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A Female, Biglaw, Baby Boomer’s Advice to The Female, Millennial, Graduates Headed for Biglaw

Congratulations to all the female millennials graduating law schools over the next few weeks! Savor your accomplishment before reading Richard Cohen’s article Can Women Lawyers Ever Find Equality In Biglaw? Cohen dishes a hefty dose of reality, and in one fell swoop, dashes the hope that women will become equals in Biglaw, and gain entrance to the C Suite dominated by white men. 

Surveying the partnership ranks at Biglaw firms, Cohen observes: "Try counting the number of female partners or partners of color at Biglaw – see how diverse it really is. And how many lawyers with kids – male or female, but mostly female – who were smilingly promised “family friendly” hours were subtly hip-checked out the door for not billing enough after a respectable period of time had passed. I know a few. Nothing must get in the way of billing, the billable hour, the almost-sacred realization rate, or profits per partner. Certainly not you, lady!"

Further, Cohen remains suspect that Biglaw will ever succumb to clients’ pressures for gender equality: "As long as the profits keep rolling in, why should Biglaw care about gender equality? Yeah, I know – clients are starting to demand it; let’s see what happens.” I am a bit more optimistic than Cohen. After all law is a client service business like any other; what remains to be seen is whether clients will actually pull their business from noncompliant firms.

But, if Cohen is right that for Biglaw, “[i]t’s all about the money,” then in an ironic sort of way this makes the playing field more gender neutral. I have no doubt that female millennials are as adept as their male counterparts at generating income. The trick is not to be fooled into believing that your sole responsibility in Biglaw is to grind billable hours, and produce work product at any hour, day or night. Rarely, are “grinders” voted into to the C Suite. Instead, it is the “finders,” aka “rainmakers,” who sit with the men in the high castle.

You may wonder what credentials I have to dispense advice, so let me briefly share   my experience. I am a thirty plus years’ veteran of Biglaw while raising four children in between billable hours. My time was split between work and my family; and, to balance work and life, I dispensed with any involvement in bar committees, publishing articles, speaking engagements, networking opportunities, all the things one must do to develop business, and generate money for the firm. My hope is that you, the 2017 female millennial law graduates, the most educated generation ever, can ignite change. This may seem a daunting challenge, but if you have aspirations of career longevity start your careers with your eyes wide open. This female baby boomer has one simple piece of advice: develop your brand. You are the generation of the digital age, social media, raised on data analytics, and abundantly resourceful. From the get-go, be vigilant to engage, publish, speak, and, in time, you will generate business. Be purposeful, put your thought leadership in the public eye, use social media effectively, and consistent with your expertise. Own your destiny, and become the change makers of Biglaw!

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