Monday, February 28, 2011

The Primary Dilemma

Just came across a really insightful analysis of working mothers and the choices they make, in a study by Lynn Hall at Primary Dilemma LLC.  This is certainly one of the most thought-provoking approaches to understanding the choices working moms make that I've read in a long time.  Although her study was not focused on women lawyers, it seems to me to be an incredibly useful tool for women and firm management.   Rather than approaching working moms with a one-size-fits-all approach to flex time and career tracks, Lynn Hall's analytical approach helps crystallize what is important to the different work choices facing moms with different demands.  By better understanding the motivations and limitations that women typically face, firm policies and attitudes can accommodate these differences and keep more women progressing up the career path.

I encourage you to read Lynn's summary, but in a nutshell, here are the five work styles she identifies from her studies:

  • Fully Loaded: Is a Single Parent.  She is solely responsible for the balance of work and family.  Among the women who responded to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 10% were Fully Loaded.  Of note, a higher percentage of respondents reported to be single mothers but acknowledged co-parenting with someone else.

  • Workable: Is the primary career in her family.  She spends more physical time working than physical childcare.  The Workable is enabled by someone else providing primary childcare.  Of note, the Workable is highly engaged with her children emotionally.  Among working mothers responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 22% identified themselves as a Workable.

  • Equalizer: Is actively engaged in work and parenting. She must carefully coordinate with an equally involved and accountable partner to share childcare and household responsibilities.  Of women responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 21% were Equalizers.  This person has the opportunity to be a primary career and a primary parent, just not at the same time.

  • Obliged: Is the primary physical parent who also supplies a required second income.  Of women responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 24% identified as Obliged. This is a complicated method.  Most of the childcare responsibility will fall on the shoulders of this person but there is also significant pressure on her job.  The greatest dissatisfaction for work was expressed among survey respondents in this cohort.  The dissatisfaction typically reflected inflexible work arrangements and an overall shortage of time.

  • Parentess: Is the primary physical parent.  She supplies a discretionary second income for her family.  Among working mothers responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, 22% identified themselves as a Parentess.  Part-time or flexible work indexes highest for this method.  In addition, she acknowledges that her method may be transitional.

  • The parenting style of a working mom who is a lawyer will dramatically affect her engagement in all facets of professional development, her frustrations, and her career trajectory.  A woman who fits the "parentess" model is likely to be quite content with a stable income, nonequity partnership, or even staff attorney, at least for some portion of her career.  Nothing wrong with that, and progressive law firms are well advised to make this option a real option for women (and men, for that matter).

    But women who see themselves as "Workables" or "Equalizers" probably have a strong desire to succeed as a professional, and accordingly won't be content with the career and advancement limitations of nonequity or staff attorney type jobs.  There is much that can be done by law firms to make this a realistic alternative for motivated and talented women who want a satisfying career, and a family life.  .

    Sunday, February 27, 2011

    Competence and Mentors

    Recently I was talking with a friend about the qualities that make a good teacher.  We talked about the stages of competence, summarized nicely by Wikipedia:

    The Four Stages

    1. Unconscious Incompetence
      The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it.
    2. Conscious Incompetence
      Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it.
    3. Conscious Competence
      The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration.
    4. Unconscious Competence
      The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes "second nature" and can be performed easily (often without concentrating too deeply). He or she may or may not be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
    Natural language is an example of unconscious competence. Not every native speaker who can understand and be understood in a language is competent to teach it. Distinguishing between unconscious competence for performance-only, versus unconscious competence with the ability to teach, the term "kinesthetic competence" is sometimes used for the ability to perform but not to teach, while "theoretic competence" refers to the ability to do both.

    Having watched many lawyers advance from newly-licensed lawyer, through the associate ranks, to partnership, it seems to me that for about the first 10 years in a private corporate practice most lawyers move back and forth between conscious incompetence and conscious competence, as different skills are mastered. Unconscious competence seems to take about 10 years of full time practice.  The first few years are all about learning to research, write, and complete the routine technical tasks in a practice area.  Then most lawyers spend several years learning to identify issues, and then a few more years figuring out which issues are actually relevant to a particular problem.  The lawyer then needs to master the industry.  The best lawyers recognize their incompetence as they approach a new level, and work hard to transition from conscious incompetence to conscious competence.

    The best teachers at each level, in my view, are those who have just mastered it.  When matching mentors to mentees, the greatest success seems to follow assignments that match those who are consciously incompetent with those who have just mastered the skill.  But it's usually a mistake to match a developing lawyer with a mentor who has reached unconscious competence--highly-skilled lawyers rarely have reached that final skill of theoretic competence.  In fact, highly-skilled lawyers rarely also choose to spend time teaching the basics--there is enough demand on their time from a host of other directions. 

     If you are lucky enough to find such a mentor and teacher, great, but if not, much can also be learned from those just a few years ahead in practice.  The key here, it seems to me, is to continue to recognize the need to advance despite developing competence at one level.  Many talented lawyers get derailed at the 3-5 year stage because although they've mastered the first few skill areas, they failed to recognize their incompetence at the next, until it is too late and some unforgivable or impolitic mistake is made.  

