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5 posts from April 2018

April 23, 2018

Ex-Chadbourne Partner Kerrie Campbell Is Ready to Speak


I'm fascinated by troublemakers, particularly ones who put their careers on the line by taking on establishments like Big Law. One such troublemaker is Kerrie Campbell, who catapulted to prominence when she sued her former firm Chadbourne & Park (now Norton Rose Fulbright), alleging gender discrimination. 

I've wanted to interview Campbell since she filed the case back in 2016, but for various reasons—her lawyer's advice or her own reluctance to talk to a reporter—it didn't happen. But this March, her case suddenly settled. This time, when I contacted Campbell, she was happy to chat, with the caveat that she not talk about the terms of the settlement.

What's public about the settlement is this: Norton Rose has agreed to pay $1 million to Campbell, plus another $1 million to the co-plaintiffs—ex-head of Chadbourne's product liability practice Mary Yelenick ($750,000) and ex-Ukrainian partner Jaroslawa Johnson ($250,000) to settle claims under the Equal Pay Act. In addition, the firm will pay $1.08 million in attorney fees to plaintiffs firm Sanford Heisler Sharp. What's not public is how the plaintiffs resolved their other claims against the firm.

When I talked with Campbell, she was forthright, energetic and humorous. As you'd expect from a woman who called her former firm an "all-male dictatorship" in her complaint, she has strong opinions about women in the profession and the #MeToo movement. 

What follows is an edited version of our conversation:

1. Congrats on the settlement. You must be relieved it's over. Any lingering disappointments that your case never went to trial?

I feel a bit torn about not going to trial because the threshold issue of whether partners are employees was not resolved. This is a critical issue that requires clarity. Big Law enjoys the financial and tax benefits of big business but claims it should not beheld to the same legal standards, like Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. The irony is magnificent. Why should Big Law businesses not be held accountable for complying with anti-discrimination laws like other businesses when modern Big Law “partners” are akin to at-will employees? The nostalgic notion that Big Law partners have meaningful control over complex and global firm finances and business operations is a fiction, completely at odds with the modern legal industry. Consider this: The mega-firm verein business structure —by definition—is not a partnership.  

 2. Wow, you don't sound like you've given up the fight. Given your strong views about Big Law partnerships, why didn't you push for your day in court?  

The judicial process can be like pushing steel through mud–a long, messy slog. I felt compelled to consider interests beyond my own, including the weight of two years of litigation on my family. It hasn’t been easy for my kids, husband and mother. I chose litigation as a profession; they did not. I decided to make peace, move on and live with my decision. 

3. Do you think #Me-Too had an effect on your case, like pushing Chadbourne to settle more quickly and on better terms? 

The Me-Too movement emerged after our case had already been pending for over a year. I can tell you that I was moved to tears when the “Silence-Breakers” were recognized as Time Magazine’s “People of the Year.” I get chills thinking about it. Who would have thought that would happen at that moment in time? The Me-Too movement exemplifies the power of the collective and transparency to effect positive change in a powerful way. 

4. You brought the suit while you were still working at Chadbourne, which must have been super awkward. Did your female colleagues say anything to you about it?

Almost no one in my local professional world acknowledged the huge elephant in the room. There is a pall on acknowledging [gender bias] in the legal community—never mind rallying against it. I believe that well-established Big Law lawyers, mentors and law firm leaders who remain silent on this issue, or just don’t want the bother of getting involved because it’s difficult or distracting, are a big part of the problem.   

5. And how you dealt with the isolation?

I believe anyone leading the way for change must be willing to withstand solitariness.  I went into the litigation with eyes open and I had tremendous support from family.

6. I found it interesting that Chadbourne extended an olive branch to you after the settlement, given the acrimony during the suit. At the time, the firm played hardball, questioning your legal abilities and suggesting that you were wacky. So what did you make of the statement it issued in which they practically thanked you for raising their consciousness? 

I’m grateful for the firm’s positive public comments.

7. Chadbourne/Norton Rose didn't make any specific commitments about how it would deal with gender inequality going forward. Do you think your case will have an impact on the firm or others?

