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4 posts from September 2017

September 29, 2017

Women Get Paid Less. No Matter What.


A girl just can't win.

You know that stubborn pay gap between the sexes? (In big firms, women earn 90 to 94 percent of men's earning in the same position, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers.) Well, the gap might be so entrenched that measures aimed at eradicating it aren't helping, and, in some cases, make it worse.

That's the cheerful finding described in an article in Harvard Business Review by Lydia Frank, a vice president for Payscale, a compensation data company. Based on responses from more than 15,000 job applicants, Frank looked at the effect of the ban on asking job seekers about their salary history. (New York City, Oregon and Massachusetts have adopted the ban, and over 20 states are considering it.)

The ban is meant to foster pay equality, but the result was the opposite. Writes Frank in HBR:

The widely held assumption is that revealing your salary history, especially if the number is below market value, could negatively influence the offer made by the employer with whom you’re interviewing. However, this study revealed that a woman who was asked about her salary history and refused to disclose was actually offered 1.8% less than a woman who was asked and did disclose. Meanwhile, if a man refused to disclose when asked about salary history, he received an offer that was 1.2% higher than a man who did.

How screwy is that? Men get a bump but women are penalized for doing the same thing.

Frank offers two explanations for this result: 1) Employers don't like women who push for more money, and 2) Employers might assume that a woman who refuses to disclose her salary is earning less than she's paid.

To the above, I'd add a third reason: We expect a woman to be more honest, and by refusing to reveal her salary, she's more apt to be perceived as cagey. (Need I remind everyone that Hillary Clinton kept getting slapped with the "untrustworthy" label during the campaign, while Trump's questionable dealings and refusal to disclose his taxes were considered marks of business savvy?)

So how does all this play out in the law arena—say, when a lawyer is making a lateral move?  

On one hand, "the market rate for lawyers tends to be more transparent," says consultant Carol Frohlinger, who often writes and speaks about negotiation techniques for women. "That’s good news for women because research shows that when women are aware of the going rate, they are more likely to ask for it."

While the compensation for lateral associates might be set, what about lateral partners? Is it possible that firms will offer female partners less money because of hidden biases? 

"My guess is yes," says Frohlinger. "The size of the potential book of business is key to what partners can command when they move. Men may be more 'optimistic' than women who are often concerned about over-promising and under-delivering." And she adds, "whether or not they can actually get the business to follow is a whole different conversation."

Women laterals are sometimes offered less money than men, says recruiter Natasha Innocenti, "because I find women more prone to keeping their groups together, which can sometimes cannibalize their compensation, if the woman is the group's leader." 

In addition to hidden biases, women might not be blowing their horn as loudly or be as money-conscious as men. So is the solution for women to do more self-promotion and be greedier?

But Frohlinger cautions that women might be getting too much advice. "There’s a lot of conflicting and confusing and some bad advice out there for women regarding compensation negotiations," she says. "In my experience, success hinges on being able to assess the situation and prepare well rather than defaulting to 'rules'."

She's right. Women are getting saturated with studies and advice, and no one knows for sure what's working.

Which means women will chug along. And that gender pay gap is likely to stay.



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September 19, 2017

Women Equity Partnership Rate Hits 19 Percent! Excited?

Woman-315006_640The National Association of Women Lawyers just released its annual report. And the news flash is this: It's not totally depressing. 

For those of us who've been covering women in the legal profession for over a decade, "depressing" is the usual standard. So why is this report a bit brighter? Well, despite the painfully slow progress, women seem to be on a forward march.

To be sure, though, there's plenty of stasis in the NAWL report, which surveyed the AmLaw 200 firms (90 completed the form), that would frustrate most female lawyers:

- Though firms have been hiring women and men at almost equal numbers out of law schools, few women make it to partnership: Women now represent 19 percent of equity and 30 percent of non-equity partners.

- Men out-earn women at all levels, from staff lawyers to associates to equity partners. (Women make 90 – 94 percent of men's earning in same position.)

- Among equity partners, women work just as many hours as men, but their client billings are 92 percent of those of men.    

- Men dominate the top earner spots: 97 percent of firms report their top earner is a man, and nearly 70 percent of firms have one or no women in their top 10 earners. 

        - Women of color (Black, Asian, Latina) represent only 12 percent of women equity partners and         about 2 percent of all equity partners.

None of this should surprise anyone, but that 19 percent female equity partner rate still popped out at me. While it might seem paltry (it's been over 20 years since women entered law schools in significant numbers), how exciting that women are now on the brink of breaking the 20 percent threshold?

