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5 posts from March 2018

March 21, 2018

Men (Not Women) Get Credit for Speaking Up

Confident-woman-speaking-1Can you believe it's been over five years since Sheryl Sandberg gave her seminal Lean-In speech on TedTalk?

By now, I'm sure all you ladies in the legal profession are doing what Sandberg advocated: You're sitting at the table and making your voice heard. And you are not letting your male colleagues drown you out. How else will you be perceived as partner-material?

It turns out you can lean-in until you topple over, but you still won't get credit. 

According to two studies by business faculty at Boston College, University of Arizona, U.S. Military Academy at West Point and University of Delaware, gender matters when it comes to who gets brownie points for speaking up.

In Harvard Business Review, assistant management professor Sean Martin of Boston College, one of the studies' authors, writes that the benefits (respect, esteem and leadership potential) of speaking up "happened only for some people and only when they spoke up in certain ways." (The studies will be published in an upcoming issue of Academy of Management Journal.)

Generally, the studies find that voicing a rah-rah attitude rather than being negative is key if you want to land in a leadership position. "Speaking up with promotive voice (providing ideas for improving the group) was significantly related to gaining status among one’s peers and emerging as a leader," reports HBR. On the other hand, those who speak with "prohibitive voice (pointing out problems or issues that may be harming the team and should be stopped) was not."

That benefit doesn't apply to women, however. Though the studies looked at two very different groups—cadets at West Point and workers in a wide range of industries—the gender effect is the same:

Men who spoke up with ideas were seen as having higher status and were more likely to emerge as leaders. Women did not receive any benefits in status or leader emergence from speaking up, regardless of whether they did so promotively or prohibitively.

"Women are basically wasting their time," says Elizabeth McClean, one of the studies' authors and an assistant professor of management at University of Arizona. Citing statistics that virtually every female lawyer knows—that women make up more than half of the nation's law students yet only 18 percent or so of equity partners at major firms—McClean says, "women get no benefits for speaking up and engaging in change-oriented behavior." She adds, "women have done about as much as they can."

The onus should be on organizations, rather than women. "It is up to the top of the organizations to make sure that they have programs to support women," says McClean. "They need to ensure that they are evaluating women and minorities fairly."

One proactive measure is for managers "to amplify women’s ideas by intentionally giving extra attention to their suggestions," suggests the HBR article. Another is to "document ideas in real time," like writing them down so that women get credit and recognition. Finally, the article advocates that managers "call on women in meetings to hear their input, or to find less formal contexts to ask for women’s improvement-oriented suggestions."

All fine ideas, though it takes management buy-in that women's voices are not adequately heard. And I'm skeptical whether the issue is a priority in most businesses.

Which brings me back to Lean-In, and how we women are essentially back to where we started.

Not to be a total downer, I did detect one "positive" in the HBR report. I was pleasantly surprised that women didn't get penalized for bringing up bad news. As the HBR piece points out, "neither men nor women who spoke up about problems suffered a loss of status or had a lower likelihood of emerging as a leader (though they weren’t helped by speaking up, either)." 

The way I see it, women should point out all the problems and shortcomings of the firm or organizations where they work. Hell, if we won't get promoted, we might as well be royal pains. 

 

vchen@alm.com 

March 18, 2018

Ladies, Get Out Your Whip

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What do you wear when you're meeting a dominatrix at her apartment?

That was my dilemma. The obvious choice would have been a black leather skirt and thigh-high boots. But I didn't want to do the hackneyed thing, so I opted for a simple pair of brown pants and brown t-shirt.

You probably don't give a hoot about what I wore. You're saying, why was the Careerist visiting a dominatrix? Is she proposing another wacky alternative career?

Rest assured, dear reader, this is not about me. I was on the prowl for your sake, checking out the best and most novel tools for your career.

The latest must-have in a woman's career arsenal is Kasia Urbaniak, a New York-based professional dominatrix with 17 years of experience under her belt (or whatever). The proprietress of The Academy, Kasia has an almost cult-like following among working women. (Ruben Flores, a veteran of Doctors Without Borders, is her co-partner.)

