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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Women lawyers falling behind at local firms

[Sigh] Well, here we go again.

There's another study out indicating [shockingly] that women attorneys quickly fall behind at local law firms. Are we surprised?

We shouldn't be. Women partners at local firms range from 7 percent to 22 percent, according to the Cleveland Bar Association, and despite graduating from law school at the same rate as men.

PD reporter Alison Grant writes:
Though law firms are gradually become (sic) more diverse, the panel said lopsided patterns persist because of:

The entrenched model of billable hours as a measure of productivity.

The diminished chance to make partner after taking a detour to have children or care for elderly parents.

Discounting of women's ambition and drive if they don't follow a standard path.

The tendency of some women to be so relieved about their success that they forget to help female associates coming behind them.
Let's look at these a little more closely, shall we? Billable hours means the more hours you work, the more you can bill and the more money the firm (and ostensibly the partners) can make. Related to that is reason number two, which basically means if you take time off to have a family or care for aging parents, you're no longer producing money for the firm and hence, become a liability.

Not following the standard path? Seems to me that's cause for celebration and meritorious pay, not a hindrance to success. But I suppose if you break out of a firm's group think mentality by combining unusual interest areas—hmm, say law and social work—that throws the good ole boys into a quandary. I mean, what do you do with such a lawyer? Hey, quantity over quality though, right?

Sadly, that last point is something I've written about for The Plain Dealer business section, though at the time the topic was greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Women need to recognize that the sooner we start helping each other out in business, law, education, leadership development, finance, philanthropy, social services, etc., the sooner we will achieve a more equitable playing field with men. We certainly can't leave it to THEM to grade the terrain.

My favorite quote in this story comes compliments of Bob Duvin, founder of Duvin, Cahn & Hutton. He says:
"I've been dazzled, stunned by the ability of many women to work either full time or something close to full time and also be wives and mothers," Duvin said. "It isn't easy, and a byproduct is it sometimes hurts your career."
Bob—can I call you, Bob?—to say we are dazzling in our ability to juggle is a gross understatement. How do YOU manage working full time and being a husband and father? I mean, it isn't easy and the byproduct is that is sometimes hurts YOUR career.

Oh...wait...only it doesn't. THAT, Bob, is the fundamental problem. It's called a "double standard." So take that back to your board room and chew on it for a bit. Better yet, why don't you talk to the female partners and lawyers in your firm and ask them how they do it. While you're at it, why don't you ask them how the firm can help them better balance both with impunity. Please, Bob, don't forget to bring a woman into that discussion.

Then you can come back to a public forum and talk intelligently about this topic.

One more quibble on this story: I would've asked the women partners quoted in the story how they've gotten where they are in their career. How do they balance marriage, family and career? Did they give one or more of those up in favor of the other? Did they feel they had no choice?

It's not enough to say they lead law firms, we need to know in the context of this story how they broke the mold to get where they are.


Wendy Hoke said...

Becky from Deep Muck Big Rake tried to post a comment, but provides the link instead.

Check it out.

Thanks for reading, Becky.

PunditMom said...

As a "recovering attorney" and now freelance writer, I have written about this myself several times -- seems to me nothing is going to change until firms (and the workplace as a whole) change the construct and definition of success. Or, men have to start pulling their equal weight for family duties. Sadly, I'm not holding my breath.