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15 posts from November 2011

November 29, 2011

Women--Still a Blip on the New Partner Radar

© StudioAraminta - Fotolia

Correction: Gibson Dunn & Crutcher has four women out of 11 new partners. The original version mentioned one woman out of six. We regret the error.

1. Last week, we were euphoric about the new partner classes because three firms (including Wachtell Lipton!) elected more women than men. Well, it's back to reality this week. So let's just get it over with: Women are back in the minority--or nonexistent--among the latest crop of new partners at several major firms:

Cravath Swaine & Moore: No women out of four new partners.

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher: Four women out of 11.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett: Two women out of 12.

Sullivan & Cromwell: One out of five.

Weil Gotshal & Manges: Two out of 11.

2. Nice folks don't win. Maybe more women ought to read this latest study about power by faculty members at Kellogg School of Management, Stanford University, and Carnegie Mellon University. The upshot is that being nice and generous won't get you crowned as queen bee. You might earn some respect but that won't translate into power. It's essentially a variation of that old Machiavellian shtick about how it's better to be feared than loved. (See Kellogg Insight for details.)

3. This won't happen in a law firm. According to The Wall Street Journal, Corporate America has become smitten with reverse mentoring, where a senior exec is teamed up with a 20-something employee to gain insight on the younger generation--not to mention getting help on checking emails.

Apparently, this form of mentoring was started by--who else?--General Electric Co.'s CEO Jack Welch, the father of all corporate fabulousness. WSJ says that Welch "ordered 500 top-level executives to reach out to people below them to learn how to use the Internet," and that Welch himself learned to surf the Web from an employee in her 20s.

These days, the youngsters are teaching their elders about Facebook and Twitter, says WSJ: "At Ogilvy & Mather, world-wide managing director Spencer Osborn, 42 years old, says his younger mentors have taught him how to jazz up his Twitter posts, which had a reputation for being 'very boring,' and tell him what's hip on playlists these days."

 So are you ready to "mentor" that grouchy senior partner at your firm? Scary thought.


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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

November 27, 2011

Our Poor Sisters Across the Pond

381px-Mignon_Nevada_Ophelia2Jolly old England is not so jolly if you are a female lawyer. Some news and tidbits about our sisters across the pond:

1. And you thought that 15 percent equity rate for American women lawyers was crummy. The Lawyer reports that efforts to increase female equity partners are essentially failing at the United Kingdom’s largest firms:

Despite apparent management efforts to increase the number of female partners, and the increasingly widespread introduction of flexible or part-time working practices, numbers are failing to grow significantly.

The female equity partnership rates are strikingly low among the big U.K. firms, including most of the Magic Circle:

    Allen & Overy - 13 percent

    Clifford Chance - 12 percent

    DLA Piper - 12 percent

    Freshfields - 11 percent

    Herbert Smith - 10 percent

    Linklaters - 14 percent

The worst place for women is Simmons & Simmons, which has only 6 percent female equity partners. That’s like Am Law 100, circa 1990! Reports The Lawyer: “Simmons also has the poorest record at increasing its proportion of female equity partner numbers over the past five years. Since 2006, the proportion of equity that is female has fallen by 4 percent.”

One Magic Circle firm that has a “good” track record on this front is the super-elite Slaughter and May, which clocked in at 18 percent female equity partners.

2. Ashurst stacks the decks—but please don't call it a quota system. How did Ashurst (16 percent female equity partners) finally get a woman on its management committee? Simple: present an all-female slate.

The Lawyer reports that Ashurst elected Madrid partner Cristina Calvo as its first-ever female board member in an ­election where all four candidates were women.

Ashurst's senior partner Charlie Geffen told The Lawyer that there were no quotas: “We didn’t say only female partners could stand, but we’ve said we want more women in senior management positions.” He added that it was ­“obviously good” that ­partners elected a female board member “of their own accord.”

We can only guess that a little nudging didn't hurt.