At a recent lecture/workshop called "Cornering Harvey" in Midtown Manhattan attended by about 200 women and a dozen or so male volunteers, Kasia marched onto the stage in a long black dress with a riding crop in hand and cracked the whip.

Mostly, it was a metaphorical whip. Kasia focused on two facets of women's interaction with men. One is what she calls the "freeze" when a woman wants to speak up but doesn't. The other is how women handle uncomfortable, ambiguous situations, like indirect sexual propositions.

In each case, it was about flipping the power dynamics. In the mouth-freeze situation, audience members were paired up and told to state direct facts about the other person, as a way to practice shifting focus from themselves to the other person. Women have a tendency to become self-conscious and fault themselves, says Kasia. "When women get mad, we don't direct it outward," she told the audience. "We're like suicide bombers. We explode ourselves."

In the proposition scenario, women practiced putting men on the defensive. Assigned the role of "mistress" (that's how male customers address the dominatrix), volunteers from the audience were put in situations where male customers, in violation of rules, demanded sex. (News flash: Sex between the dominatrix and submissive is a major no-no.) Again, the objective is for women to flip the power dynamics by putting men in their place with questions like, "What rock did you crawl out of to make such a request?"

At her apartment (which, by the way, wasn't all that scary, though it was dimly lit by a series of votive candles), Kasia talked about how being a dominatrix has informed her current work and its relevance to women in high-powered professions.

Though she says she went into the dominatrix field as a way to pay for college and Taoist studies (she also trained as a Taoist nun in China) and was initially scared about the work ("they threw me into the dungeon, and it was terrifying"), she ultimately got more out of it than she expected. "It was incredibly empowering to be in someone else's costume and speaking her words," she explains. "I saw people more clearly. I could see a man's body speak moment to moment," adding, "submission for a man is taboo."

Kasia's mission is to teach women the lessons of the dungeons. "I train women to train the men in their lives," she explains, adding that women still have problems advocating for themselves. "They have significant jobs but they can't get their significant other to make coffee or get the sex they want," she says. "And even if they're ascending in their jobs, they're stuck." Too often, she adds, "they're not getting credit?" She sums up: "They suck at asking."

Not getting credit, fear of asking, freezing at critical moments: all this has a familiar ring for female lawyers. But do you need someone like Kasia to help lift your career and life out of the dumps?

Well, I guess if you've already tried the usual suspects—the career coach, the business development tutor and the dress-for-sucesss consultant—and they're not working, why not give the dominatrix a shot?

 

vchen@alm.com 

March 15, 2018

Unrequited Love, Sizzling Texas + More News and Gossip!

Finger-artIt's been a messy, stressful week. So let's take a quick and breezy look at some news items you might have missed:

Did John Quinn react like a jilted lover? A reader emailed me this urgent question: "Would Quinn Emanuel be so pissed about Faith Gay leaving and having paid her millions if she were just a man?" 

The reader was referring to John Quinn's angry reaction to Gay's goodbye letter in which she announced her decision to leave Quinn Emanuel and start her own firm. In her letter, she cited a poem that talked about love. 

Quinn wrote to her: "Faith, I wish I could join in the high minded sentiment you express here. Some day maybe I will be able to. But not yet." He then goes on to remind her the firm "made you a legal star" and that she got "paid well over $100m—far more than you ever dreamed you could earn."

I suppose Quinn's letter did sound a tad personal and arguably patronizing, as if he were Henry Higgins who plucked Eliza Doolittle out of the gutter and made her the big deal litigation partner she is today. But in Quinn's defense, Gay was the one who announced her departure with a flowery poem, which, I have to admit, is a tad annoying.

So back to that vexing question: Would John Quinn have used more moderate tones if the departing partner were a man? 

Oh, dear reader, I cannot say, for what do I know about the mysteries of the partner heart?

Texas is the hottie du jour. As some of you know, I spent my childhood and adolescence plotting to get out of Texas. Now, it turns out that the Lone Star state is the place to be—particularly if you're a lawyer.

First, the market is burning hot. Every out-of-state firm seems to be setting up shop there, or desperately trying to do so. Among those that have opened offices in Texas are Winston & Strawn, Dorsey & Whitney and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Dickinson Wright even launched an office in El Paso (seriously). Moreover, Texas Lawyer reports that "82 percent of law firm leaders in Texas have been approached over the last year about a combination with another firm."

