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6 posts from October 2017

October 31, 2017

Are Black Alums of Harvard Law Doing Better?

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We know that the number of black lawyers who've made it to the top of the legal profession remains dreadfully low, but what about those who graduate from tippy-top law schools? Do they enjoy an advantage?

The short answer is yes. But with qualifiers.

That's the finding of Harvard Law School's 2016 study of its black alumni. Authored by Harvard law professor David Wilkins (above), the report takes an exhaustive look at the career patterns of black graduates from 2000 - 2016, painting a picture that's both hopeful and ominous. 

Why the spotlight on black alums from this particular elite law school? Let me offer two reasons: First, Harvard has played an outsized role in shaping the African American legal community, graduating more black lawyers than other American law school, except Howard University. Second, I'd argue that the challenges that black alums of Harvard face have ramifications for all black lawyers.

Here are some findings that jumped out at me from the HLS report:

- Black enrollment at HLS climbed steadily from 2000 (53 students) to 2008 (67 students), then dropped gradually. In 2016, however, the number of black students sank to 33.

- The vast majority (71.9 percent) of black HLS grads start their careers in private practice, mostly in large firms.

- But black HLS grads leave private practice at much higher rates than white or black lawyers nationally (63 percent drop among black HLS grads, while the overall rate of decrease for black lawyers is 38 percent).

- Among black HLS alums still in private practice, 40.4 percent are partners, with nearly three-quarters reporting they are equity partners.

- Though most start in Big Law, many black HLS alums end up at medium to small firms (44.4 percent are in firms with fewer than 100 lawyers).

        - Black HLS grads gave high scores for job satisfaction (5.7 out of a 7-point scale).

        - Almost 88 percent of black HLS said they would attend law school in hindsight, though only 66.2 percent would     recommend it to a young person.

For black Harvard grads who stick with private practice, there is now a track record of success, considering that over 44 percent make partners. One takeaway from the report is that the prestige of the law school matters, particularly so for blacks who often face negative stereotypes. (The report cites a study that finds that nearly half—47 percent—of all black partners "obtained their law degrees from either Harvard or Yale, with over three quarters having attended one of the country's 12 most prestigious law schools.")

In fact, respondents to the survey rated HLS's prestige factor (the "H-Bomb") as "extremely important" to their career advancement, outranking diversity initiatives. "It provides credential and network—and those things are way more important if you're black," says Wilkins. "When you say you went to Harvard, it tends to put people at ease."

Instant cachet, a foot in the door of Big Law, a fabulous network and a decent shot at partnership: Is there a better time to be a black Harvard Law grad? 

Wilkins, however, see some troubling signs embedded in the report. "Most starling is that [black alums] wouldn't recommend law to young persons. That's a disaster for the pipeline." Also, "surprising and concerning," he adds, is the steep decline in black enrollment at HLS, which is down to the level it was in 1968. 

Also troubling, Wilkins adds, is that women lag behind men in progress and satisfaction. (I'll be covering this topic in a separate post.)

The contradictions in the report—good satisfaction scores about their jobs coupled with a reluctance to recommend law to younger blacks—underscore some ominous trends in the profession overall. "People have built successful careers," says Wilkins. "But black lawyers are like canaries in the coal mine. They see the toxins first." What's needed to succeed today is substantial client relationship, something that blacks, women and other minorities still face hurdles in developing, says Wilkins."It's tougher for everyone to succeed in law firms, but it's even tougher for those who are on the margins."

So I leave you with this: If black alums of Harvard are voicing doubt about the future of black lawyers in Big Law, where does that leave black lawyers in the bigger pool? 

vchen@alm.com 

October 27, 2017

Yes, You Should Think About Your Post-Law Career

Rock_star_victory_peace_bakery_guitar_hair_man_musician-698181Admittedly I'm biased, but I bet most lawyers—at some point—yearn to do more than practice law the rest of their lives. I was precocious on that score. Even as a first year associate, I felt I wanted to do something different. 