3. What British women really want in a law firm: Pampering. RollOnFriday reports that Glamour magazine rated Freshfields as one of the best places for women:

The magazine plugged Freshfields as the firm which is the most female-friendly in an article entitled “Bosses who love women” (presumably in the platonic sense). Apparently this is because the firm has “a gym, doctor, and restaurant.”

The honor is a bit puzzling, notes RollOnFriday, considering that women have a rather sad track record at the firm on the partnership front.

Ah, but as everyone knows, the way to a woman’s heart is not equity partnership, but those little touches—like access to a good salad bar, yoga classes, and a beautifully decorated lactation room.

Related posts: More Bad News for WomenProgress for Women, Except at High End.

Photo: Wikipedia. Soprano Mignon Nevada as Ophelia in an operatic adaptation of Hamlet, circa 1910.

November 23, 2011

Gobble, Gobble


The Careerist is dashing about, preparing for the Thanksgiving feast.

Happy turkey everyone!




November 21, 2011

Asian American Lawyers: Still Too Nerdy to Get to the Top?

Fotolia_2090849_XSI just got back from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association powwow in Atlanta, and here's my unedited gut reaction: This was a seriously goodlooking crowd. And I'm not saying this because I'm part of the tribe. By any measure, this was a very attractive group—nattily dressed, poised, and impossibly trim. Some looked downright hot.

Why am I focusing on such superficiality? Well, because I'm shamelessly shallow. Secondly, because one of the hot discussions at the convention was whether Asian American (the politically correct term is "Asian Pacific American,"or "APA" to the cognoscenti) lawyers are dweebs.

In other words, APAs have a reputation of working their tails off, which gets them to the right law schools and the right firms. But then what happens? They get stuck because they lack that je-ne-sais-quoi to get to the next level. (Asian Americans make up only 2.5 percent of all partners in the Am Law 200. See related article, "Asian American Lawyers Still Underdogs.")

This theme was explored on two fronts--first in a speech by the Tiger Mom Amy Chua, whose control-freak parenting technique arguably contributes to the high-achieving nerd phenomenon. Then, immediately afterward, there was a panel on how tiger cubs ultimately fare in corporate America.

But before I tell you what Chua said, can I digress and tell you that she looked really fetching at the lectern? Wearing a very form-fitting black suit and heels that towered at least 5 inches, Chua didn't look like a moldy bookworm.

A lot of Chua's speech was about how unfairly she's been portrayed in the press as this humorless monster mother. She called the title of her famous article in The Wall Street Journal ("Why Chinese Moms Are Superior," which was excerpted from her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) "distorting." She said, "I never chose that headline. And I don't believe Chinese moms are superior."

I'll let you decide if The Wall Strret Journal damaged Chua irrevocably. But here's the bottom line: Though she's softened her parenting style (news flash: her second daughter is now allowed to do sleepovers!), Chua ultimately stands by her Chinese parenting technique. Instead of producing a bunch of paper tigers, Chua argues,  strict parenting makes kids stronger—teaching them that "they are capable of so much more . . . that they can break through barriers." Considering that Chua is herself a product of extreme parenting, and she's done fine, she's her own best argument.

But how do most tiger cubs fare? Not so well, according to the panelists, which included Javade Chaudhri, GC of Sempra Energy; Wilson Chu, partner at K&L Gates; Don Liu, GC of Xerox Corporation; Linda Lu , associate GC of Allstate Inc.; Larry Tu, GC of Dell; and me. (Chua was supposed to participate in our panel but ditched us at the eleventh hour. She's a rock star—what can I say?)

The upshot of the discussion: Emphasizing high academic achievement is myopic because it overlooks the soft skills that propel people to the top ranks. "Like I tell my daughter," said K&L Gates's Chu, "it's just as important to know how to read people as it is to know how to read books."

But the problem is that Asians just can't help themselves when it comes to academic obsession. As Xerox's Liu recounted, he gave a stern lecture to his son when the boy came home with a mediocre grade in his advanced math class. Later, Liu asked himself, "Why did I do that?"