It seems a lot of firms closely followed this case and became more acutely aware of the tremendous risks and exposure associated with discriminatory and retaliatory conduct. I have received support and encouragement from women and men around the country who have told me how much this case and cause has meant to them. I can only imagine that responsible firms have taken a closer look at their policies and practices and are treating women better—or at least are more careful to avoid being a defendant in a discrimination lawsuit.

8. Speaking of moving on, what you are doing now?

Building my new firm, helping clients and continuing to work to make a difference. Nine clients of mine from Chadbourne transferred to KCampbell-Law. I have several new clients, including referrals through the Legal Network for Gender Equity, which is an arm of the TIME’S UP movement.

9. Do you think the next generation of female lawyers will have it easier than you did?

I spoke at Harvard Law School recently, and my message to the law students—and other sought-after law firm candidates—is that you have tremendous market power. You can use it to facilitate public dialogue and achieve change–more quickly and effectively than litigation or legislation. 

Look at what happened when that law professor tweeted about Munger Tolles' arbitration requirement in its employment agreement. The firm ended up retracting it. Law school students and graduates certainly should not be required to shed their constitutional rights to a public forum and jury trial to be employed by a law firm. Secrecy facilitates and perpetuates sexual harassment and discrimination.  

10. And what else would help ensure gender equality?

U.S. firms should disclose the gender pay gap, the way the Brits do. If top schools in the U.S. demand that information, it can make a difference. And if firms won’t reveal their track record, they should be outed. It’d make a great headline!  

The media has power to make a difference. Instead of summarizing report after report confirming the gender pay gap, why aren’t journalists asking Big Law firms good, hard questions about secret compensation systems, pay gaps, poor power and promotion track records, conditioning employment on squelching speech, insisting on secret proceedings and stripping people of their civil rights? Why is any of that acceptable? U.S. law firms clinging to cloak and dagger secrecy about compensation are out of step with an egalitarian culture!

11. Whoa, you sound like an activist! Guess you don't regret bringing this lawsuit.

I brought the lawsuit to advance the cause of equal pay, power and promotions for women in the legal profession.  I believe this case has made a difference for the good, sparked public dialogue and inspired others to speak truth and take a stand.

12. Any advice to people out there who are thinking of suing their firm?

Speak truth. Stand strong. We can walk through the storm and come out better on the other side. Accept your life will be different, likely in positive ways that might never have been imagined. Be willing to re-invent yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep living, loving and laughing. In the end, it’s all worth it.




April 16, 2018

Can Stay-at-Home Moms Ever Get Back on the Career Track?

Retro-1291738_960_720If you're thinking of dropping out of your fancy law job to stay home with the kiddies, I have one word of advice for you: Don't. Unless you are absolutely certain that you never want a future in Big Law or some other similarly competitive position again, don't even think about it. 

That's essentially the finding of a new study by Kate Weisshaar, an assistant professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In a recent post in the Harvard Business Review blog, Weisshaar writes that employers look askance at stay-at-home moms and dads who try to re-enter the workforce: "Put simply, stay-at-home parents were about half as likely to get a callback as unemployed parents and only one-third as likely as employed parents." 

Let's be blunt: You are better off getting axed from your job than leaving it by choice—if that choice was quitting for the sake of the children. 

In her research, Weisshaar sent out 3,374 resumes for an assortment of high skill jobs: accountant, finance analyst, software engineer, HR manager and marketing director. Though the fictitious applicants all had the same level of experiences and skills, there were sharp difference in the callback rates. Reports HBR:

The results show just how heavily parents reentering the workforce are penalized for their career gap: 15.3% of the employed mothers, 9.7% of the unemployed mothers, and 4.9% of the stay-at-home mothers received a callback.

The results were similar for fathers. While 14.6% of the employed fathers and 8.8% of unemployed fathers received a callback, only 5.4% of stay-at-home fathers did.

