Who Will Listen?

Okay, so yesterday I posted a little about how it is foolish to not give young women attorney's a seat at the table of discussion about work/life balance. Perhaps I could've made it clearer but I just don't get why law firm decision makers would listen to scholars, "experts" and other partners about what it is that the current generation is looking for in life and exclude the opinions of the very people they are trying to recruit and retain.

Well, I am not alone. First, there are those like Deborah Epstein Henry who believes that law students have a lot of power to affect changes in the legal profession by the very nature of their power postions in the recruiting game. See her Cheat Sheet for a set of questions that, if implemented on a large scale could really wake up law firms to some of the real problems.

Who else is on my side on this? Low and behold, there is a blog dedicated to helping firm partners make more money. It is aptly titled You could say that it is the counter-balance to and Every so often I check out MPI to see what is the current thinking on effective law firm management. Yesterday, the same day that I found myself debating the validity of the concerns of young women lawyers, MPI posted this article and argued that partners should listen to associates. Here is an exerpt (the underlining is my doing):
It's a good bet that associates, if put in a non-threatening environment to speak frankly, would have some pointed views on their plight. Some may be warranted; some may not, but if you want to consistently increase partner income, knowing what associates are thinking can be invaluable, especially if you are considering them as future partners. You don't want to find out after the attorney leaves how disaffected he/she was towards the shareholders. Plus, in an ideal environment, the associates are bearing the brunt of most of the work - you want to make sure they are well incented to be proper representatives of the firm, inside and outside of the office.

Needless to say, I too think that partners should listen to associates and be concerned about the work/life balance issues faced by young and old alike.

If you can believe it, the partners that I talked to recently claimed that young associates and law students lack the credibility to talk to partners about our generation’s balance concerns and priorities.

My question for law firms partners, particularly women partners, is this: Who is going to effect change in this profession for women?

  • It isn’t current equity partners who are failing to bring up other women and improve statistics over time.
  • It isn’t the partners that think an associate that has concerns about work/life balance is “whining”.
  • It sure as hell ain’t law school career counselors who really only understand the needs and concerns of law firm recruiters and have no idea what it is to be a young female associate and further have no influence on law firm practices.
  • Maybe its those of us who have dedicated to ourselves to this profession yet desire changes that result in more livable working conditions.
  • Maybe it is law students who still (perhaps with an amount of naiveté) believe that things can and will change.

Don’t ask the partners at my firm about what matters to me. Don’t ask the career counselors or administrators at my law school what I think is important. Ask me. And… after you ask, be willing to listen. If you aren’t ready to listen, then keep talking amongst yourselves and listening to so-called-experts. Keep having law firms sign meaningless pledges and commitment letters promising to improve working conditions. And… sadly… keep watching 1/2 of the best and the brightest attorneys leave before you ask them to join your partnership.




is junior women attorneys. I am an LLM student with a few years experience in my home country and a few years experience in the US. In neither country does anyone solicit the views of junior lawyers (men or women, but women are the majority in my experience).
 It beggars belief that the partners should not wonder why they're hiring more women than men in many cases (presumably that means more women than men in their preferred hiring target group) yet don't care when those women have an even higher attrition rate than men over the first 5-6 years.
 I worked in a law firm when I had my first child. THey were very progressive by the standards of such things - I got 4 months paid leave, onsite childcare, remote access… so why did I find I had to quit after 4 months and stay home? Because what they don't get is when you have kids what counts is NOT the paid time off (personally I could have done with the break from dirty diapers)...but the hours, and especially the predictability of the hours. I have even had a partner joke to me (I think he was joking) that he would hold on to new work from 11am-6pm just so he could drop it on our desks at 6pm. His rationale was then we would feel obliged to work hard during the day (on less urgent work) and still stay late to do the (now) urgent work. That's the kind of poor staff management that results in attrition of women with kids. I'm a good time manager, I will get it done on time if you give me at least the lead time you have, but if you hold it back and make my life harder then I'll damn well leave.
Trouble is that nowhere is much better. I long to set up a firm where its more like a doctor's surgery - I do what files I can in the time I'm scheduled to work and other members of the team with overlapping hours pick it up on the next "shift". It is such a myth that law work is not able to be done that way, that somehow the "knowledge" of a file can't be shared between teams. Given the specialization of most practice groups this is just not true.
 With respect to the JD students - your input should certainly be valued, but it has to be discounted because you don't actually have work experience in the profession…if law students talked more to young lawyers (not in forums where attorneys feel they have to put positive recruitment spin on everything)... then your expectations and aspirations for change could become more realistic and together the 2 groups could try to achieve change. The problem at the moment is that JDs buy all the rhetoric - so to you 4 months paid maternity leave sounds great - once you're in the firm you're then less able to change anything because speaking up will just label you a troublemaker. You need to be more informed of what matters in the real world of work-life balance - then you can exercise the power current staff don't have…the ability to choose jobs based on those factors.


Annonymous… I think your points are great.
Just to clarify, however… I am a practicing attorney at a BigLaw firm (not a student) and in the conversation with women partners and other women attorneys that I reference in my post, my main argument was that law firms need to listen to associates when they are trying to figure out how to recruit and retain associates.  So, I think we are making the same point.
However, I do think that law students have a role to play in changing this profession.  If for no other reason than the fact that they have a great amount of power in the recruitment process, especially women from top law schools and with good resumes.  Law firms compete against each other in recruiting and base a lot of their reputations on the prestige of the students they recruit.  In a sense, law students have more ability to influence law firm management than associates.  The power definately shifts away from you once you are at the firm and practicing.


oh I totally agree - JD students have more bargaining power than junior attorneys and are desperately needed to fight this battle. I think though that we need to educate them so that they don't buy the "4 months paid leave is GREAT" line completely without thinking it through. Certainly some JDs have kids already and would have some idea that it isn't the initial leave that makes a big difference, but many need to learn that message if they're to bargain for the best outcomes for themselves and all of us.

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