In fact, there was quite a bit of chest-pounding about whether the fixation on academic excellence is making Asian Americans into ideal associates who can't morph to leaders. Are APAs too deferential to authority and too quiet about blowing their own horn? The audience said yes.

Personally, I found this discussion pleasantly ironic because I didn't get the impression that this was a shy, timid crowd. Quite the opposite--both the panel members and the audience were highly articulate and forceful. I'd go a step further and say those qualities hold true for just about everyone I met at the convention.

Which brings me back to my original point: This was not a dweeby crowd. Ten or twenty years ago, more APA lawyers might have fit that bill, but I think there's been a sea change.

So are APA lawyers still saddled with a nerdy, not-ready-for-prime-time image? Is this the way law firms and corporations perceive Asian Americans, or the way we perceive ourselves? Whose stereotype is it?


2011Blawg100_VoteBlueRecThe Careerist has been named a Top 100 Blog by the ABA. Please vote for it as the best blog in the category of LPM - Law Practice Management.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

November 17, 2011

Law School News—Stop the Porn!

Playboy_Magazine1. Did you know there's "law porn"? This is how Karen Sloan at The National Law Journal defines it: "slick mailings extolling the virtues of individual law schools meant to sway voting in the U.S. News & World Report's reputation survey, now under way."

Apparently, some legal educators are getting fed up with the stuff, and want law schools to put that money toward student scholarships, reports the NLJ. 

One vocal critic is University of New Hampshire law professor Sarah Redfield, who, at a recent conference, challenged law deans and the U.S. News director of data research Bob Morse to renounce law school porn and use the money for diversity scholarships. The response she got was mixed.

But even Redfield admitted: "Some of the stuff I get is gorgeous." Who knew law porn could be so seductive?

2. When you're bottom-ranked, you better teach your students how to go solo. The NLJ reports that Pace Law School is launching "an incubator for solo practitioners," which is a school-supported law firm that will teach recent graduates about setting up their own practices. They will do so by providing low-cost legal assistance in immigration, family, and housing law.

Seriously, though, this is a great idea. Arguably, all law schools should consider it—even those in the top ranks.

3. Say it ain't true--not another law school! Just when I thought everyone had gotten jaded about legal education, this disheartening news: Another bottom-feeding law school is about to be born. This one is called Indiana Tech School of Law.

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November 16, 2011

Women Dominate New Partner Classes at Wachtell, Cleary, and King & Spalding

Woman happyCorrection: The original post erroneously listed Akin Gump as one of the firms where women made up a majority of new partners. It should have been King & Spalding. We regret the error.

News roundup from the world of law:

1. Good news about women—at last! After all the depressing stuff I've been reporting about women lately, I'm relieved that I can finally tell you something positive. At several firms this year (see related post on Debevoise & Plimpton), women made up the majority of new partners! So far, these firms  include:

    -- Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton (four women out of seven new partners);

    -- King & Spalding (five out of eight); and

    -- Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (two out of three).

Okay, two out of three might be a fluke, but it's noteworthy because we're talking  about über-elite, über-macho Wachtell, Lipton, which has always had pathetic stats on women partners. (As Wachtell alum David Lat at Above the Law points out, there are only six female partners out of a total of 78, not counting the two new additions). One of the new partners, corporate lawyer Karessa Cain (sounds like a reality show star, no?), made partner in only six years! Man, her time sheets must be a sight to behold.

But the new partner that really intrigues me is litigator Elaine Golin, who worked at Wachtell from 1997 to 2003, then left for unspecified reasons before returning as counsel in 2007. I could be wrong, but it seems Golin's hiatus from 2003 to 2007 was for personal reasons, because the firm bio doesn't account for the gap time (usually the bio will tout that the lawyer left to do to a clerkship, take a government post, run a hedge fund, etc). So what did Golin do during that four- year break from Power Central—travel to exotic lands, open a trattoria, have a bunch of kids? Assuming she did something unrelated to law—and I'm imagining some kind of Eat, Pray, Love thing—that'd make Wachtell a hipper place than I'd have expected.

