Deborah Epstein Henry

The Cheat Sheet

Context 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 . Vision 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. Next Steps 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. Click here to download "The Cheat Sheet"

2 Comments

Manamana

If you are interviewing for positions, and feel like you have nothing to say when they say, “Do you have any questions?”—check this out.  I was at the Cheat Sheet’s debut at the New York City Bar Association.  One panel perfectly captured the knowledge gap that motivated this project: two career services counselors (one from my own school) had finished telling the audience about all the programs their offices had, all the information sources, and so forth.  Then a student (who was from one of the counselor’s schools) then spoke about her job search experience.  And she said that she felt she was flying blind in the whole process: she didn’t know where to look, what kind of information she wanted and should be looking for, what questions she should be asking, etc.  (Which was sort of awkward for her career counselor, but I suppose that was the point.)  It seemed partly a problem of too much information (all her prospective employers had great websites that said the same thing, plus what you can get from NALP and similar sources), but not the right kind of information, like the data that would show whether a firm really did promote diversity or being told about factors that perhaps you didn’t know you cared about (how many partners are really on flex-time?  How is work assigned?  What kind of mentoring system do you have in place?). Even if you don’t ask any of the questions on the Cheat Sheet, it is helpful for highlighting several areas to pay attention to when you are evaluating prospective employers.  When I did my job search last summer during my school’s on-campus interviews, I felt like I was doing speed-blind-dating, expect I didn’t know what I was really looking for in a match.  These questions might not have helped me winnow down my thirty-two interview in that first round, but they might have helped me make my decisions during rounds two and three (callback and secondary visits) with a lot less hand-wringing.

CarolynElefant

My husband works in the high tech industry, where he sometimes interviews prospective employees.  At various companies where he has worked, he has been counseled against asking any questions - even as seemingly innocent as asking a candidate to supply a maiden name - which would elicit information about personal status.  If information is volunteered about status, interviewers are advised not to follow up (for example, if a woman mentions that she has kids, interviewers are told not to ask how many or how old).
What I’ve wondered is how the Cheat Sheet relates to employment and discrimination law.  By asking Cheat Sheet questions, are we setting employers up to violate the law?  Or are we waiving its protection?  I’ve blogged about this briefly and googled a little, but I haven’t found any definitive response.  Any thoughts from anyone here?
Carolyn Elefant
Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant, Washington DC
http://www.carolynelefant.com
My Shingle.com - Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

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