But NAWL's president Angela Brandt isn't so impressed. "You have to remember that in 2006, NAWL issued its challenge for firms to have at least 30 percent women equity partners by 2015," explains Brandt. "So to be 19 percent now is disappointing."

While most of the findings show that women lag behind in just about every category, Brandt points out two areas of progress: Women’s increased participation in firm governance and recent partnership rates.

In the last 10 years, the percentage of women on compensation or management committees, or those serving as managing partners or practice group leaders, has doubled to almost 25 percent. "Firms now recognize the importance of women on governing committees, and that's a promising statistic," notes Brandt.

The other area of promise is that in the last class of equity partners, 33 percent were women. "If that trend continues, we will see an increase in overall numbers," says Brandt.

Women hitting highs in equity partnership rates and management roles: What gives? Among other factors, the report finds that women’s initiatives are doing their jobs: "Women’s Initiatives have emerged as well-accepted, well-utilized efforts for improving the experiences and trajectories of women in law firms." At most firms, says the report, women's initiatives have been incorporated into the firm's strategic vision and include business development training and policy planning. 

Still skeptical that these initiatives are substantive? Well, the report finds a correlation between well-established initiatives and women's progress. The report notes that firms with established initiatives had higher percentages of women equity partners (18 -19 percent compared to 12 percent for firms with newish initiatives). Moreover, the pay gap between female and male equity partners was smaller in firms with more established initiatives. "If you have buy in from the top, support from men, proper resources, plus a focus on strategic goals, these initiatives have better results," says Brandt.

Those initiatives, which we thought were just gripe sessions or excuses for a cocktail party, actually work. Who knew?



September 13, 2017

How to Deal with Assholes


Anyone who has spent five minutes working in a law firm has undoubtedly made this observation: Lawyers are not little rays of sunshine. Quite the opposite. Often, they are difficult, unpleasant and nasty. Some are plain jerks.

But Stanford University management professor Robert Sutton thinks calling horrible bosses "jerks" is being too generous. He prefers a more graphic term: "Assholes." Ten years ago, he wrote the definitive, go-to book on the subject: The No Asshole Rule, which passionately argued that businesses must rid themselves of bullies and restore civility.

Sutton just released a followup: The Asshole Survival Guide. Here's an edited version of my chat with the authority on corporate A-holes.

You already wrote the treatise on assholes. What drove you to write more on the subject?
I got deluged with personal stories from people who said, "I'm treated like dirt. Now what do I do?" One email was from a law clerk who worked for a judge who yelled all the time. She said her co-workers were so desperate that they'd pound their head on their desks. She said that she couldn't quit because she had student loans, and that quitting would be career suicide. So it got me thinking about how to deal with assholes.

I can't think of too many junior lawyers who haven't worked for at least one assholic partner. How would you rate lawyers on the asshole scale? 
I don't think they're uniquely horrible. My wife [Marina Park] was the managing partner of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. It was the first Am Law 100 firm to be led by a woman [Mary Cranston was chair of the firm]. Though it was progressive, the nature of law is such that people are aggressive, especially in litigation. My definition of an asshole is someone who demeans and disrespects others—and that's just part of litigation. The problem is they can't turn it off. I remember I was at a party with Pillsbury partners and they treated me like I was being deposed.

You really did have an insider's view of law firms. Did your wife come home with terrible stories about her day? 
Pillsbury probably had a higher percentage of civilized people than most places. But if you work in a large firm, there are certain hallmarks of practice that breed jerks: time pressures, exhaustion, status differences and competition.

But lawyers seem to have a terrible reputation. Is it unfair?
Compare to Hollywood or film industry types or some in Silicon Valley, lawyers are lovely people. Am Law 100 firms are tough places. And the clients! The chances of dealing with asshole clients are even higher!

I've read that some businesses implemented no jerk rules as a result of your original book. Do you think they're working?
It's useful if you actually live it. Otherwise, you're a hypocrite which is even worse than having no policy at all.

I'm skeptical that a no jerk rule would ever work in a law firm, given the eat-what-you-kill business structure at most firms. If you're an asshole but have oodles of business, can firms afford to get rid of you?
That's the challenge for every law firm, service company and academia. If you have a superstar jerk, they can do a lot of damage in the long run. There's a financial risk to having jerks as partners. I call it TCA: total cost of assholes.

