Issue 36, Spring 2013

As spring beckons, I will be visiting numerous places throughout the US and beyond. Many of my trips will be to host or speak at events that readers might want to attend. If you would like to know more about any of these events, please contact me.

Receptions for the Hastings Leadership Academy for Women:

  • March 14, Los Angeles
  • March 19, New York
  • March 20, Miami
  • March 27, Washington, DC
  • April 1, San Francisco
  • May 7, Silicon Valley

These receptions will describe the value of the Leadership Academy and the importance of having women in leadership. Attendance is by invitation only. If you would like to receive an invitation, or if you would like to learn more about the receptions or the Leadership Academy, please contact me.

Community Conversation, The CLUB, San Francisco, March 28:  The CLUB, an incubator of women leaders, is holding a series of engaging conversations between women and men about women’s leadership. I will facilitate the inaugural discussion, entitled Leveraging Feminine Leadership. More information

Bay Area Professional Development Consortium, San Francisco, April 2: I will speak to the group about new developments and best practices in several areas of talent management.

NALP Annual Education Conference, Tampa, FL, April 25: I will be presenting on “Sponsorship programs: An effective advancement strategy for women or a waste of time?”   More information

NAWL Regional General Counsel Institute, Mountain View, CA, May 1: NAWL is holding its first Regional General Counsel Institute, to focus on best practices for building a successful and satisfying career. I will lead one of the two panels in the program.  More information

2013 Hastings Leadership Academy for Women

2013 Hastings Leadership Academy for WomenRegistration is open for the 2013 Hastings Leadership Academy for Women. This leadership development course, designed for women law firm partners and in-house counsel, is an extraordinary learning experience for women who are current leaders or rising stars, and a way for firms and companies to further their commitment to women's advancement. Early registration discounts are only available until MAY 24, 2013, so don’t delay! Click here for more information about the Leadership Academy course for women law firm partners, here for information about the program for women in-house counsel, and here for the program for alumnae.

In This Issue

Re-Imagining the Future of Law Practice

Anyone with any doubts that the practice of law is undergoing revolutionary change should have spent the day at the recent ReInvent Law conference held in Silicon Valley March 8. ReInvent Law is “a law laboratory” at Michigan State University College of Law. It focuses on developing and promoting innovations that are reshaping the legal industry, emphasizing “Law + Tech + Design + Delivery” as the four primary pillars of innovation. At MSU, the ReinventLaw program studies and teaches subjects that most lawyers have never thought (or even heard) about, such as entrepreneurial lawyering, data driven law practice, quantitative legal prediction, and data visualization models.

ReInventLaw also takes its vision and message on the road, holding conferences like the one I attended in Silicon Valley. With about 400 people in attendance, this remarkable conference used a TED-like format, with 40 speakers making brief (6- or 12-minute) presentations about the many different ways the legal profession is being transformed. While much of the focus was on bringing legal services to underserved consumers, many of the presenters addressed issues of regulatory changes that are opening up the profession to investment and innovation; redesigning legal processes for greater efficiency and effectiveness; new skills lawyers will need to do legal work in the future; the use of “big data,” predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and various quantitative methods to transform legal practice; new law firm models that eschew conventional configurations and economics; and new legal services providers who look at legal problems in fresh ways, apply new technologies and drive innovation. Some of the talks were about developments coming in the not-too-distant future, but most reported developments that are happening here and now.

The Silicon Valley Conference follows similar events held in London and Dubai; future conferences will be held in London in June and New York in November. Portions of the conference will soon be posted on the ReInventLaw website.

Law Firm Leaders Need to “Lean In”

Law firm leaders have failed. A leader’s principal responsibility is to preserve and optimize the law firm’s resources, including its most important resource, legal talent. But for decades, leaders have allowed their firms to squander this resource. Women comprise a third of lawyers and have been entering law firms at the same rate of men since the 1980’s. Yet the number of women equity partners seems to be locked at 15% and the percentage of women in leadership and top compensation rungs has not moved beyond single digits. Law firm leaders have wasted an enormous amount of female talent. It is time for them to accept the responsibility for changing the systems and culture that perpetuate male dominance to the detriment of women.