Secondly, it's where you might actually have a shot at making partner. Texas Lawyer reports that "18 of the 25 firms with the most lawyers in Texas promoted 85 lawyers to partner, compared with 68 new partners last year for the same group of firms." 

What's more, Texas now boasts three law schools that are on Law.com's go-to list for Big Law hiring. They are the University of Texas at #17 (no surprise there), Southern Methodist University at #28 (quite respectable) and University of Houston at #43 (a newcomer to the list).

Anyway you look at it, Texas is a sizzling market. If you care about that sort of thing.

Join Team Trump! Finally, for those of you looking for work, may I suggest that you get your resume over to the Trump administration fast? As you probably know, over 40 percent of his hires have left. And more is expected. So think job openings!

And if you're worried that your academic and work creds aren't up to snuff: Don't sweat. Did White House counsel Don McGahn worry that a lot of the candidates he proposed for federal judgeships were unqualified? Hell no! And did Trump hesitate to give 24-year old Taylor Weyeneth the job of deputy drug czar despite having scant experience (Weyeneth was fired from the New York law firm O’Dwyer & Bernstien where he was a paralegal)? Hell no! (Update: Weyeneth was recently pushed over to Department of Housing and Urban Development.) 

So do the bold thing, apply for those top jobs! You might look into the Justice Department too. Hell, why not submit your name for Jeff Sessions' job? I don't think DOJ is such a fussy place anymore, considering it made a boo-boo in a recent argument, citing an overturned case. (Career advice: Always Shepardize!) 
 

vchen@alm.com

 

March 8, 2018

Will Being Named a "Hottie" Kill Your Career?

Hottie-art

The esteemed firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom probably wishes this never popped up on my radar: This is the 10th year anniversary of Skadden's "hottie" associate contest! I would have totally missed that milestone had my colleague Brian Baxter not brought it to my attention, wryly asking, "How are we all going to celebrate this?"

Well, I'm here for the party!

First, a refresher. In 2008, two enterprising (or bored) employees rolled out the contest on the firm's in-house blog Skadden Insider. About 400 Skadden employees voted, anointing a blond associate the official hottie. Being an equal opportunity firm, a contest for the hottest male associate was also in the works. But before the male contest got started, the powers-that-be at Skadden shut down the contests and eventually scrubbed the site of any trace of that history.

In the post #MeToo era, all this looks like a textbook cringeworthy moment. How could a serious law firm allowed the contest to go as far as it did? 

But I'm not here to jump on the condemnation bandwagon and vent outrage at what happened in those "dark" ages. Nor am I here to congratulate ourselves on how much more enlightened we've become.

Au contraire. Truth is, there's a part of me that's a bit nostalgic for those randy days of innocence when we could joke about things like "hotties" or the sexiest lawyer in the land (which, of course, is a joke within itself).  

I know, I know: We shouldn't objectify people, especially women who are often not taken seriously enough. And, yeah, that sort of cheeky contest probably shouldn't be on a firm's internal website.

I get all that, but, hey, do we have to so damn earnest and serious all the time? 

It seems we’re getting awfully squeamish about the whole subject of sex appeal. Not that long ago, Above the Law used to name hotties all the time (law school dean hottieslaw librarian hotties, and, of course, countless lawyer hotties). At one point, ATL even designated ERISA hotties, which, I assume, was no easy feat. Alas, ATL seems to have scrapped its entire hottie franchise.

To me, it’s all a harbinger that we’re entering a puritanical era. Mention someone’s looks, attractiveness or sex appeal, and people accuse you of sexism, lookism or some other “ism.”

Why do we have to pretend that sex appeal doesn’t exist or matter in this profession, like any other field? (I think we can all admit that being attractive is always a useful arsenal in the career game, for men and women.) And why do we have to pretend that lawyers are de-sexed?

Maybe I’m an outlier, but I don’t think getting a shout-out for being “hot” is a career-killer. Look at Amal Clooney or the hunks at Paul Weiss, who’ve been celebrated for their good looks.

