Nature vs. Nurture: Women helping Women

I think all women reach a point where they realize that just because your boss is a woman doesn’t mean that she has any interest in seeing you succeed or that she has any interest in guiding your career path.

It’s always a difficult realization to come to, but also, part of growing up. We’ve all been excited at some point to work for some woman that we really admired only to learn that she is not similarly excited to have you underfoot.

According to this article in The Atlantic, it’s not really her fault that she’s that way. Apparently, women who strongly identify with being a woman respond to sexism by “closing ranks” so to speak. They rely on support from other woman and provide support to other women to make sure they we all have a chance at achieving our goals. But, for women who do not so closely relate to members of the same sex, they respond to sexism by pushing women away. The thought process is something like “if being a woman is so bad then I don’t want to associate with ANY women.”

That’s a really unfortunate situation for those ladies.

I have always believed that, whatever group you belong to, you should be able to rely on them for support and encouragement and provide that same support. That’s part of the reason that I write this blog. I am still a young lawyer, but, with five or so years under my belt, there are a lot of experiences that I’ve had that I think are helpful to share with other young lawyers.

As a visible minority, I have made connections with other visible minorities because we have similar experiences and as a woman, I have been a member of various groups that support, promote and champion women in the law. I can’t really imagine trying to go through this all alone by pushing these various support networks away in an attempt to be less “other”. No (wo)man is an island, right?

Anyway – I hope that we all feel comfortable enough in our own skin that we don’t need to deny some basic part of ourselves in order to get ahead in the world. I’m pretty sure that if you do feel that you have to pretend to be someone you’re not then it’s going to be a really long and lonely road and you may not really enjoy the destination once you get there.

I hope that this becomes a space where people can share information and learn something new about others who are in a similar phase of life and I hope you can all find spaces that provide you with a sense of belonging and help you be the best version of yourself. That’s really the best we can ever hope for, isn’t it?

How do you solve a problem like the billable hour?

High-intensity, high reward?

Check out this article and then read on:

Why so many lawyers dislike their jobs

There are lots of debates about the billable hour, but I agree with the author that the pressure that is placed on young lawyers to bill ALL OF THE TIME places a premium on stamina and fails to recognize the hard mental work that lawyers should be doing. When I was at a large firm, the management was starting to place a lot of emphasis on delivering value, but, in my mind, it’s almost impossible to do that when your primary objective is to meet the minimum hour requirement.

The Harvard Business Review has identified three strategies that people use to cope with working in these kinds of workplaces:

Three Strategies

In our research we found that people typically rely on one of three strategies: accepting and conforming to the demands of a high-pressure workplace; passing as ideal workers by quietly finding ways around the norm; or revealing their other commitments and their unwillingness to abandon them.

Productivity is King

Of course, a firm needs some measure of productivity for its associates and the billable  hour is an easy measure of how much work someone is doing, but is it really reasonable to ask them to work as hard as they possibly can for 10+ years and then expect them to wake up one day and have developed a book of business at the same time? I think the brass ring of partnership just doesn’t hold the same sway over people anymore, so they’re more likely to give up than to buckle down and let the rest of their lives pass them by.

I think this is one reason why there are so many more small firms popping up offering lawyers the chance to do really good work without sacrificing everything in their lives. It shows that it’s possible to feel good about your work life and your home life. I also don’t think that it’s necessarily fair to call some of these places “lifestyle firms”. That really seems to have a derogatory connotation and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with people wanting to, you know, spend time with their partners and children and do great work.

I don’t know that I have a real solution at the moment, but I think that one thing that’s never allowed law firms to advance as much as they could have is the lack of business expertise within firms. Of course, there are ethical issues and things that have to be sorted out, but, for most lawyers, I don’t think that the business of law gets as much attention as it should. The introduction of non-lawyer ownership of firms is one thing that I think is sort of moving in the right direction, but it has it’s drawbacks. I’m really interested to see how it all shakes out in the next decade or so.

What do you think? What changes would you make to the system?

Work work work work work

That Rihanna song is so catchy isn’t it?

Warm weather has finally arrived and it’s difficult to focus at work from time to time, but I find it much easier to work longer hours when it’s not dark at 4 or 5PM. That just makes me sleepy. And grumpy.

I wanted to share some good advice that I got a few years back about succeeding in private practice: You always need to have a little more work than you’re actually capable of getting done in the time you’ve got. Clearly, that doesn’t mean that you should take on so much work that you’re doing a disservice to your clients, but it’s something that I remind myself every once in a while when I start to feel like I’m actually getting to the end of things.

Be busier than you think you should (or want to) be.

I like crossing things off my list as much as the next person, but what I’ve learned is that you really are never done with legal work. As with any good business, the successful lawyer is always a little too busy. Think about it – you probably wouldn’t be that interested in a restaurant with no one in it, so who wants to go to a lawyer who is only ever working on one file at a time? First, as a young lawyer, if you don’t have a decent number of files, you’re probably not getting the breadth of experience that you need to keep advancing. Second, if you’re twiddling your thumbs on someone else’s dime, you should probably start looking for a new position because that isn’t likely to last too long.

Also, I just don’t think you can really have any work/life balance if you aren’t working. I suppose it’s a variation on “you can’t have the good without the bad”. Not that work is bad, per se. Just that, if all of your time was free time then you might not appreciate the time that you get to spend with your friends and family as much because, you know, you can see them any time you want. When you have work that you enjoy and that keeps you busy, you feel that much better about taking a break from it and coming back to it later.