You don't think much of anti-bullying laws either, right?
They're like having a no jerk rule. They don't have much teeth, and the question is whether you will do something about it. There's more teeth for things like sexism and racism. In terms of fighting back, you have to ask how much power you have, whether there are other people to back you, and whether you have documentation [of the abuse].

You go into coping mechanisms in your book. You talk about using distance—physical and psychological—to deal with a bully. You also spend a lot of time on humor as a tool. 
Assholes can be pretty funny. If you can giggle at them, humor can be powerful.

To me, bullies and assholes will always be out there. Any tips for dealing with the assholes at the different stages in our careers?
Stage one: You've got to take it. It helps to find ways to be detached, like telling yourself: This too will pass. In stage two, when you're more senior and powerful, you have to be careful not to turn into a jerk yourself. In stage three, you should take on those who misbehave. Realizing it's not effective to be an asshole is the height of civility.

Speaking of civility, we now have a president who's anything but civil. He seems to be a textbook asshole. Do you think we'll have an asshole renaissance? 
I won't comment on Trump. . . People get too emotional. He's such a volatile subject that I don't think we can have a constructive conversation on the topic.

How can you not comment on Trump? He's the commander in chief, the ultimate boss.
People are good at sussing out culture. When someone like Gordy Davidson [partner of Fenwick & West] walks into a room, everyone behaves better because he's such a mensch .  . .  But when you have someone who treats people with disrespect, shit rolls downhill.


September 5, 2017

Death to Performance Reviews!


Maybe it's not as dreaded as a colonoscopy. But does anyone with a lick of sense look forward to performance reviews?

Most people I know regard it as either a waste of time or a torture session. If the review is positive, the employee is usually told to keep up the good work, except do more—and faster! And when it's bad, it's an assault and a set-up for a future firing. (Arguably, every review is a pretext for firing, since there are always areas for employee "improvement.")

I am not alone in my antipathy toward reviews. Samuel Culbert, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, has made a career of bashing this corporate ritual. The author of "Get Rid of the Performance Review and Beyond Bullsh*t," Culbert has called the review "a curse on corporate America" and a "dysfunctional pretense" of objective measures.

In his most recent book, "Good People, Bad Managers," he zeroes in on corporate culture as the culprit, particularly the "cultural expectation of perfection" and the way it perverts performance reviews. Corporate culture, he writes, denies the reality that people are imperfect, "because imperfect people can be expected to err, and the culture at large is intolerant of mistakes."

As a former associate turned journalist, I'd say that neatly sums up the ethos of major law firms. One bad grade on your law school transcript, and you won't get through the pearly gates of Big Law. And if you do make the cut but make a mistake somewhere along the road, be prepared that it could cost your career. Law is the only profession I law where a typo can make you feel unworthy, deficient and dirty.

The hypocrisy, of course, is that those on the top are imperfect people too who've probably made their share of mistakes. "You've got a flawed person with more power alleging that he or she can accurately access the strengths and flaws of a person with less power," writes Culbert. "And no one is reading that person a Miranda."

The real shame, according to Culbert, is that the practice hinders honest discourse, the sort that would benefit employee, manager and the company or firm.

So what's the solution? A 360 review in which the employee gets a say in the boss's performance? Culbert is dismissive: "Bosses always say, 'my door is always open.' But no one goes through those doors unless it's to suck up." And what about giving on-going feedback instead of formal reviews? "It's the same thing. It's still a one-way street," says Culbert.

What he advocates is a change in mindset. "Think how different firms would be with a managerial mentality where partners were held accountable for helping each imperfect associate be their best and were incentivized for doing so, and associates had nothing to lose speaking their minds." Culbert says he's not talking about eliminating hierarchy: "I'm for two-sided accountability with the report accountable for the results, and the boss accountable for establishing the conditions for the subordinate to succeed. I'm talking skin-in-the-game management where the boss has a motive for helping reports succeed."

Sounds good.

But don't hold your breath for change, says William Henderson, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and a former Big Law associate. Partners in big firms are not vested in developing associates because "they are rewarded for other activities like client service, billing time and bringing in business"—the stuff that contributes directly to their bottom line What associates don't realize, he adds, is that partners "still operate in an eat what you kill environment." The result is that partners have little incentive for giving meaningful reviews, much less an exchange of ideas. "When an associate has outlived their economic value, care is taken finally  to deliver a clear message."

The bottom line: We all know that performance reviews are shams, but they will likely stay the way are.

All in all, there are more benefits to getting a colonoscopy.



Follow me on Twitter @lawcareerist.


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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