Yes, of course, I contacted both Cain and Golin for this post, but neither returned my e-mails. But that's Wachtell for you—even when the news is in its favor, it can't be bothered.

Lawtalk-book-cover2. I must be a lawyer after all, because I find this kind of  interesting: a book about the origins of legal expression. Lawtalk: The Stories Behind Familiar Legal Expressions tells you everything you've always wanted to know about all those nonsensical legal terms. Legal Blog Watch's contributor Bruce Carton offers these examples (text follows):  

"One bite at the apple": This expression was originally stated as "one bite at the cherry," which made sense because a cherry is small and eaten in one bite. However, in the 20th century, the word "cherry" took on the additional meaning of "hymen" or "virgin." . . . [T]he phrase appears to have gradually changed to "one bite of the apple" because its users were embarrassed by the new double-entendre . . . this substitution was somewhat unfortunate because the switch was from an image that made sense to one that did not, since "usually you get lots of bites at an apple."  

"Hearsay": This term originated in a sixteenth-century textbook on French language that included English translations. In one of the discussions, a cleric is trying to explain the properties of earth, water, air, and fire, but admits this is not his area of expertise. He stated French words meaning "I know nothing about it except by hearing it said," which was translated in the book as "I knowe nothying of it but by here say." The phrase "by hear say" gradually began to appear in English writings, eventually as a single word: "hearsay."

Personally, I can't wait to look up "piercing the veil."

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November 14, 2011

Sexual Harassment Is Not All Bad

To all the readers who have been complaining that The Careerist gets too uptight (click here and here) about gender discrimination, I'm ready to offer you a truce. On the sexual harassment front, at least, I'm now holding my fire.

Why? Well, it seems that I've been overlooking the role of the free market system, and how that creates an equilibrium of sorts between the harasser and harassee.

Fotolia_8215014_XSHere's what Vanderbilt University law and economics professor Joni Hersch writes in the American Economic Review:

Workers receive a wage premium for exposure to the risk of sexual harassment in much the same way that workers receive a wage premium for the risk of fatality or injury.

In other words, putting up with letches should entitle you to extra battle pay. "These compensating differentials arise because sexual harassment is so offensive," wrote Hersch in an e-mail to me. "The only other work-related risks that receive hazard pay are for risk of fatality or injury. If people did not universally despise sexual harassment, there would be no extra compensation." 

Using EEOC complaints, Hersch looked at the relationship between sexual harassment and compensation. Even when education and occupation are taken into account, women who work in jobs where there's an "average probability of sexual harassment" are paid 25 cents per hour more than women who don't have that hassle, finds Hersch.

Wow—imagine getting extra comp for smirks, propositions, and other offensive acts! That must really add up if your workplace is full of neanderthals.

All great stuff, but I'm a bit disturbed by this finding: Men in jobs with high risk of sexual harassment get twice as much as women in similar situations, making on average 50 cents an hour more. Even on this front, men get more than women! How sad is that?

"Because sexual harassment of women is so pervasive, there aren’t a whole lot of jobs where women can be assured they will not be at risk of being sexually harassed," explains Hersch. "So firms don’t have to pay as high a premium to attract women to sexually harassing workplaces as they do to attract men."

In any case, though, I doubt there's as much sexual harassment in the legal sector as there is in other sectors. (From 2000 to 2010, Hersch says there were 305 EEOC complaints in the legal sector out of "the 52,812 sexual harassment charges with industry code reported.") And given how careful Big Law is, I'd bet the opportunities for trading harassment for cash is even lower among the Am Law 200 firms.

But don't let that discourage you if you're looking for a pay bump. May I suggest trying your luck at a more off-the-beaten-track firm? Or maybe you can go to Pittsburgh, which seems to be a bit retro on these matters (click here and here).

