surveyed, over 70% of minority income partners, 58% of minority equity partners, and slightly lower percentages of white partners, reported that they had participated in client pitches that yielded work for their firms—but that they were excluded when the time came to do the work.

Additionally, the survey found that women, who make up 16% of equity partners nationwide, are underrepresented or completely missing from their firms’ compensation committees. One-fifth of the women surveyed reported that no women sit on such committees; one-half of the respondents indicated one woman on the relevant committee. The absence of minority women on the relevant committee was even starker.

“With few women on compensation committees and in top management positions, women law firm partners’ ability to influence compensation decisions and address salary differentials is limited,“ said Veta Richardson, MCCA Executive Director. “This report confirms prior MCCA findings that women and people of color are less likely to feel fully informed about the rules regarding what it takes to advance and achieve a higher compensation for their work.”

Preliminary results of the survey were released this spring. An executive summary and the full report, New Millennium, Same Glass Ceiling? The Impact of Law Firm Compensation Systems on Women, written by Joan C. Williams and Veta T. Richardson, is available at www.attorneyretention.org, and will be published in the Hastings Law Journal this winter.
One might conclude from this report that it is just the same-old, same-old, with the old boys network controlling the comp and dolling it out in payment of favors.  But it's not the same--things are better now if for no other reason that women can see these stark realities, and will gradually stop blaming themselves, their skills, and their family responsibilities for the disparity.  Women can now more readily see the bias, intimidation, and secrecy for what it is--an attempt to control the game by hiding the ball and throwing sharp elbows at anyone who comes near.  But more and more women are wise to the secret rules now, and over time, I am sure more will find ways to play the game, if by no other means than simply hustling ever harder to bring in and keep control over the clients they represent.  Nobody ever said it would be easy, but at least now the rules of the game are becoming a little more clear.