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, encourages women to embrace their ambitions and strive with vigor and determination for the highest levels of success. That’s excellent advice, especially for young women starting their careers. But what about the women who have been working hard, doing all the things Sandberg emphasizes yet find that their efforts are unrecognized, unappreciated and unrewarded? And what happens when the young women who heed Sandberg’s call find their ambitions similarly thwarted? 

Women lawyers have been leaning in for decades, but they topple over from the lack of institutional support. When firms do not hold up their end, women spend so much extra energy trying to maintain their balance that they become discouraged and exhausted. They scale back their ambitions or they leave. Some struggle on but hardly any make it into the inner circles of power and leadership. Consequently, the voices of women are unheard at all levels of power and leadership and play virtually no role in setting the direction of law firms.

Changing the dominant culture requires leaders with vision, determination and courage who will “lean in” and use their power, influence and political capital to produce gender balance. These leaders will have to make a compelling case for change; advocate for new decision-making processes that mandate and reward new behaviors; and enlist supporters to act in line with their new vision.

Shift the paradigm

Law firms that want women to succeed have taken constructive steps in that direction, mostly through maternity leave, part-time options, and other work-life policies. They have also sponsored networking activities and business development training for women. All of these actions are welcome and have produced significant benefits. But they put the burden of change on women while giving them no power to change anything but themselves. And they are based on a premise that in order to succeed, women must adapt to the prevailing masculine norms of the law firm.

Those initiatives serve as distractions from the real problem: the underlying belief that the law firm will continue to be a “man’s world.” That belief is wrong. The world that current law firm leaders grew up in no longer exists. Law practice is being completely transformed. (See ReInvent Law.) The revolutionary changes, complexities and globalization of law and business require leaders to have different skills, behaviors and styles of thinking. The leaders of the past, chosen for their rainmaking power, client portfolio or political influence in the firm, no longer have sufficient credentials to meet the needs of the future.

Law firms need to learn how to leverage women’s talents, styles and perspectives for positive business results. Those that ignore this new world and try to maintain the masculine culture of the past will be ill equipped to compete and succeed in the future.  The sheer number of women in business, especially those who are corporate decision-makers and consumers of legal services, will ineluctably impact clients’ choice of counsel. Modern clients expect outside counsel to demonstrate greater versatility and diversity in personnel, intelligence and leadership. And increasingly, they expect to see women leading their work teams, business relationships, and the firm. Many of the challenges presented by these new market changes and client expectations play to women’s strengths and require women’s participation.

It is time to retire the notion of a “man’s world” and instead create a world of practice where all lawyers, women as well as men, are valued for their unique as well as shared talents, and given an equal chance to succeed. 

Few leaders have made a genuine effort to change law firm culture in order to stem the attrition of women and increase women’s leadership representation and compensation. Whether lacking the will or the ability, they have not articulated either a vision or a business case for change. The people they have to persuade are the men who comprise 85% of equity partners, and who have flourished in the system as it is. Why should those men care about change? What’s in it for them? Until leaders persuade the men who currently hold power that they will benefit from a future that includes larger numbers of successful and powerful women, current values and systems will continue to favor men.

Changing culture is not easy. A firm’s culture consists of accepted behavioral norms and the shared underlying values that keep those norms in place. And because they control almost all sources of power in law firms, men set the rules, create the norms and define the expectations for how leaders should look, act and behave. Changing such a strongly embedded culture requires courageous leaders who accept that challenge because they know the future of the firm depends on it.

What must current leaders do to create a law firm culture where women as well as men have an equal chance of success? Here are some starting points.