I think loads of lawyers want something more meaningful but are clueless about what to do. And I'm not talking only about lawyer-malcontents like myself. From what I've seen, even those who like law and are wildly successful at it want more out of life besides negotiating contracts, writing briefs or working on the biggest, most awesome deal/case ever.

But how do you cut the cord and reinvent yourself—especially if you've been a lawyer for most of your life?

Paul Irving, the former managing partner and co-chair of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, has some answers. He cut the Big Law cord in 2010. Now chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, he's also a board member of Encore.org (a nonprofit that connects mid-life and older adults with public service opportunities) and a scholar in residence at the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology.

Below is an edited version of my chat with Irving.

You went from being c0-chair at Manatt to the non-profit sector where you're focused on aging and reinvention. You were only 57—hardly retirement age—when you left Manatt. Some people might think that's foolish to walk out on a successful career. Not to be tacky, but wasn't it hard to walk away from all that money? 
Some of my old partners asked me how I did it. I tell them it wasn't that bad [because] when you're the lawyer on a deal, you’re often the poorest guy in the room! You have to think about priorities. I feel blessed that law gave me the resources to do other things. There are trade-offs. As much as I loved my work as lawyer, I find this more rewarding.

You were on top of the heap in law, and you still weren't fulfilled?
I liked being a lawyer but you get to a position where the learning curve flattens. It happened that Harvard launched an advanced leadership fellowship and I got recruited to go for a year to think about the next stage and what we can do to contribute more. I came back to L.A. and became part of Milken Institute on aging. I believe that aging is as high impact as climate change—it's underreported and there's an opportunity to elevate the conversation. And It’s changed my life.

You seem to think that most people—even those who've labored as lawyers for decades—crave at least one more act. Are lawyers, particularly Baby Boomers, just incapable of  chilling and going quietly into the sunset?
The data suggest that fewer people seek traditional retirement. They want purpose and ongoing stimulus. 
Lawyers have brains and connections to stretch themselves. We have a supply and demand challenge: great human capital, the resources of older adults, and we have needs that are crying for solutions. The question is how to connect the two.

You're active with Encore, an organization that seeks to deploy the talents of our aging population for social good. Do you think people long to do good and make an impact before they kick the bucket? 
If you study psychologist Erik Erikson, it’s established that we have an inclination to share ourselves as we age. Older people’s priorities and ambitious change, and there’s deeper hunger for doing something important. You want to move from success to significance, and leave a legacy. 

So do lawyers seek your advice about making a change and doing something more impactful? 
All the time, and its one of the joys of my life to speak to people about it. They range from people with modest-level jobs to people in very elite positions in some of the most important law firms in the world. Some are interested in running a nonprofit, being involved in policy or joining a senior core group. I talk them through it, about how to manage with less money, how to talk to colleagues. I think searching is a human condition.

And how many actually act on it? 
That's a good question. The challenge is harder for people without money. On the other hand, success can bring its own impediments. There are issues of family, firm and spousal expectations that come with achievements. The discussion is how to break down those expectations and ask what you really care about.

Have you known people who made the jump out of BigLaw and regretted it? 
Overwhelmingly, people who've made the transformation are happier. It's an affirmation of their ability to change.

Want to learn more? I will be moderating panel (Time for an Encore Career? Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life) on making a career change, November 2, at the New York City Bar,  6:30-8:30. 

Panelists include Encore.org's Marci Alboher (author, The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life); City Bar Justice Center's Lynn Kelly; BoardAssist's Susan Fisher; and The Everest Project's Pam Carlton.

 

 

October 22, 2017

Ready for Your #MeToo Closeup?

Rula_Jabreal_&_Harvey_WeinsteinNot to be a party pooper, but I'm kind of done with the whole Harvey Weinstein thing. I know, I know, the allegations about how this movie tycoon habitually abused young women are stunning. And, yes, it's amazing and shocking how he acted with impunity for so long. 

