valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: but not yet generic

Some time ago, I held my tongue at a family dinner when someone referred to an author as “the writer lady.” While in some settings I would speak up (gently, without the edge I would have used in the past), and say “you mean the writer?” I went with polite and didn’t point it out. But, it’s stayed in my mind and I’ve returned to it, and debated with myself my decision to remain silent. It’s not a big deal, right? But maybe it is. In our society, masculinity is the default. The pronouns we use to refer to generic…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: creating mentors

The importance of mentors for law students and early career lawyers is something we all hear much about—but sometimes it’s hard to know what a mentor is, or how to find one. Law schools, bar associations, and firms may have formal mentoring programs, but many students and lawyers go through their law school and work careers without mentors—or have a mentor, but are uncertain about how to connect with that person or take advantage of what a mentor may have to offer. Women may especially benefit from mentors, since we don’t have the traditional “good old boys” network to rely upon: you should…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: multitasking vs mindfulness

There is probably no field of work that demands the ability to multitask more than does the practice of law. Lawyers jump from task to task as they bill in increments sometimes as small as six minutes. They sit in courtrooms waiting for cases to be called, paying attention to proceedings while getting caught up on paperwork. While questioning witnesses on the stand, they are reviewing the answers for game-changing information and refocusing the gist of their next question, while simultaneously watching jury members’ reactions. They reassure a client on the phone while typing a brief. They juggle laptops, ipads, iphones, and blackberries. One of…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: mapping equality

The Washington Post recently published a map showing which states have the most equality in employment between men and women. Most of those states are in the northeast (but the equality cluster hugs the eastern seaboard as far south as Virginia). The Post article reports on the results of a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which released a preliminary report on its findings last month.  The study looked at four factors: median annual earnings; the earnings ratio between men and women; women’s share in the workforce; and the share of women in professional or managerial-level positions. These were for women…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: forging paths to success

Recently I attended a lunchtime discussion with a group of women lawyers in a law firm conference room to discuss women's negotiation styles. The discussion was centered around an ABA program (which may be offered for CLE credit in some states—it is not in mine) titled "Negotiate Your Way to Success: Best Practices for Women Rainmakers." Since there was no CLE credit involved, the meeting included some of the exercises in the CLE materials, but also branched out into a general discussion of how women's negotiating styles may differ from that of men—and how that plays out in law firm life.  The discussion…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: the holistic job search

I have been reading some articles recently that take opposite views on this question: whether, between the improvement in the legal jobs market, and the fall off in law school enrollment, there will soon be a shortage of new lawyers. Proponents of this view project the ratio of new law grads to law jobs reaching some kind of equity as early as 2016. If this is in fact the case, this is excellent news for those matriculating this fall, who will graduate in 2017. Weighing in the side of this rosy view are Slate and National Jurist. On the other side of this debate…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: court dress

Shortly after I graduated from law school, I was getting ready for a job interview one day, wearing a suit with pumps, and my young son exclaimed "you look like a real lawyer!" Since I didn’t feel like one yet, it was great to hear that I at least looked like one! (It also freaked him out the first day I went to court wearing a long skirt with boots: he was worried I would be found in contempt.) While my then eight-year-old son perhaps had a simplistic view, it's true: lawyers wear suits. Everyone knows that.  Except that it's not that simple. What…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: more humanistic, better client value?

Last month we explored the problems of public interest jobs: happy attorneys, but low pay. At the other end of the pay spectrum, biglaw associates have the opposite problem: they make a lot of money, but are often unhappy.  Recently, I heard Steven Harper(1) address the issue of (among other things) the rather squishy way that large law firms quantify their productivity: the billable hour. This is a non-reliable way to measure productivity, as he points out, because a billable hour is not an output. Clients are taking note, he observes: they are becoming aware that under the billable hour model, the…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: public interest=pink-collar ghetto?

At the moment I am not practicing law. After nearly seven years as a public defender, I am now working in a law school career development office, helping students who hope to work in the public sector. I am, therefore, typical of women lawyers: more likely to work in the public sector, and more likely to leave the practice of law. It's hard for me to think of myself as a statistic. I'm an individual. Yet, apparently, I'm also a cliché. But why are women so much more likely to work in public interest? I think there are three main reasons: while many…

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valerie lherrou

No Longer Extraordinary: Making History

March is Women's History Month. In my first blog post, in January, we looked at the history of women in the law, as considered through a traditional historical trajectory: those pioneers who pushed past social and legal barriers to become the first to attend law school, to be admitted to the bar, to practice law, to become a Supreme Court Justice.  Women legal pioneers are generally not household names. Most people would be hard-pressed to name ten famous women in history in any field—but at least the names of some women pioneers in other fields are well-known: Marie Curie; Elizabeth…

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