Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Recently published its list of the top 50 law firms for women that by virtue of their numbers and programs are among the best places for working-mom lawyers. The legal profession and law firm partnerships in particular have long had the image of being dominated by white men. The female enrollment demographic at law schools has really only seen an appreciable increase during the last 30 plus years so from the historical standpoint the image is not too surprising. In the modern day however law schools are fairly well balanced with many if not most law school student populations hovering at around 50% women. Law schools are the feeder candidate pools for law firms so it stands to reason that many firms are also reporting that approximately half of their incoming associate classes are women. The published data in the aforementioned top 50 law firm survey bears this out.

Steadily over the last twenty years greater emphasis has been placed on diversity in the lawyer workforce generally and more women and people of color are entering the profession. (The plethora of goodness that comes from this is well stated elsewhere and not the subject of today’s post.) The firms mentioned in the top 50 list are implementing worthy initiatives to attract, retain, and develop the incoming female talent to insure they have the tools to develop and contribute as equals. Those firms should be applauded for their results and encouraged to continue their winning ways. I am optimistic that these firms get it, and are pushing for even greater results in the years ahead.

But I am alarmed at something. Puzzled. Frustrated. Okay, downright irritated if you must know….The percentage of incoming women associates is at the 50% mark which is consistent with the available talent pool. Great. But “the best” firms average just over 20% female partners. Whoa!! That means that women are leaving law firms in droves during the formative years of their careers, and at a rate significantly higher than their male counterparts! Something more than the childbirth years is at play. This is a level of attrition among a single workforce population is way beyond explaining away by women choosing to be stay-at-home mothers. What is happening between the time of entry and the time when partnership decisions are made that is causing this huge drop in population? My sister, where are you going?

The reality is that we don’t know where these women are going. Statistics on lawyer demographics are not readily available in aggregate form for comparison or analysis. We do know from law firm surveys like this that women are leaving law firm life at a rate that will quickly deflate the progress of women in the legal profession if it is allowed to continue. If you are a law firm leader – partner, committee chair, HR – I hope you are as disturbed as I am over this situation, because it is unacceptable. A significant portion of your greatest asset, your lawyers, are leaving in droves. Your talent is walking (at this rate more like running) out the door. Your clients demand to see their matters staffed with diverse lawyers from all levels in your firm, and if that is not a message you are hearing from them now I can guarantee you will hear it when you go to develop new business. This is a situation of urgency that needs your attention.

Here’s the good news – this is a situation which has the ‘everybody wins’ potential written all over it. The recession is ripping into the traditional law firm business model and turning recruiting and retention on its head. Law firms are being forced to rethink summer program and entry level associate recruiting models because their cost and efficiency is no longer sustainable. Compensation based on billable hour production is facing opposition from in-house counsel like an oncoming train in the form of demand for fixed fees and other cost control measures. How lawyers develop professionally, demonstrate their value, gain skill and expertise, and ultimately how they are evaluated for entry into the partnership is all tied into this and is being tested. Traditional methods of training, compensating, and ultimately retaining talent are on their way out. Firms that are creative and visionary enough to develop a new strategy will come out ahead in the longer term.

If you are a law firm leader, this is the perfect time for you to examine every aspect of how you run your business and make it all that it can be. This is no time to be complacent with old ways of doing things. A *true* leader has to be willing to challenge the status quo. Competition for "the top 10%" is no longer defined by virtue of elite law school law review membership. Greatness is not defined by the logging of time any more than it relies on a person's gender or race. Dispense with the old worn out definitions of how you evaluate and promote talent and you may well uncover the potential that has been in your organization all along. This isn't just "a women's issue" that you can appoint the women in your firm to solve for themselves. It takes commitment and action from the top. It isn't something to be delegated to the firm's recruiting committee, a small handful of mentors, or the marketing department. Roll up your sleeves and make it a business priority with accountability, timetables, and measurable goals. Get creative.

Your talent base, to be attractive as service practitioners to your clients, must be as diverse as their businesses and their customers. That population is really all of us in the working world. If you are a law firm leader, the solution to your competitiveness as a firm lies in your ability to attract, retain, and foster a diverse talent base, most certainly including women. Look no farther than half of your incoming associates as the first step in the equation. As a law firm leader, you can demonstrate your true leadership by solving this dilemma. You can create a rewarding workplace replete with happy clients and hold out your firm as being a leader in the profession. Half (or more) of your incoming talent, that you worked hard to recruit, will turn over at a much lower rate and be happier and more productive. High turnover costs money, you keep that money in the bank and your profits will be more sustainable. Everybody wins.

I really really really hope when I read the survey next year that someone has moved the needle. There is so much opportunity for progress. Don’t let next year’s story be a sad déjà vu.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…..” This lilting jazz standard written by George Gershwin in the 1930’s evokes the feel of a lazy gentle summer day. You can almost imagine swinging in a hammock, sipping lemonade, or a leisurely stroll. Ahh, summer. Personally, it is my favorite season.