It should go without saying that his alleged behavior was horrible, despicable, repulsive—not to mention, illegal. That much is clear. Not so clear is whether the revelations about Weinstein (right) are truly that meaningful—and whether it will have lasting impact.

Yet hope is riding hight that all this will bring us to a tipping point. As more women join the #MeToo movement (in which women talk about their own abuse by men), the expectation is that we will finally realize how pervasive the problem is. The prediction is that this will result in frank discussions about gender inequities and put an end to the abuse. 

I'd like to believe that, but I think we're overstating the significance of this particular chauvinist pig.

Why? Because Weinstein represents an anomaly, a caricature of the old-fashion ogre that's largely out of fashion in law firms and C-suites. His former lawyer Lisa Bloom called him a dinosaur—which many people correctly thought was a lame excuse for bad behavior—but she has a point. He's also quintessential Hollywood, where men are lusty and women busty.

Hollywood casting couch culture might still be intact, but professions like Big Law have evolved. That's not to say that there's an absence of lust or abuse in law firms or anywhere else. Indeed, research by Stanford Law School's Deborah Rhode and SMU Law School's Joanna Grossman indicate that sexual harassment in the legal profession is much more pervasive than we might think. But for better or worse, the sexual harassment that women face these days is a lot more subtle—an off-color joke, a look, a condescending remark. As one associate said to me, "Most lawyers are smart enough not to do something over the top, even if they're creepy leches." She adds, "As far as I know, hiring partners don't interview applicants in their bathrobes or ask them for massages." 

Unlike Hollywood, the legal profession is not in the business of selling sex (as if you didn't know). The nice thing about law is that it's a hopelessly nerdy profession. What counts in landing a job in Big Law—for man or woman—are academic creds, not sex appeal. I'll bet that even Angelina Jolie wouldn't get a callback at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher unless she went to a T-14 law school and earned top grades. (Gibson is notoriously grade-obsessed.)

And as intimidating as some partners might be, they don't wield power over underlings like movie fat cats who can instantly make or break careers. I can't imagine that a young associate will feel she'll be forever shut out of Big Law unless she submits to a powerful partner's proposition. Sure, there's a huge gender gap in power and position in law firms, but women with law degrees aren't pathetically powerless. 

Which is why I'm reluctant to lump all women who've experienced harassment in one big pot. It's also why I'm doubtful that the Weinstein episode represents more than a momentary sensation. Though many women in law, myself included, have had bosses or clients who've made inappropriate, even disturbing, overtures, it's a stretch to say that Weinstein's behavior strikes home. 

Most women professionals contend with more subtle, arguably more insidious, forms of harassment and inequality. They struggle with being taken seriously, having a voice and getting the right assignments. For a host of reasons, I don't think we will see much of a #MeToo moment from the women of Big Law. 

So what will be the Weinstein effect? Will it stop the most egregious forms of abuse, at least in the entertainment industry? Will there be less tolerance for bad behavior by men?

Maybe for a New York minute. 

Remember, we had a big #MeToo moment just a year ago when over a dozen women came out to accuse candidate Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment. Plus, Trump himself bragged about grabbing women's genitals on that infamous Access Hollywood tape. At the time, there was shock and awe, and lots of talk about how that was the turning point for both the election and gender relations. 

And we all know how that ended.

vchen@alm.com 

 

October 14, 2017

"Best" Firms for Women? Really?

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How marvelous. A fresh batch of "best" law firms for women lists. They are proliferating like bunnies across the American legal landscape. Law360, Working Mother and our own National Law Journal are just some of the publications that recently put out such lists. (Yale Law Women issues one too; it's called"Top 10 Family-Friendly Firms"—a much more P.C. moniker.)

So many lists. So many choices. Is there a better time to be a woman in BigLaw?

I'd love to say that these lists signal an abundance of opportunities for women in law. But that's not how I see them. I find these lists confusing, if not misleading. And sad. 