So here’s my proposition: Let’s bring back the hottie lawyer lists. So long as both men and women are included, why not have a little fun? Besides, wouldn’t most people simply regard the idea of a hottie-lawyer as an exercise in irony?

vchen@alm.com

March 5, 2018

Maybe Women Just Don't Want It

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You are probably as fatigued as I am about this topic: Why the hell are women still lagging behind men at law firms? (Though women have constituted about 50 percent of law students since the mid-1990s, they are barely 19 percent of partners in major firms.)

For at least a dozen years, I've looked for explanations: Is it simple sexism? Is it the dearth of role models/mentors? Could it be the clash of work and family? Are women too complacent/bitchy? Are they wearing the wrong shoes?

My assumption has been that women want the brass ring of partnership, but that they hit hurdles along the way. What I haven't explored as much is this: Maybe women aren't that interested. I've seen that lack of interest not only from women on the ascent, but also from those who've attained partnership and want out.

Simply put, women aren't enamored with Big Law, and they're bolting. While women are well-represented in the junior classes at firms, they leave in greater numbers as they move up in seniority. According to the American Bar Association, women over the age of 40 represent just 41 percent of lawyers at law firms, and that dips to 27 percent for women over 50.

Are women dropping out because law firms are still boys clubs in which they feel out of place? Or is it something else entirely—such as a different conception of a satisfying career? 

The distinction can be fuzzy. "It's difficult to say, but I think the two go hand in hand," says Kate Hooker, a former Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft associate who's now senior counsel at a start-up. Besides the relentless hours, Hooker adds, "there were so few women in leadership that I didn't see what my own path would be."

Women are keeping their eyes open for other gigs. "There are several pivotal moments," says career coach Elena Duetch, who runs Women Interested in Leaving Law. She says women tend to explore their options "after the third-year, when they start to say, this isn't for me; and at the seventh or eighth year, when they're seasoned but still young enough to try something new." And those moments continue, she says: "Women in their 50s see 20 years ahead of them and want to do something with more meaning."

It doesn't help that firms are sometimes turning young women off, even when they think they're helping them stay on. Alix Devendra, who graduated first in her class from Case Western Reserve Law School in 2011, says she had every intention of returning to work at Nixon Peabody in San Francisco after her pregnancy. After the firm encouraged her to go on an 80 percent schedule, she was shocked that it put her on notice a month later that she wasn't reaching her mark. She quit the next day. "I didn't like the tone, subtext, culture," she says. "The hypocrisy of saying we’ll support you, then turning around and saying, you didn’t reach 80 percent—that was the last straw." 

"We were incredibly disappointed to see her leave," says Stacie Collier, an employment partner at the firm who supervised Devendra. "We tried to help her, and I’m sorry that she didn't feel supported. She was someone we wanted to retain—high potential and really smart."

Some women leave because they find partnership not worth the price. Despite getting all the right signals that she was likely to make partner, one former associate at a big Los Angeles firm quit in her eighth year. "I worked all the time," she says. "If I had seen a path to a reasonable lifestyle, I might have stayed." Though she voices regret that she quit too quickly (she took a "boring" government job that she later left), she says she had burned out on firm life: "I'm good at my job but I didn't find meaning in it."

Indeed, "meaning" is what women often say they want—and what's lacking in Big Law.

"I've been doing this for 20 years, and I'm doing it at a very high level, but is this what I want to do for the next 20?" asks a female partner at an Am Law 100 firm? "What's so rewarding about slaving away for clients who think they own you?"

What's rewarding to men is often the money. Whether it's because men are usually the primary breadwinner or they measure their worth by what they make, money seems to have a distinctly masculine appeal. In contrast, "meaning is a primary driver for many women," says law firm consultant Melissa McClenaghan Martin. 

So if money is not the big draw for women, what will keep them in Big Law? It's a a cliche, but women value relationships. "Women who have found meaning, reward in their work, do so through business development, and deep client or sponsor relationships," says Martin, a former Fried Frank associate.

The problem, though, is that it's tougher for women to develop those relationships than men. "I know plenty of high achieving women who—like me—began their careers with expectations of partnership but somewhere along the way they took themselves off track," says Martin. "It happens because there are more reasons for women to opt out than there are to opt in." 

And the system isn't doing much to change their minds.

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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