By Peg Johnston • January 17, 2008•Firms and the Private Sector
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 MorePartnerIncome.com. You could say that it is the counter-balance to abovethelaw.com and greedyassociates.com. 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.