  • Accept the responsibility for leading change. You have been entrusted to lead and advocate for the best interests of all the firm’s lawyers, women and men.
  • Articulate a vision of a better future. Help others envision a firm that thrives and succeeds because it appreciates, optimizes and rewards the talents and dedication of all its lawyers. Make your vision positive, but explain why the firm will not remain competitive, intelligent or relevant in the new legal marketplace, and why it will have trouble attracting clients and recruiting top talent, without more women leaders. Enlist their commitment and active support for the vision.
  • Educate yourself. You can’t persuade others of your vision unless you genuinely believe it and can make a strong case for it. Stay up to date on trends in the business world and legal profession that support your vision. Study the ample research that shows the quantifiable benefits of having more women in leadership; the changing expectations of clients about the lawyers they work with; the skills that law firm leaders will need in the future; and the strengths that women bring to leadership.
  • Educate other leaders. Keep the firm informed about trends in law and business that support the need for gender balance and what they can do to promote it. Educate all lawyers, and especially law firm leaders, about unconscious gender bias and how to stop it. Watch out for evidence of it. For example, in a recent discussion of leadership succession on LinkedIn, a consultant remarked, “You then work towards planning for the next managing Partner and you choose the best man for the job.” If you hear comments like those, correct the speaker.
  • Hold yourself and others accountable. It is not enough to say the firm is making the advancement of women a top priority. Set specific targets for women in various categories and roles (e.g., number of practice group leaders or newly elevated partners). Set realistic dates for short- and long-term goals. Make your goals and targets public. Create an outside, public board of community leaders (including clients) to monitor your progress. Issue reminders and regular reports to the firm and the public about what is being done to advance women and the results to date. Tie partners’ compensation to their efforts to retain and advance women. 
  • Eliminate systemic barriers. When determining what must be done to achieve your targets, consider what systemic barriers currently exist and need to be eliminated. Look for signs of gender bias or differential impact on women in all decision making processes that affect lawyers’ professional development and advancement, including work assignments, performance evaluations, partnership elevation, sponsorship, business development opportunities, client contact, compensation, client transitions, and leadership selection. In each process, analyze any disparities between the impact on women and men in the firm, and advocate for changes that will remedy all signs of unfairness.   
  • Challenge assumptions, especially if they reflect old ways of thinking. Change requires challenging and replacing prevailing orthodoxies. Law firms have long accepted as “normal” certain work practices and career trajectories that must be reshaped, especially with regard to how lawyers view time. For example, most firms believe that lawyers must devote most of their time and life to work, and they measure lawyers’ value based largely on how many hours they bill. But many firms today are starting to focus on project management and increasing efficiencies. They are learning how to disaggregate and rearrange legal work to meet client demands. This is an excellent time to rethink the firm’s time norms, i.e., its assumptions and expectations about how much time lawyers should spend at work. A four-year study of consultants at the Boston Consulting Group completely upset the assumption that high-powered consultants had to be available and at work 24/7 in order to provide high quality client service. The study found that requiring every team member to take a day off from work each week led to better communication, greater work efficiency, and overall, better work product. Knowing that people would be away from work every week forced teams to plan work better and communicate more often, and forced individuals to be more efficient and focused on their work. Why wouldn’t the same findings apply to law firms?
  • Groom women for leadership. If you want more women, groom the ones you have and recruit others to supplement the ranks. Make sure that women are offered high-profile work, leadership and client opportunities, and are encouraged to accept them; that they are sponsored to the same degree as men; and that their work and client experience is increasing their development and engagement. Identify specific, objective factors that demonstrate leadership ability, readiness, and potential, and use those criteria to identify candidates for leadership roles. Nominate and appoint women to leadership positions. Show women the career possibilities they can expect at the firm. Talk with them about what they want and need in their careers to become successful, and help them get it. Recruit women lawyers from government, academia and other fields as well as from other law firms, and give them the support they need to make a good transition. Reach out through your alumni network to women who have left the firm but might want to return.
  • Network with women. Many firms sponsor networking events by and for women. It is very important for women lawyers to build networks with other women who are becoming leaders in business and corporate law departments, and the numbers of such women are growing fast. But most power-holders and decision-makers in the firm and in the business world today are still men, and women need to network with them too. While young women are attending panel discussions, teas and programs with other women on their way up, male partners are taking male associates and junior partners with them to events where they network with influential men who can help them with business or sponsorship today. Be sure that in your firm, men interact with women and bring women to business, client and professional events, just as readily as they do with men.

These steps will start law firm leaders on the right track to initiating the institutional and cultural changes needed to develop and retain women lawyers. When women and law firm leaders all lean in together, they can support each other’s efforts and build a stronger, more gender balanced firm.