Besides the opportunities for quality lounge chair time, the treats of July include two things of which I am a HUGE fan: Le Tour de France, and The Blue Angels annual air show during Seafair in Seattle. There is nothing like these two events that fuel my inner sports fan! I marvel at extraordinary athletic accomplishments, and these two events are right up there for what it takes to perform. My personal sporting life is all about the leisure and amusement for others, largely due to my complete lack of eye-hand coordination. (No snickering from those who have seen me fall countless times, please.) Neither of these events are without some controversy, but at the very least each requires unique remarkable ability to accomplish, and can easily end in disaster if not executed with proper precision. I have to believe that even the most physically adept among us appreciates a world class performance like this that only few achieve. How do they do it?

I became an avid follower of Le Tour after reading Lance Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.” The book was a gift from my cousin in 1999 who was battling breast cancer at the time. She found it inspirational and thought it would help me understand her battle with the insidious disease. Love him or hate him, with seven Tour wins and a foundation devoted to wellness, Lance has quickly become a modern day icon among those battling cancer and fans of the elite bike racing circuit. The Tour, if you don’t know, is a month long bike race through the valleys and Alps of France and neighboring countries during the month of July. This is no unhurried pedal through the Loire, folks, it is a grueling 2,000+ mile bike race that includes inclines so steep they are beyond classification! Fast! In the heat! Are you kidding me?! Shift your vision quickly to the impact of chemotherapy on someone’s physical stamina and assume if you must that it takes a good year or two for the average person to regain daily stamina. Back to the Tour, seven wins in a row after *that*?! That, my friends, takes more than devotion to bike riding. Let’s not forget the other 150+ guys that actually finish the race every year (out of 180 or so who start.) Surely they have top of the line equipment, coaches, sponsors, and countless hours of training, but where does the motivation come from, why, and how?

The Blue Angels are the US Navy’s elite jet demonstration team. They frequently perform at air shows mostly around the US and are known for their grace and precision, flying up to 700 miles an hour with the jet wings seemingly inches apart, sometimes upside down, sometimes side by side, sometimes flying directly at each other, and usually 6 in the air simultaneously. The fortitude required to endure Mach speeds alone can sideline the physically adept, and usually claim some local news reporter’s lunch when they are treated to a quick guest ride when filming for the local media. You think a baseball hurled at 90 miles an hour is scary, imagine the skill and precision it takes to twirl a fighter jet in the air like a baton…without dropping it, ever!

Accomplishment in the aforementioned feats is certainly not possible without focus. It has to be much more than that to reach this cream-of-the-crop level. Focus can be defined by its fixation on a vision, goal, or purpose. It is the clarity of the sight line. It is a critical element to reaching the pinnacle and achieving any goal. What does it take, and how do we build this for ourselves to achieve the greatness we are reaching for in business or in our daily lives?

o Goal: Articulate what you want to achieve and believe in it. Make it actionable, tangible, achievable, measurable, and most importantly, make it your own. Unless you are passionate about your purpose, building motivation and sticking to your plan will feel like an albatross.

o Skill: Equip yourself with the knowledge and ability necessary to be credible. Technique and skill can be learned through “practice, practice, practice” as my mother reminded me when I played the viola. Apply yourself to mastering manipulation of the equipment and push yourself to learn its limitations and possibilities. Blue Angels pilots do not wear a Mach suit and are required to have a sophisticated knowledge and skill in flying a jet. Thankfully they have simulators for a learning environment, but the rest of us are more like Lance in that the pavement reminds us when we get it wrong. The important thing is to acquire the skill, and in every situation that takes trial and error.

o Performance: Learn by doing, repeatedly. It’s part of the skill mastery process utilized in the real world. You might not come in first every time, but only by performing outside of the wind tunnel will you know what it truly feels like to battle a head-wind and internalize what you have to do in the moment to get break through consistently.

o Precision: Doing the same thing repeatedly gets you nowhere if you can’t execute it cleanly. Lance talks about this in his book in understanding why he lacked consistency in his hill climb times. A random approach is behind why it was not always working out for him. Even in a three week bike race, winners and losers are sometimes separated by mere seconds.

o Endurance: Tasks are solitary actions. Goals, regardless of the timeline, require commitment to the purpose for some duration. Be prepared to stick to it, and understand that you probably need more than an adrenaline rush to get the job done. Learning to deal with setbacks and course corrections will equip you for the long haul.

o Determination: Goal attainment requires work and discipline of effort. You have to want to succeed and be willing to hold vigilant in working through obstacles. Don't even think about quitting mid-stream. If you stand still everyone else will blow right by you. Motivation is your friend and fosters momentum when the going gets rough.

The great thing about bringing focus to what you do, who you want to become, or a goal that you want to achieve, is that you can create and follow your own sense of purpose. It may seem big, inordinately challenging, and complicated. Focus helps you to spot the blur and tackle that which obfuscates your success. Focus makes extraordinary results possible. Just ask Lance.