So how does this study affect lawyers? "I would guess the penalties would be similar or even larger in law because it's so competitive to get into these big firms in the first place," says Weisshaar. "Opting out is seen as signaling that you're less committed to the job."  What's more, she says, that perception is likely magnified in a high-pressured profession like law: "These jobs have expectations of long hours and total dedication, so employers get concerned if someone is showing signs of being less committed."

Those types of stigmas and prejudices "ring true," says Caren Ulrich Stacy, the CEO of Diversity Lab, which promotes women and diversity in the law: "In nearly 20 years as the head of talent for large law firms, I was never able to get a women lawyer with a significant gap in her resume an interview."

But Stacy says her organization's on-ramp fellowship program, which helps women who've been out of the workforce get back to Big Law, is gaining traction. Stacy says that 35 firms and in-house departments have hired 65 women returning to the profession through the on-ramp program. That said, the competition is stiff. "In 4 years, we’ve received more than 400 applications," says Stacy.

Weisshaar isn't convinced that these programs aimed at helping women get back into the game is making much of a dent. "I do think they are more of a Band-Aid than a solution." 

Her advice is not to drop out completely. "I like the idea of ramping up or down, but not off," she says. "If possible, work part-time or flex-time so that you can keep the connection." She adds that it's incumbent on the workplace to make those options viable. "People don't go into a job thinking that they'll be a stay-at-home mom in five years," she explains. "The key is to allow more flexibility and now stigmatize part-time jobs."

But what if you've already quit your job and spent the last eight years chasing after the kids? Are you forever cast as Suzy Homemaker? 

Weisshaar suggests fudging the truth a bit. "Don't say explicitly what's been happening in your life on your resume," she advices. "Just say I've been out of the labor force and now want to return."

April 13, 2018

Law Schools: Where the Girls Are

Women-style-1950sI don't know whether to celebrate or go into a funk. 

First, let me give you what appears to be the good news: For the second year in a row, women constitute the majority of law students. Based on 2017 data, women make up 51.27 percent of enrollees. We've crossed the 50 percent mark! Hooray!

But if you think women now dominate the top schools—as I had assumed—you'd be disappointed. According to Enjuris, a site about personal injury law (sidenote: female personal injury lawyers also have a tough time competing against men), women have not cracked the 50 percent mark at most top law schools.

 In fact, among the top 20 law schools, only six schools boast enrollment 0ver 50 percent women:







Another interesting tidbit: Duke has the lowest female (41.3 percent) enrollment among the top schools, even though Vanderbilt, another prominent Southern school, has over 50 percent women. 

Not so surprising, perhaps, is that the law school with the rock bottom female enrollment is Brigham Young (36.2 percent), which is well-over 90 percent Mormon. Though women have averaged only 30 percent of the applicant pool over the last five years, says BYU Law's admissions director Stacie Stewart, "each year we have trended up," adding that she expects "a balanced class within the next two to three years." And despite the conservative Mormon culture, Stewart says, "we definitely aggressively recruit women." The trend, she says, is that Mormon women are marrying later and having kids later like women in the rest of the country.

BYU is an anomaly in many respects, but what's really troubling to me is where you'll find the highest percentage of female law students. Women dominate some of the worst-ranked (or unranked) law schools in the nation. With the notable exception of Berkeley, the schools with 60 percent or more women are bottom-feeders that everyone should avoid, including Atlanta's John Marshall Law School, District of Columbia, Golden Gate University, Florida A&M University, North Carolina Central University, New England Law, City University of New York, Texas Southern University, Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Pontifical Catholic University of P.R. and Western New England University. 

"For whatever reason women are more willing to accept offers from, and invest in, lower ranked schools than men are," says law school application consultant Anna Ivey, a former lawyer and University of Chicago admissions director. "That's not always a wise decision, given bar passage rates, employment prospects, and heavy debt burdens."