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    Not a Tiger Mom

    I have to admit I have very little interest in Amy Chua’s parenting guide. I did read a review of the book, but I didn’t read the actual book and I doubt I ever will. I also have to admit that my screen name and password for various sites for many years has been “Tiger Mom,” since long before she coined that phrase. But I have no interest in competing with her for the rights to the phrase, nor do I want to try to convince anyone that my way of parenting is worth studying or emulating. My parenting tendencies are much more in line with the Slacker Mom philosophy than that Tiger Mom approach.

    I do want to tell my readers who are new moms (and dads, for that matter) that it is okay to ignore my advice, and the advice of Amy and every other professional mom (or dad, or doctor, or other professional) who purports to have the secrets of success for raising kids while juggling a professional career.

    Here’s the truth: there is no secret to success as a parent. There are no “top ten keys” to parenting that will help you to raise happy successful kids, develop a satisfying and successful career, and maintain meaningful adult relationships with life partners. The thousand decisions that have to be made every day to navigate those waters are too complicated to distill down to any priorities or guideposts that will work for every family, or even any family.

    There is only what works right now for your family, and the best any parent can do at each decision point in the day is to reflect on where you are, where you’ve been and where you think your family needs to be. Every decision you face is a new chance to make the right call, navigate a teachable moment, forgive a past failing or ask forgiveness for the latest mistake. Sometimes you’ll get it right, and other times the consequences will be disastrous, sometimes even through no fault of your own. That’s just the nature of the job.

    Good luck.

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    Something for (Almost) Everyone--NY, SF, DC AND CHICAGO!


    WILEF East Program
    Being Strategic About 24/7:
    Assignments, Committees and Community

    Wednesday, March 16
    Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
    4 Times Square
    New York, NY 10036
    Breakfast and
    8:00am - 8:30am
    8:30 - 10:00am

    Joe Calve
    Chief Marketing Officer, Morrison & Foerster LLP

    Confirmed Speakers
    Linda Listrom
    Executive Director, National Association of Urban Debate Leagues
    Joanne C. Stringer
    Managing Director, Northern Trust
    Nicolas Koechlin
    Managing Director, Capital Markets, RR Donnelley
    Mary Hunter
    Associate, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

    Program Description
    With only 24 hours in a day, having a strategy is important in taking on new assignments or joining a committee or not-for-profit board. Billable work takes precedence but where should you focus when deciding how to utilize down time and what goes into making those decisions? This program will address having the right "instinct" to contribute or volunteer and making it work for your career.

    To Register, Click Here

    WILEF West Program
    Ambition: The Fuel for Your Career Engine
    (or Why Talent Isn't Enough)

    Thursday, March 31
    Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
    555 Mission Street, Suite 3000
    San Francisco, CA 94105
    Breakfast and
    8:00am - 8:30am
    8:30- 10:00am

    Maureen Broderick
    Founder and CEO, Broderick & Company

    Confirmed Speakers
    Ida Abbott
    Principal, Ida Abbott Consulting LLC
    Kara Baysinger
    Partner, Vice Chair Insurance Practice, Lateral Acquisition Partner, Management Team member, Policy and Planning Committee member and Women’s Business Development Group member, SNR Denton
    Mary G. Murphy
    Partner and Executive Committee Member, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
    Kim Thompson
    Principal, General Counsel’s Office, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

    Program Description
    Ambition is assumed to be a prerequisite for success, yet many women are ambivalent about having or expressing ambition. From their varied perspectives, moderator and speakers will address the role of ambition in their own success and in the success of the more junior women with whom they have interacted. They will also discuss such topics as the meaning of ambition; how to communicate ambition in the face of possible double standards; and the existence of generational differences in the way women view ambition.

    To Register, Click Here


    WILEF DC Program
    Planning Your Path to Career Success:
    How to Set and Achieve Your Goals

    Thursday, April 7
    Hogan Lovells LLP
    Columbia Square
    555 Thirteenth Street NW
    Washington, DC 20004
    Lunch and
    12:00pm - 12:15pm
    12:15pm - 1:45pm

    Jane Sullivan Roberts
    Managing Director, Major, Lindsey & Africa
    Confirmed Speakers
    Linda L. Oliver
    Career Development Partner, Hogan Lovells LLP
    Beth A. Wilkinson
    Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

    Program Description
    Whether your goal is law firm partner, in-house counsel or government lawyer, you are more likely to get there if you can identify your goals and develop a path to achieving those goals. To facilitate the process, our panel of experts will address topics such as using career development tools like SMART goals, individualized career development plans and commercial products, and using mentors to help develop plans and hold yourself accountable. They will also discuss their own experience with setting and achieving career goals.

    To Register, Click Here


     Understanding and Using Your Personal Power to Achieve Career Goals"

    May 19-20, 2011
    The Allerton Hotel, Chicago, IL

    This day-and-a half long conference is for women lawyers who want to achieve their full career potential. We will focus on enhancing your skills and contacts to help you to achieve your goals in today’s ever-changing law firm environment.