Some firms get the "best" designation because they boast a relatively high percentage of women lawyers—even though not many of them hold positions of power. For instance, NLJ women's best firm list is based on the overall percentage of female attorneys, plus the percentage of female partners—both equity and nonequity—at the nation's 350 largest firms.

The result is that firms with below-average percentage of women equity partners can get an inflated ranking. That means Baker & McKenzie (16.4 percent female equity partners; the national average hovers around 18 percent) ranks #24, while Paul Weiss Rifkund Wharton & Garrison (23.3 female equity) only ranks #38. Using a similar formula, Law360 put Baker & McKenzie in second place on its best women's list in the 600+ law firm category, tying with Jackson Lewis.

Perhaps I'm old-fashioned but to me the proof of the pudding is how many women are elevated to equity partner. If women aren't equal stakeholders with men, how can anyone say they have any genuine power in the business?

Which brings up my big bet peeve: Too often, these lists reward effort rather than result. That's my quibble with Working Mother's list. (Yale Law Women also emphasizes part-time and caregiver leave policies, in addition to percentage women in leadership.) Though law firms on the Working Mother list averaged 20 percent female equity partners, there were some notable duds: Most glaring was Blank Rome, with only 9 percent female equity partners. (Runner-up was Foley & Lardner with 13 percent female equity partners.)

So how did a firm in the single digits for female equity partners ever get a "best" designation? Subha Barry, vice president at Working Mother, says considerable weight is given to flexible work arrangements, generous parental leaves and business development training. "Blank Rome did dramatically better in the flexibility cluster," she explains. Though the goal is to increase female equity partners in the long run, she adds that it's key to recognize firms that have adopted "policies and practices that will help them get there, even if they haven't achieved it yet."

I'm all for encouraging institutions to reach lofty goals, but why laud firms like Blank Rome that's so behind the curve? What's so great about all those spiffy flexibility arrangements when female lawyers essentially have second-class status (women represent 30 percent of non-equity partners)?

Instead of focusing on initiatives, I'd rather take a cold, hard look at where women are making equity partner. And here's the reality check: Women are scarce in the top echelons of the profession. Among the firms in the Am Law 200, the top 15 firms for women are dominated by either regional firms or speciality shops, including practices like immigration, labor/employment or family law. (Immigration firm Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy has the highest female equity rate at 41 percent.) 

The bottom line is that the sexy BigLaw firms are not the places where women are making it. So do we really want to talk about the "best" firms for women?

Email: vchen@alm.com

Twitter: @lawcareerist 

 
 

October 11, 2017

Psst: Irell & Manella's New Leader Is Black!

Ellisen-Shelton-Turner-copy

 

Irell & Manella has a new managing partner: Ellisen Turner (photo above). When I first read that news, I thought ho-hum. Another man for the top job. But then I glanced down at the page and saw Turner's photo, and my reaction was: Wow. He's African American! 

Anyone who pretends that she didn't react the way I did is, well, pretending. I know I'm supposed to do the P.C. thing and act like Turner's race is irrelevant. Which, I guess, is why a lot of the coverage about his elevation focused on his clients and previous roles on the firm's executive committee.

But let's get real: Being a black leader of a top firm in a major city is Y-U-G-E. (Irell & Manella ranked #1 on AmLaw's A-list in 2016 and had $2,985,000 in profit per partner.)

So I decided to go straight to Turner to talk about just that: race, and how that figures in his career. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

It’s a big deal for anyone to be elected head of a firm. But you must feel everyone is paying extra attention because you're the first black leader at this very elite firm. Do you feel the pressure?
For anyone—whether women or minorities—you feel this additional pressure. You don’t want to fail that community. Even if someone says, I don’t feel that pressure, there's pressure.