Should Your Firm Start A Sponsorship Program?

I have been fielding more and more calls from firms interested in starting a sponsorship program. It's great that this subject is generating so much interest. I am concerned, though, that sponsorship may be just the “flavor of the month” and that many of the firms contemplating programs may not appreciate the challenges and traps that sponsorship programs can pose. Here are some questions to consider if your firm is contemplating a sponsorship program.

  1. What is your objective in starting a sponsorship program? You must be very clear about what the program proposes to accomplish and why the firm is determined to achieve that objective. You must be able to show how the program fits into the firm’s strategic plan and will advance a specific strategic objective. In order to get participants’ buy-in, there must be no doubt about the importance of the program as a means to achieve a critical firm goal. Even more than in a mentoring program, having clear objectives at the outset will enable you to monitor progress and measure success.
  2. Do you have a thriving mentorship program?  Sponsorship has several unique elements, but it can be viewed as a high-level function of mentorship. (Some refer to sponsorship as “mentorship on steroids.”) If mentoring programs have been successful in your firm, you have a good institutional foundation for a sponsorship program. But if your efforts to promote mentoring in your firm have been unsuccessful, you can expect an even more difficult time trying to institute a sponsorship program. Sponsorship places greater expectations on both parties than mentorship and involves more action, trust and risk; sponsorship focuses primarily on advancement, not on advice, guidance and information; and sponsorship requires a track record of high performance and proven potential that make the sponsor see the protégée as worthy of sponsorship.  
  3. What will sponsorship program participants do? Sponsorship program participants must fully understand and commit to sponsorship program objectives and what will be expected of them in the program. Sponsorship requires more active engagement by sponsors than most mentorship programs ask of mentors. So it important to be as precise as possible about expected actions and achievements.
  4. How will you determine and select the lawyers to be sponsored? Sponsorship targets a more narrowly defined group of lawyers than does mentoring: high-performing lawyers who have demonstrated their ability, drive and commitment to success. This group can be further narrowed by targeting high performing women and/or minority lawyers, as most current and contemplated law firm sponsorship programs do. And because an established record of performance and achievement is essential, the group can be further limited by including only lawyers who have reached a certain seniority or competency level, e.g., senior associates, counsel, non-equity partners, and/or junior equity partners.

    In order to identify the lawyers to be sponsored in your program, you must have specific objective criteria for qualification and for selection. You can review performance appraisals, work experience, involvement in specific firm or community activities, client relationships, and other designated factors over a period of years. You can invite potential participants to submit applications explaining why they want to participate, and/or ask partners to nominate lawyers for sponsorship.
  5. Who will be the sponsors? If your program is truly intended to help senior women associates become partners and junior women partners become rainmakers and leaders, then the pool of potential sponsors will be small. Sponsors need to be willing to act as advocates and promoters and to expend political capital on behalf of the protégée. In addition, sponsors must have enough clout to provide real benefits to the protégée. The more influential the sponsor, the greater the career benefits that may accrue to the protégée. Most influential partners already act as sponsors for a few associates and/or partners they perceive as making vital and valuable contributions to their practice or as having great potential to do so. They are very circumspect about the lawyers they sponsor because they have limited political capital and time, so they invest where they anticipate a significant payoff: the associate who will become a partner or the junior partner who will help manage the sponsor’s clients, bring new clients to the practice, or become a firm leader and powerful ally. You will need to persuade potential sponsors that the protégée is worthy of their effort and that sponsoring that protégée will not interfere with their sponsorship of lawyers they would otherwise select.
  6. How will you make your matches? Because the nature of the sponsor-protégée relationship is intense and risky, and requires trust and active engagement, it works better when it starts naturally. A straight match between people who do not know each other well, or have not worked together before, is very challenging. It is better to start with lawyers who already have an existing relationship of trust, admiration and respect and to build on that foundation, educating the sponsor about how he or she can best serve in that role, and educating the junior lawyer about how to be an effective and worthy protégée.

    You can pair up individuals who do not work together or have a pre-existing relationship by matching a protégées’ career advancement needs and a sponsors’ ability to address them. However, it will require extra effort for the paired individuals to carry out the obligations of a sponsor-protégée relationship, and program coordinators will need to provide greater involvement, support and oversight.