    Register for the Conference:
    You must be a member of the WLA to attend the conference.
    WLA members please go to, sign in with your login and password and then click on the "Programs" link to register.
    (To become a member you may apply at Click on the "Become a Member" tab.)

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    Forty-Something Twit

    A wise old owl sat in an oak,
    The more he heard, the less he spoke;
    The less he spoke, the more he heard;
    Why aren't we all like that wise old bird?

    It’s been a while since I posted about Twitter, my favorite social networking tool, so I thought it might be interesting to compare how I used it in the early days—that would be two years ago—and how I use it now.  For the first year or so, I thought of Twitter as an experiment, but it’s really evolved as quite a useful tool.  Not in the way I first imagined, though.  As it happens, I rarely tweet, and when I do it is usually a retweet of a particularly interesting article or something amusing I feel compelled to send it along.  The real use of Twitter, for me, is not in attracting followers, but in compiling useful, personally relevant information feeds. 

    Most of the users that I follow are mainstream media—my favorite columnists and publications.  I rely on their Twitter feeds to make sure I’m aware of where the planet is melting down and what I need to know about the business world.  I’ve found my twitter news feeds to be far more reliable in telling me what I need and want to know than the editors of news media.  I rarely read packaged media these days, and even their websites get little more than a quick scan of headlines from me.

    I also follow all of my clients that tweet publicly.  Their twitter feeds help me to know what’s going on in their business and what’s important to them.  It may not be directly useful in my legal advice to them, but I do like to know what’s important to them.

    Finally, I follow a few trusted sources of information in my professional field.  I’ve found a couple of nonprofit and tax lawyers who regularly post about what’s happening, and what they think is important to their clients.  Much of that is duplicative of what I read in the legal periodicals, but it’s fed to me on twitter in a modality more suited to my work and learning style (and attention span).  Some of the most useful twitter feeds I’ve added lately are those that have been re-tweeted to me.  I’m fascinated by most of the folks I follow, and they feed me even more great leads.  How efficient is that.

    Who do I NOT follow?  I’ve un-followed all social friends who twitter—there’s no band-width in my head for following narcissistic feeds of a social schedule or attempts at being clever.  I get updates from close friends and family members only on my Facebook page (and, on that network, I also hide messages from everyone who posts more than a couple of times a day.)  In an era of information overload, I ruthlessly cull out of my information stream all useless chatter that crowds out what’s important.  I also don’t follow any retailers.  I get enough spam; I certainly don’t want tweets trying to sell me stuff.

    I read tweets only once or twice a day, generally during my commute.  Although I pick them up on my droid, I’m not alerted by incoming messages.  Twitter is a channel of what I want, but only when I want it, and it doesn’t interrupt.

    With all that said, it’s a wonder anyone follows me—there’s about a 3 to 1 ratio of people who follow me, to those I follow.  I suspect that’s because my posts are so infrequent followers don’t think to shut me out—but not because I’m a wise old bird. 

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Live, or On-Line—Women in the Boardroom Events

    Here are a couple of opportunities for leadership:

    First, Live:

    San Francisco

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011
    3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
    Registration at 2:30 PM

    Hyatt Regency San Francisco
    5 Embarcadero Center
    San Francisco, CA 94111

    Women in the Boardroom is an executive leadership event designed to assist in the preparation for board service - better qualifying and connecting attendees with the right resources. Our
    panelists are executives with for-profit board experience and a
    desire to share their knowledge and necessary tools for serving
    as a director.  Although the focus is for-profit boards, much of
    the knowledge gained can be applied to non-profit service.

    Topics of Discussion Include:

    - Role of being a director
    - Differences of a non-profit, private and public board
    - Board selection process
    - Being an effective board member
    - Positioning yourself for board service/taking the next step

    To Register Online:

    Click Here

    Or, if you’re not in San Francisco, try the online options:

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12PM EST
    Join Women in the Boardroom
    LIVE online for our 1st Virtual Panel (vPanel)

    What is a vPanel?

    vPanel is our newest platform to reach a larger audience and to bring you more experiences from other people who have for profit board experience from across the country.  Our in-person events are just once a year per city, so don't miss out on the opportunity to join us live on the web for additional learning.  We will feature three panel members who will share their experiences of board service.  They will be coming to you via their web cams and you will be able to sit and relax right at your desk.  The event is interactive, so you can ask questions as we go along.

    Purpose of the event?

    Women in the Boardroom is an executive leadership event  designed to assist in the preparation for board service - better qualifying and connecting attendees with the right resources. Our panelists are executives with for-profit board experience and a desire to share their knowledge and necessary tools for serving as a director.  Although the focus is for-profit boards, much of the knowledge gained can be applied to non-profit service.

    Neither works for you, but you want to be in the loop?  Try social media connections:

    Join our "Women in the Boardroom" group on LinkedIn
    and be connected to over 2,600 people across the US.

    Follow us @BoardroomWomen on Twitter.

    To submit information for the partner newsletter please

    Just don’t complain you don’t know how to get in the loop!