Are colleagues and friends saying things like you'd better not screw up?
No, it’s more self-imposed. If you’re part of a group, you know people are looking to you for success. You feel the pressure for the firm to do well, and you want to feed your family. But this is different pressure. My dad was one of the Norfolk 17 who integrated public schools in Norfolk, Virginia. I know what real pressure is like. And this doesn’t compare to what my dad went through. They were spat upon, and people tried to stab them. 

You're 41 and you're a generation away from legendary black lawyers like Ted Wells. Do you think you had a much easier time than your predecessors?
Absolutely. I know what their experiences were like. The original six black lawyers who made it in major firms—among them, Irell partner Henry Shields, O'Melveny partner Gil Ray and Skadden partner Michael Lawson—came out to LA because New York firms wouldn’t hire them. It’s better now because it's a different question. It's not whether you can be hired but how can you succeed. 

So have you faced prejudice in your career? 
Yes! I live in the United States after all. When I was interviewing at firms, a partner invited me to go to the firm's box at a Laker’s game. When I went showed up, one of the first things a partner there said to me was, "We have enough soda." He assumed I was there to serve them. I didn’t go to that firm. That attitude is there. There are people who have not interacted much with blacks, who can't imagine that a young black man could be a lawyer.

A lot of African American lawyers get worn down by that kind of discrimination. So how did you make it? 
I put a lot of work into law firm choice. I worked at three firms during the summers at law school. Irell came to my attention after I clerked. It was different in one respect: It's really small [160 lawyers] with complex matters and small teams. That one-on-one relationship means you’re staffed in meaningful way, and it means they can’t miss your talents—or your shortcomings. I could have been just a good a lawyer at another firm and be washed out.

Did you look at diversity when you were picking a firm? 
I did. But if I only looked at stats, Irell might've ranked poorly because we’re such a small firm. There was one black partner. I could have said that I wanted to go to a firm with more black partners, but you can’t put that much weight on statistics. You can have champions who don’t look like you. 

You're also a rarity because you're practicing in the tech field. Do you think blacks face even more bias in tech? 
Diversity in STEM is lacking. It can be a benefit because I stand out. When I go to an IP conference or to court for a patent case, people remember me. As long as you're good at what you do, it's beneficial to stand out.

And what happens if a minority messes up? 
There will be implicit bias, and to some people, the bias will be confirmed. If someone thinks a group won't perform well, the moment a member of the group makes a mistake, it becomes confirmation. The results are magnified—that's what women and minorities have to overcome.

Does that mean you never made any mistakes? 
Of course, I made mistakes. But the reaction of the partners was to teach me how to overcome them. And that's the kind of reaction you want. It has to be a culture where you are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. 

Do you think being a black leader of a major firm will still be news 10 years from now? 
Ten years is a short time. If you said 50, it probably wouldn’t be news. But given the last year or so, I'm not sure. Ten years ago, I didn’t think a black man could be elected president. But I didn’t think a man with no political experience could be president either. So I won’t predict.

But I don’t think we’re in as bad a position as people think we are. I believe firms and companies are not just giving lip service to diversity. I believe they think diversity will lead to better outcomes. But they are not quite clear about the tools that will get it done. People are having serious conversations about diversity. You have might have setbacks, and some people—well-meaning people—will work against your goals. But even those setback open doors.

Contact me: vchen@alm.com

Follow me on Twitter @lawcareerist

October 4, 2017

Jones Day Alums Driving the Anti-Gay Agenda + Other News

 

4838648738_6d3a0884d5_bTime for another quick and dirty look at the news:

Jones Day lawyers dominate the Trump administration

Donald Trump might not be the darling of Big Law (remember those elite lawyers tend to skew liberal), but he seems to have no problem recruiting from Jones Day. What's more, some of those Jones Day lawyers who've moved over to the administration are in the forefront promoting the conservative social agenda, like limiting gay rights.