 To say it's not a wise decision is much too subtle. Permit me to be blunt: If you assume a heavy debt to attend a crummy law school, you are foolish.
But let's not end on a depressing note. Let's look at Berkeley, the shiny example of a top school that's attracting a huge number of women. What's it's secret sauce?
"We have not taken any specific actions to recruit women to Berkeley Law," says Kristin Theis-Alvarez, the assistant dean of admissions. Since 2013, Berkeley "began to receive more applications from women than from men"—a trend that continues to increase.  She adds that women might be attracted to the school because of the high number of female faculty "who may serve as mentors." Another reason she cites is the school's liberal vibe: "We recognize many female or female-identified applicants have intersectional identities."
It all sounds very Berkeleyesque. But, hey, who am I to argue with success?

April 10, 2018

Michael Cohen Is Magnificent!

170919071925-michael-cohen-super-teaseI know it's popular to dump on Michael Cohen at this moment (I've done it), but I think we should pause for a minute and show some restraint. Maybe respect.

Sure, his legal career is flushing down the toilet (Squire Patton Boggs just severed its "strategic alliance" arrangement with Cohen after the F.B.I. raided his home, office and hotel room) and his legal troubles are mounting (he's facing possible charges of illegal contribution to the Trump’s campaign, tax and bank fraud violations and God-knows what else), but, hey, who says that precludes him from being an inspirational role model?

First of all, how awesome is his dedication to the client? Every lawyer brags about understanding the client's needs and providing excellent service, but how many go the distance like Cohen has? 

I mean, this guy is willing to lose his home for a billionaire. Not only did Cohen set up an off-shore business entity to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her silent about her alleged affair with Donald Trump, but he took out a mortgage, he claims, on his own house to make the payment. (Query: How does Mrs. Cohen feels about this arrangement?)

Plus, he did it discreetly and quietly—without asking for credit or bothering the Big Guy himself. (Trump recently told reporters on Air Force One that he knows nothing about the arrangement to pay Daniels.) Talk about anticipating the client's needs!

Cohen famously said he would take a bullet for his guy—and the entire Trump clan too–and now he gets to keep his promise (metaphorically speaking, so far). I don't recall Tom Hagen of The Godfather being that dedicated.

Also inspiring is the trajectory of Cohen's career. If nothing else, Cohen stands for the proposition that chutzpah and being a street fighter (e.g. bully) will take you far in life.

Other lawyers might need fancy academic credentials to break into major law firms—but not Cohen. A graduate of Cooley Law School (often cited as one of the worst law schools in the nation, Cooley was sanctioned by the American Bar Association for its lax admissions standards in 2017), Cohen rose to become partner at Philips Nizer. He also impressed Trump who hired him to be counsel at the Trump Organization, where he was known as a pitbull. And Cohen's humble creds didn't stop Squire Patton Boggs from affiliating itself with him either, though it's murky what exactly he offered that firm.

Plus, isn't it refreshing that Cohen never behaved like those stuffy Big Law types? Remember those reports about how he threatened a journalist in 2015 who was working on a story about Ivana Trump's accusation that Trump once raped her? According to The Daily Beast, Cohen told the reporter: "I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly. Because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting."

Wow, that message wasn't ambiguous.

Loyalty, chutzpah and authenticity: Cohen is the whole package. 

So how lucky is Trump to have a kindred spirit like Cohen in his court! Trump should be grateful. Maybe so grateful that he'll pay Cohen's legal bills, which are undoubtedly hefty. (Fun fact: Unlike POTUS, Cohen has been able to get Big Law representation, Stephen Ryan of McDermott Will & Emery.)

And if Cohen ultimately gets convicted and disbarred, can he count on that presidential pardon to wash away his troubles?

"The underlying conduct can still be disciplined," says New York University Law School ethics guru Stephen Gillers. "The same conduct can lead to discipline and disbarment. A pardon makes no difference."

In fact, New York, where Cohen is admitted, actually addresses presidential pardons in its laws, says Fordham Law School professor Andrew Kent. "If a New York attorney was disbarred due to a felony conviction, and such felony conviction was subsequently reversed or pardoned by the president of the United States," explains Kent, "the New York courts may, but are not required, to reinstate the pardoned attorney."

Cohen will be at the mercy of the New York judicial system. Debate all you want, but my bet is that Cohen will never practice law again. And then where does he go? Who knows if Trump will want a loser on his team.

