Susan Smith Blakely

Women Lawyers Are Held Back by Childcare Responsibilities:  What Are Law Firms Doing About It?

The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) issued the One Third By 2020 Challenge in 2006, calling for law firms to have one-third of their equity partners be women by 2020. At the end of 2019, law firms collectively had achieved only 19 percent.

One reason for the slower than predicted ascent of women lawyers to ownership positions in law firms is that women bear the major responsibility for childcare.  Tech-assisted flexibility makes it possible for women to service clients, but that flexibility doesn't extend into the "realm of developing a book of business," according to Jennifer Minter, Chair of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney's Corporate section.

Minter is spot on in her observations that business development is the big obstacle to women's advancement in law firms.  As she notes, "Some women don't have the resources to undertake business development during off-hours, and therefore often get stuck being 'worker bees' with a limited ability to move up the ladder.  I don't think most law firms necessarily view that as their problem."  They consider it to be "the individual's problem," says Minter.

Read more in this article, originally published in Today's General Counsel, where other women lawyers join Minter in the conversation. Read about the challenges of attending meetings outside the office, participating in client pitches, and being available and in the room when important decisions are made.

This is the single most challenging issue for women lawyers.  Although law firms have made positive strides toward providing generous parental leave and accommodations for nursing mothers, the problem is much bigger and requires a more comprehensive solution.  As children grow beyond infancy, the responsibilities for childcare multiply to include school issues, after school activities , help with homework ... and the list goes on and on.  Some women are not willing to delegate many of those responsibilities to others, and that is where the rubber meets the road.

It is a very thorny issue, and women lawyers across the globe are grappling with it.  They are proud of their accomplishments and want to remain in the profession, but they do not want to be marginalized.  The indisputable fact is that the women have the babies and want to assure that those children thrive --- and that means TIME with their children.  On site childcare would go a long way toward ensuring that women (and also men) can achieve a successful balance between good parenting and successful rainmaking, but there has to be a fervent commitment to the concept and dedicated resources to accomplish the goal.

Minter is hopeful that, as more women get into management positions, things will change.  She views it as a business problem that is costing firms money because women lawyers are not able to reach their full potential.  She hopes that it will be a shared problem that law firms and lawyers can participate in solving.

I, too, am hopeful, but I also am somewhat skeptical.  Clients and money still rule the legal profession, and until clients make it clear that they expect the same thing for women in law firms that women in-house counsel are experiencing, the pendulum is not likely to swing.  But all the supportive demands of corporate clients will fly out the window when the crunch is on.  That is when the client turns.

We all know it, but we do not know what to do about it.  Many solutions are not practical and are likely to be perceived as favoring women.  The Old Guard will scoff at attempts to accommodate women, and those attitudes will feed implicit bias.

It is very complicated.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com, Georgetown Law Magazine, Legal Toolkit Podcast, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016” for her work on behalf of women in the law. 

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

 

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