My personal goal has been to make work/life balance and women's issues a basis of competition among law firms, as historically has been the case for salary and pro bono work. As the Founder and President of Flex-Time Lawyers LLC, I have run over 100 meetings providing a forum for lawyers and legal employers to share information on work/life and women's issues to improve the retention and promotion of women in the profession. Law firm practitioners are working hard to improve the status of women inside law firms. Increasingly, in-house counsel are using diversity as a criteria for selecting outside counsel which is also driving change. As of 2006, law students had been an untapped competitive pressure point to improve the retention and promotion of women in the profession. However, on September 14, 2006, that changed. On September 14, Flex-Time Lawyers LLC co-sponsored a Forum with the New York City Bar Committee on Women in the Profession focused on training women law students on how to select women-friendly employers and educating them about the key ingredients for success. Attendees left the Forum with "The Cheat Sheet," a guide to selecting, creating and ensuring a woman friendly employer, jointly released by Flex-Time Lawyers LLC and the New York City Bar Committee on Women in the Profession .
When I brought the Forum and "The Cheat Sheet" concepts to the Bar, I had a number of goals in mind. First, educate and train women law students to avoid the traditional stumbling blocks of their female predecessors before those same patterns repeat themselves. Women law students are hungry for information about how to realize their potential as lawyers and they have not been adequately trained in the key skills for success. The focus in the profession thus far had been in trying to tackle the problems that arose among women practitioners rather than anticipating the problems and arming women law students with the tools to avoid them from a position of strength. Second, empower women law students by having all New York area law schools invited to participate in the Forum to eliminate the anxiety of one school (or students from that school) standing out and being afraid to take a stance. By holding focus groups with women law student representatives across the City, we began to build that feeling of empowerment while ensuring we were on the pulse of the issues on women law students' minds. Third, capitalize on the power in numbers as a means to shape how law firms and other legal employers re-focus their women-friendly efforts and programs. Capitalizing on the power in numbers of women entering the profession was particularly compelling because that was a key driver to successfully effect change in analogous accounting firms. Fourth, create a venue for information sharing by inviting all of the interested parties to the Forum and having them in the room to brainstorm and play a role. Participants included representatives from law firms, corporations, government and not-for-profits as well as law students and law school administrators. Fifth, create an open dialogue and external motivation among legal employers and law schools to compete on these issues to attract, retain and promote the most talented women students and practitioners. Sixth, initiate a reverberating effect across the country.
Mechanics"The Cheat Sheet" provides questions for women law students to consider as indicia of a legal employer's commitment to women's retention and advancement. The questions are not meant as a script, but instead, a guide to enable women law students to decipher an employer's true commitment to female representation, partnership and advancement, mentoring, leadership, workplace flexibility, and business development. It also offers suggestions for additional steps women law students can take once an offer is in hand. For legal employers, those same questions can be used as a checklist to determine the employer's strengths and weaknesses and as a blueprint to improve the future role of women. Additionally, "The Cheat Sheet" provides tips for legal employers and law schools to make their environments more supportive and hospitable for women. "The Cheat Sheet" ends with a resources section that lists all of the key Web sites that provide information on work/life balance and women's issues in the law.
Since "The Cheat Sheet's" release, I continue to speak at law schools nationally and I'm in the process of initiating similar law school symposiums at bar associations across the country. The next step in effecting change through competition will result from the first national survey being conducted by Flex-Time Lawyers LLC and Working Mother that will list the 2007 Best Law Firms for Women. The List will not only be an invaluable guide for law students in selecting women-friendly employers but also provide the first national benchmarking tool for participating law firms to improve the standing of women at their firms in the future. For more information about work/life and women's issues in the law, please visit www.flextimelawyers.com and look for the September issue of Working Mother magazine for the articles and accompanying List of the Best Law Firms for Women.
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