Better yet, how about applying for an in-house job at the the National Restaurant Association?

Hat tips: The Washington Post and ABA Blog.


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November 11, 2011

Law School News—Hi, Ho Silver! Plus, Missing in Mississippi

Lone_rangerOf course, every law school has a Lone Ranger. Who's been inflating those LSAT scores and undergrad GPAs at the nation's law schools?

At the University of Illinois College of Law, it's Paul Pless, the former assistant dean for admissions and financial aid, who recently resigned. The university placed the blame solely on Pless's shoulder.

The National Law Journal reports:

A team of investigators concluded that Pless, who’d held his post since 2004, “knowingly and intentionally” miscalculated the incoming-student data the school reported annually to both the American Bar Association and U.S. News & World Report.

The investigators, which included lawyers from Jones Day and a data analysis firm, examined "approximately 125,000 documents containing LSAT scores, GPAs, bar passage rates, financial aid, scholarships and career placement data," reports the NLJ. (What a great way for Jones Day's associates to learn due diligence!)

In any case, isn't it convenient that the culprit in these situations always seem to be an expendable employee? But here's what I found interesting in the NLJ's report:

The document cleared law dean Bruce Smith of involvement in or knowledge of the deception—although it noted that his "intense" management style could make employees reluctant to bring him bad news.

So was it just this rogue admissions director or the managment of the law school that's the real problem? Sounds like more heads ought to roll, if you ask me.

ADVENTURES_OF_HUCKLEBERRY_FINN-2Whistling Dixie. Doesn't everyone and his sister know by now that going to law school is a bad investment these days—particularly if you go to a bottom-ranked school? But somehow that news has not reached the folks in Mississippi.

Reports the ABA Blog:

"Nationwide, law school applications are down by about 10 percent, the Jackson Clarion Ledger reports . . . But law schools at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College aren’t seeing any decline.

Application numbers at both schools are on track with last year, when applications increased despite the economic downturn.

At the University of Mississippi, applications last year were up 3 percent over the previous year, and up 42 percent from 2008, the Clarion Ledger says. At Mississippi College, applications last year were up 26 percent from the previous year."

Does Mississippi have a thriving legal market that's escaped our radar? Or are the newspapers there delivered on Huck's raft?


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Lone Ranger: Wikipedia

Huckleberry Finn: Great Illustrated Classics/Waldman Publishing Corp.

November 10, 2011

More Bad News for Women--NAWL's 2011 Report

Fotolia_35579129_XSStill have that bottle of whiskey at your desk from my last little cheery report on women?

Keep it handy. Because you'll need a shot or two to get through this latest survey from The National Association of Women Lawyers. Here are some highlights (or are they lowlights?):

1. Percentage of women in firms is on decline. "Women constitute only 47 percent of the current crop of first- and second-year associates, down from 48 percent in prior surveys," says NAWL. "It may not be a huge change, but it suggests that the pipeline may be shrinking."

2. The latest female ghetto: staff lawyer positions. "Women represent 55 percent of staff attorneys, the highest percentage of women lawyers in any law firm position." 

3. Women ain't making much rain. "Women partners constitute only 16 percent of those partners who received credit for at least $500,000 of business, which approximates their percentage as equity partners." NAWL also finds that majority of women are "bookless"--56 percent of women versus 38 percent of men partners.   

4. Women lag behind men in pay even at the associate level. Everyone knows that women equity partners lag behind their male peers in pay (NAWL says women make 86 percent of male equity partners' compensation), but did you know that there's also a gap among associates? The difference comes up in bonuses, where women's bonuses lag 6 percent in lockstep firms, and 8 percent in nonlockstep firms.

5. Some "equity" women partners have no real equity. Women represent an astonishing 80 percent of fixed-income equity partners—"those lawyers in mixed-tier or other firms who are required to contribute capital but do not share in the overall profits of the firm." 