Poor Cohen. He's just too noble for his own good. 


April 3, 2018

News & Gossip: Trump Legal Royalty, Fallen Mean Girl + More

McKenna-Pruitt-300x300Yes, it's that time again: News and gossip.

Future Trump lawyers: The fabulous, glamorous trio. We know Donald Trump is having a hard time hiring lawyers to represent him. But despair no more! Help is on the way.

It turns out there are some very well-credentialed young legal talents waiting in the wings—and they are all progeny of Trump loyalists. There is, of course, SCOTUS's own daughter Tiffany, who's a 1-L at Georgetown Law Center. And, hiding in plain sight, as law.com's Karen Sloan revealed last week, is Vice President Mike Pence's daughter Audrey, a first-year at Yale Law School. Now, Above the Law's Staci Zaretsky has uncovered another gem: McKenna Pruitt (right), daughter of Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, a first year at the University of Virginia School of Law. 

Of course, we have no idea if these women share their fathers' politics. Aside from her speech at the Republican convention, Tiffany has been pretty quiet. Meanwhile Pence's daughter Audrey (left) is reportedly a political independent and a social liberal. (Whoa, does that mean she's not a believer in conversion therapy for gays?)

Of the three, Pruitt's daughter might be the strongest party loyalist. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma (where she was a cheerleader), she was a member of the Young Republicans Club. Plus, she interned at the White House Counsel's office last year, presumably under the tutelage of Don McGahn.

In any case, they all seem to be bright, comely young women—the type Trump likes so much (they might remind him of Ivanka, except for Tiffany). And while they might not have much experience, who cares? Trump has always been very generous about putting the young or inexperienced (or both) in key positions. 

This is when you know you're movie career is in the toilet. I know Lindsay Lohan is having a hard time making a comeback in Hollywood, but can she be so desperate? The answer is apparently yes. The one-time star of Mean Girls is now the spokesperson for Lawyer.com, a site that connects potential clients with lawyers. 

In the promo, Lohan says she was "confused and a little scared" when the site contacted her, "because I thought I was in trouble.” But, eventually, "I realized Lawyer.com is just about helping people," she adds. "From getting a DUI — let’s not pretend I didn’t get one, or two, or three or some others — it’s so simple and it’s free."

As Legal Tech remind us, Lohan has suffered all kinds of legal problems. She's been jailed three times for violating probation "and has been variously charged over the years with battery, theft, leaving the scene of an accident, drug possession and driving without a license"—exactly the type of situations where you might turn to an app to get quick legal help.

There's no question that Lohan is qualified for this job. But how will this gig reboot her deflated acting career? Is there anything remotely sexy about hawking lawyers to the masses?

Maybe it won't jumpstart her career. But, hey, at least she's not the celebrity face for Depends.

Why is Kirkland & Ellis in the middle of the Bill Voge mess? By now, everyone knows about the fate of Latham & Watkins chair Bill Voge, who resigned from the firm for sexual indiscretions involving a woman he met through a religious organization. 

There are many oddities and unanswered questions in the Voge matter, like what exactly happened between Voge and the woman, and how are various Christian organizations involved in the matter. (Voge met the woman when he was trying to facilitate a "Christian reconciliation" between her and a member of the New Canaan Society, a Christian men’s group started by a Goldman Sachs partner. Got that?)

There's a weird, cultish quality to the whole matter—and it doesn't help that Latham has been quite opaque about it. Plus, did anyone notice that another Big Law firm also made an appearance? That was Kirkland & Ellis, which the woman also contacted in the aftermath of her relationship with Voge. Law360 reports that the woman contacted Voge’s lawyer, his family, partners at Latham and lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis to complain about Voge's behavior.

It's more or less logical that she would complain to Latham but why Kirkland? Is the woman/her spouse a lawyer there? Does Kirkland represent one of the religious groups? (We've asked the firm for comment but have not heard back.)

Inquiring minds would like to know what's going on. It's not every day that two stellar firms get mentioned in the same tawdry affair. 


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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