It’s possible to be busy and enjoy your time off. In fact, having other interests can actually make you better at your job. I’ve taken up no fewer than six hobbies over the past few years (it may seem excessive, but I think my real hobby is learning to be a jack-of-all-trades). Recently, I’ve taken up golf, which has allowed me more time with my husband and is a nice change of pace.

What kinds of things do you do to unwind? Let me know in the comments!

As you emerge from the primordial soup

I was recently watching a documentary on Netflix about the great Wildebeest migration in Africa and I learned that Wildebeest calves learn to walk within minutes of birth and are able to keep up with the herd within days. 

Of course, this made me think of lawyers. Specifically, how becoming a lawyer is really a great analogy for being human. Does that seem odd?

See, the thing is, as a lawyer, you do not emerge from law school fully-formed. As a new lawyer, you are like a human baby, unable to walk. Unable to feed or care for yourself. You are completely dependent on your superiors for your care and upbringing.

As a new lawyer, the habits and skills that you learn in the first few years of practice can make or break you as you become more senior. You hope that you can rely on your superiors, just like parents, to teach you the proper rules and etiquette and lead you on the path to independence. But, of course, it doesn’t always happen that way. We are all fond of saying that lawyers are terrible managers, but what does that really mean? Sometimes it means that they’re just really bad at dealing with HR issues, but sometimes it means that they are incompetent to be supervising other lawyers. Either their own self-interest makes it impossible for them to take the time to teach you how to do something properly, or maybe (and I think this happens more often than not) they never actually learned the proper way and so their bad habits are now your bad habits.

There’s a fundamental difference between lawyers who are “raised” by the likes of June Cleaver and those who are “raised” by Ozzy Osbourne. My personal opinion is that too many Ozzys have been unleashed upon the lawyers of the world and so we can decry the lack of civility in practice and wax eloquent about a “simpler time”, but the reality is that we’re drawn to the bad-boy image. The rockstar personas. The people who just don’t follow the crowd.

However, IMHO, a profession built on the notion of stare decisis cannot be a profession that is filled with rock stars. We need intelligent and hard-working people who are willing to sacrifice their pride in order to get shit done.

Anyway, I’ve gone a bit off topic, but the point is that we all need each other. We do not emerge from law school as a final product. Like a human baby learning to walk, it takes a long time and a lot of practice and a few bumps along the way to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and not fall down. Make the years and the time that you spend learning worthwhile by spending time with lawyers who hold themselves to the high standards to which they hold everyone else. Ask all of the questions. Learn the rules properly so you can break them with principled conviction. Don’t be a victim of your circumstances. If you work somewhere that is not providing you with meaningful opportunities for practice, then find somewhere else. If you work for people who don’t care about you or your development, then care enough about yourself to seek out people who will guide you.

If we want to be part of a profession that we can all be proud of, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and for those coming after us. Learn. Teach. Repeat.

Just Do It

It’s easy, sometimes, to believe that other people are responsible for your career development and progression. When you’re at a big firm, especially, there are lots of people dedicated to providing you with training, meeting with you on a semi-annual basis to review where things stand and coaching you to set goals, etc. However, even in those environments, the responsibility for ensuring that you have the career that you want still comes down to just you.

You have to implement the plans and work toward the goals and make sure that you are heading in a direction that fits you rather than just coasting along on other people’s dreams.

This is advice for myself just as much as all of you.

I recently got the opportunity to work closely with a senior lawyer in my area of practice as as an arbitration ‘side-kick’. No, that’s not the technical name for it, but really, the position is to be the arbitrator’s clerk. I’m taking notes, synthesizing information and discussing the day’s events with a lawyer who is not only very well-respected in the practice area, but throughout the bar. It’s a great opportunity and I am really fortunate to have been given this opportunity.

However, when the opportunity first came up, I was hesitant. Why? Because I am also really busy at work and have a husband and dog and, you know, life. It was easy to think, well if I just keep doing what I’m doing, I can still get to where I want to go.

Luckily, that thought hung around for only a split second before I realized what a golden opportunity this was and I jumped at it. I cleared my schedule as much as I could (of course people who are lawyers or friends with lawyers understand the necessity of all plans being subject to change) and I hunkered down to do the work that needed to be done. Both parties in the arbitration are represented by great senior counsel so I’m getting a front-row seat to some excellent advocacy as well as the decision-making side of things. As a litigator – things couldn’t be much better.

But, still, the fact that I hesitated bothered me. I mean, why would I have ever thought to pass up on an opportunity like this? And I soon realized what it was: because I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to ‘take a seat at the table’ as Sheryl Sandberg would say. It felt like I was putting myself out there as someone who was too keen for their own good. But, of course, that’s nonsense. I was afraid to be ambitious for myself because of some amorphous fear of what that might look like to other people.

We no longer live in a legal world where you should feel good about keeping your head down and not making waves. There are too many lawyers and too few jobs to pretend that you can do anything other than be that annoying kid who always raises his/her hand when the teacher asks a question (I admit, I was totally that kid, but I prefer to say that I was just precocious).

Anyway – I’m really glad that I put my hand up and took this opportunity. I’m learning more every day here than I did in the past three months since I started this new job. I am remembering what it feels like to be really, genuinely interested in something.

So, my advice to you is just do it. Put yourself out there. Take control of your career. Don’t rely on other people to direct you to where you need to go and don’t coast on someone else’s dream just because you can’t think of anything else to do.

Set goals.

Go after what you want.

Be ambitious. Be amazing.

Be yourself.