6. Firm managment is still a boys' club. "The majority of large firms have, at most, two women members on their highest governing committee.  A substantial number have either no women (11 percent of firms) or only one woman (35 percent of firms) on their highest governing committee." And only 5 percent of firms have women managing partners—the same percentage as in 2006.

7. Not that 15 percent again! Yes, women equity partners are still stuck at that number. "Anecdotally, that level of equity partnership has been fixed at the same level for 20 years," says NAWL.

There are a lot more fascinating—and distressing—points in the NAWL report, but I'm just too depressed to go on. Indeed, there's such an abundance of bad news that I have a hard time figuring out which part of the report is the real low point.

So I asked Heather Giordanella, NAWL president, for her take. Surprisingly (or maybe not), she tries to be upbeat about the findings: "We can't draw only negative conclusions from the survey; we don't have enough information to draw conclusions [about the causes of the results]. . . . For me, it's getting the information out there to firms that's important."

One big reason NAWL started this survey in 2006, she says, is to start the discussion rolling: "It started as a challenge to firms to achieve 30 percent women equity partners by 2015."

Not even downing a whole bottle of whiskey can make me believe that's achievable.

Additional coverage: See The National Law Journal.

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November 9, 2011

Lawyer or Administrator? A Reader's Query

CoinFlipIt's once again readers' questions day at The Careerist. This one comes from a former lawyer in New Jersey:

I was a benefits attorney at a large firm from 1999 to 2001. I left the job when my husband started his own law firm, where I was the office manager for eight years. He was a construction litigator, and I did not practice law at the firm. We had eight employees when I left in 2010. 

You see, we wound up getting divorced, forcing me back to seeking an alternative career path.

I am really struggling between going back to practicing benefits law, albeit at a junior level, or pursuing a path in law firm administration. I do not even know if anyone would hire me back to practice at a junior level.

Any advice about which path I should pursue?

Here are the responses from our panel of experts:

1. Career coach Elizabeth "Betsy" Munnell:

First, I'd defer making a choice until you develop a coherent job-search strategy. Learn about each career path, the nature of available jobs, and the firms hiring in your job market. Identify the "hot topics" and growth skills for each profession. Get out more--online and in person. Comment, tweet and, ideally, blog on those "hot topics." Build your network. 

If you want to go back to practice, you should take a CLE course and meet with former colleagues to brush up on benefits law.

If you decide to pursue legal administration, join the Association of Legal Administrators, and step up your involvement in your local chapter. You might consider the high-growth field of legal project management and getting training in this new discipline.

2. Career coach Ellen Ostrow (Ostrow also runs a program for lawyers who are trying to get back to practice after a hiatus.):

You can get back into employment benefits law if you've updated your skills, but it will take time. Based on our data, some people get jobs in six months, but it can also take a couple of years.

For returning attorneys, networking is key. You need a personal introduction when you apply for a job. Start attending meetings of the local bar for your practice area. Also tap your sources, like people from your old firm or law school alumni.

Keep in mind that most people who go back to practice don't go to big firms. Some build solo practices; some team up with a solo practitioner who's near retirement age and eventually inherit the business.

3. Recruiter Nick Rumin:

To me, the value of eight current years of experience in law firm administration clearly outweighs the value of  a decade-old, short-term, junior-level benefits law experience. Law firms are increasingly relying on professional management, so there is clearly an upside for someone with experience and interest.

I think your best option is to look directly at job boards targeted at legal administrators (www.alanet.org <https://www.alanet.org> ) or legal placement professionals (www.Nalp.org <https://www.Nalp.org>). Also  upgrade your skills—take courses in business administration and law firm management (such as this one: https://nearyou.gwu.edu/lawfirm/).

4. Consultant Cynthia Thomas Calvert (Calvert is also a founder of the Project for Attorney Retention at the University of California, Hastings College of Law):

If you want to go back to benefits practice, you might want to look at accounting firms that provide employee benefits counseling, because some accounting firms are more progressive when it comes to hiring reentry lawyers.

Good luck on your decision. Let us know where you land.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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