    An alternative, less programmatic approach is to have partners become more intentional about sponsoring women. Raise their self-awareness, ascertain what they already do as sponsors and determine the extent to which they sponsor women. If they do not sponsor women as readily as they do men, find out why not and help them learn how to include women as well as men as protégées. Ask them to identify specific women they will sponsor and designate certain actions they will undertake. Hold them to their commitment, and monitor and support their efforts.
  7. How will you help men overcome any reluctance to sponsoring women? For many reasons, men, who are most of your potential sponsors, sponsor men far more frequently than they sponsor women. They may have past experience with a woman lawyer who disappointed them by leaving; they may hold unconscious biases that make them doubt women’s long-term commitment or visualize leaders as men; they may overlook women because they automatically select men, whom they know better or hang out with; they may feel less comfortable with women than men or worry that having a close relationship with a woman lawyer may be misperceived. Helping men recognize and address these kinds of issues can increase their readiness to sponsor women. And as they become less wary and more intentional about including women, they will begin to see and choose more women candidates to sponsor.
  8. How will the sponsorship program interrelate with other firm initiatives? Sponsorship can easily tie into diversity and inclusion efforts, women’s initiatives, leadership development, succession planning, and other development activities and programs. Include representatives of those programs and initiatives in the planning process and try to find ways to make them reinforce each other.
  9. What support and oversight will sponsorship program coordinators provide? If you are the program coordinator, here are questions to consider:
    • What kind of training, group activities, and program events will you offer? Will you provide continuing support for the participants from an internal or external consultant? Will you use this program to create bonds among all program participants? Will you have social events for all sponsors and/or protégées?
    • What will be done to further the lessons learned during training programs or group events? Will you provide broader access to movers and shakers inside and outside the firm beyond what is offered by each sponsor?
    • Will you provide a great deal of detailed oversight, with members of the Diversity and Inclusion or Professional Development teams scheduling and monitoring activities closely? Or will you leave the planning and implementation of a career advancement plan up to the sponsor and protégée?
    • How will you determine if any sponsor-protégée pairs are not working well? What will you do about them?
    • How large is your budget? Who will be responsible for the operation of the program and what kind of staff will be needed?
    10.  How will you support sponsorship beyond the program? For a sponsorship program to have a meaningful impact, the firm’s institutional processes and cultural norms must support sponsorship beyond the program. Sponsorship is an important factor, but by itself is not enough to propel women forward. If the firm’s decision-making processes as to partner elevation, compensation, business development opportunities, leadership selection or client transitions are not made transparent and objective, and if they continue to favor men, then the benefits of sponsorship programs will be muted at best. Many women pull away from firms and from leadership because they believe those processes are unfair and unfriendly to women. If the firm is really committed to women’s advancement, it must examine and reshape the way lawyers are expected to work, the behaviors and activities it rewards, and the way it decides who will succeed and how. (See discussion in companion article.) 

New Resource to Achieve Gender Equity in Compensation

Women law firm partners are paid less than their male counterparts even when their performance is comparable. To help remedy this disparity, the ABA Gender Equity Task Force has just published a Toolkit for Gender Equity in Partner Compensation that provides many useful resources to help bar associations guide community discussions and to help law firms implement solutions. This toolkit, which is available online and will be updated periodically, is the first in a series of resources the Task Force is creating to help law firms achieve gender equity.

Recent Publications

I was recently featured in an article for the Inns of Court: John P. Cannizzaro, “The Power of Mentoring,” The Bencher, March/April 2013.

My book, Lawyers’ Professional Development: The Legal Employer’s Comprehensive Guide, 2nd Edition, was reviewed in the December 2012 issue of the NALP Bulletin. (Subscription required)

My article “Beyond Mentors: The Need for Champions,” appeared in the “2013 Women in Law” issue of Attorney at Law Magazine, Law Vegas Edition, Volume 2, Issue 1, December 2012.

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Interviews & Media

Recording of program on Mentoring

March 15, 2013

The archived version of the program I did for PLI on Mentoring: The Best Kept Secret to Success in the Recovery is now available.  (Payment required) 

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