First, let's try to do a quick count of Jones Day lawyers who have hopped over to the Trump administration. There's Don McGahn, the mysterious White House counsel, and the coterie he brought over to work in other top positions (even as early as January, 12 Jones Day lawyers had landed in Trumpland.) And goodness know how many minion associates have followed. 

Recently, the Trump administration has slotted more Jones Day folks for top jobs, according to The National Law Journal:

- Former associate Stephen Vaden for general counsel of the Department of Agriculture.

- Labor and employment partner Eric Dreiband for assistant attorney general for the Justice       Department’s Civil Rights division. 

- Partner Dana Baiocco to head the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

And which Jones Day alums are pushing to curb gay rights? Let's start with the cake war that's now headed to the Supreme Court (a Colorado baker is refusing to provide wedding cakes for gay couples because of his Christian beliefs). A sizable number of Jones Day alums in the solicitor general office signed the amicus brief supporting the baker/cake "artist," including Chad Readler, John Gore, Hashim Mooppan and Brinton Lucas. As Marcia Coyle reports in NLJ , the decision to support the baker was contentious within the DOJ.

And in another hot-button case involving gay rights, ex-Jones Day partner now DOJ lawyer Hashim Mooppan argued that employers have the right to fire people for sexual orientation, reports Vice News. Mooppan, who also signed the wedding cake brief, made this argument before the 13 judges of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals: 

“Employers under Title VII are permitted to consider employees’ out-of-work sexual conduct. There is a commonsense, intuitive difference between sex and sexual orientation.”

Not sure what Mooppan is saying there. In any case, I'm guessing he won't be invited to the next LGBT affinity group meeting at Jones Day or elsewhere.

So who says Big Law folks finds Trump's positions abhorrent? My prediction: Jones Day's reputation as a rightwing firm will solidify, and it will attract a lot more recruits of that ilk.

Ella-Hughes2Alternative career for lawyers: Porn star. I know a lot of lawyers want out of law and look for other careers tha t will still pay the rent. Let' see. . . there's legal headhunter, career coach, real estate salesperson. Say, how about porn?

That's the route that a young woman took in the U.K. But instead of practicing law for a few miserable years, Ella Hughes (photo left) quit in the middle of law school. You can read her first-person account on the BBC news site.

So why did Hughes drop law for porn? Well, rest assure that she did try to make it all work. She writes:

"I did it for a year alongside my degree, but I was really struggling to balance it all, and my university professors eventually found out. They told me law and porn don’t mix."

Plus, she did her math before making the jump:

"It wasn’t an easy decision. I weighed up how much money I could earn per month from porn, and how much with law. Depending on your profile, you can earn between £500 to £1,000 for a shoot – and up to £2,000 in America. I realised that by the time I finished my bar exams, I could have bought myself a house and car from doing porn."

Ultimately, she decided she liked the work: "The sex only lasted 20 minutes, and it was so easy. The more I did it, the more I fell in love with it. I started doing around 15 scenes each month."

 

Good money, breezy work. What's not to like?

Oh, I know, what you're going to say: It's tawdry, so undignified. But before all you lawyers get on your high horse, consider her effective hourly rate. Here's how Joe Patrice at Above the Law calculates it:

She says she earns earns “between £500 to £1,000 for a shoot.” Since shoots last around 20 minutes according to Hughes, that’s a billable hour between $2000-$4000.

An hourly rate between $2000 to $4000? Now, that's something Big Law partners can respect! Not even Ted Olson can beat that.
 
Seven law firms are listed among best places to work: Crains just came out with its list
 
Adam Leitman Baily
Alston & Bird
Cooley
Frankfurt Kunit Klein & Selz
Michelman & Robinson
Reed Smith
Sheppard Mullin
 
I take these "best" list with a grain of salt. Maybe folks are deliriously happy at these places. Or maybe they have a very hardworking PR person who put a gun to employees to sing their praises. It's plausible these are decent places to work, since none of them have reps as horrible sweat shots. Let's give them a benefit of the doubt, so congrats!
 
vchen@alm.com

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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