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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Shout Out to Mommy Lawyers This Mothers' Day

With Mothers' Day creeping up on us, I just had to put my thoughts down, especially after hearing about the riveting swearing in ceremony of a mommy lawyer in Maine.

Nancy Torresen from Maine was sworn in on Thursday as a U.S. District Court judge. In her thank you speech, she gave a shout out to her mother and to her mother in law for helping her with meals and other mommy duties as she sought success in her career.

It's not easy for a woman to rise the ranks in the legal profession. It's even harder for a female lawyer to crack the judiciary. As much as we like to believe that the playing field is equal, it's not. Sure, we've come a long way, but in many cases, women are still far behind when it comes to partnership positions and to salary parity at the large firms.

Part of that is because while many women do have helpful hubbies, many of the duties of parenthood rest squarely on the shoulders of the mom. Pregnancy is one of those non-delegable duties.

Being a lawyer and a mommy is hard work.

No mommy lawyer can do it without help.

Nancy Torresen is the first female in Maine to hold the position of federal district judge.

There were many prominent female jurists in attendance at her ceremony and she recognized their contribution to the legal profession, hailing many of them as her inspiration.

So, in this week before Mothers' Day, here's a shout-out to mommy lawyers everywhere-- in BigLaw, as in-house counsel at corporations and to those managing their own practices.

Hats off to you all. Here's to the mommy lawyers and the difficult choices that many of them have to make.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pregnant and Working: A Female Lawyer's Lament

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start a new law job while pregnant?

Yep, that's right. Pregnant.

I had a little chat with some other female lawyers over the weekend. And interestingly, a male lawyer earlier today.

It's so damn hard to work while pregnant, let alone start a new job while pregnant. I've been struggling with this for months now, as I'm officially in my final trimester. The last time I was pregnant, I actually had to quit because I kept throwing up at work. That was a long time ago.

This time around, I can't say that the pregnancy is any better (in fact, it may even be a bit worse) but I am struggling to keep up with my work. It's like the pregnancy hormones take over and my mind turns to mush. I make silly mistakes. I have typos. I submit duplicates of the same document. I can't remember the names of other associates or paralegals.

And every day, all I can think about all day is frivolous Facebook gossip, whether Joshua will win on American Idol or anything else frivolous that I can bring  to the forefront of my mind.

It's driving  me mad.

Of course, let's not forget the fact that I still throw up at work. Even six months into my pregnancy.

Pregnancy sucks, but it sucks more when you're a lawyer and have to work in an industry that doesn't tolerate mistakes. 

Then, I had the chance to speak to a woman who started a new job at Google when she was five months pregnant. In addition to forever being labeled as "the pregnant girl," she claims that she had a very hard time taking on a new job when pregnant. She said she was lucky that they attributed it to "ramping up" at a new job, so mistakes were expected.

A male lawyer I talked to today told me that his wife was expecting and was currently six months pregnant. While she's not a lawyer, he's a partner at a firm and told me that  he has to come home every day and manage household responsibilities, since she's wiped.

Wiped out. Doesn't that sound familiar?

I come home and I can barely keep my head up. Two weeks ago, I asked that the TV be moved to the bedroom. Now, all I do is come home, change into my PJs and sit in front of the TV, soaking in whatever useless crap is on television.

The best advice I was given was to shut off any distractions (such as my Facebook iPhone app) and to get to bed early.

That's easier said than done, since I already have one kid who refuses to sleep before 10 p.m.

Oh well, another two months to go and I take leave.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Life for the BigLaw Mommy

What's life like for the BigLaw mommy?

I finally had the chance to find out, four years after passing the bar.

I lucked out. Landed myself a sweet gig at a top tier firm.

Truth be told, it's not easy. While partners claim to be sympathetic to the plight of a mommy lawyer, a look around the firm gave me a clear idea of where mommy lawyers really stood.

Here's a tip-- the most successful female lawyer at the firm was not a mommy, at the age of 60. Married, yes. Mommy, no.

The mommy track exists at the big law firms but as any smart mentor will tell you, the mommy brand can taint you. Not always, but it can.

I don't know if anyone comes out and says overtly that your chances of success are threatened by being a mommy lawyer, but it's certainly the elephant in the room at many large law firms.

I didn't have much problem, but then again, I was not a salaried associate. I came on board as an hourly associate. Interestingly, the young male lawyer who started at the same time as me came on board as a full time associate.


And let's not forget the added responsibilities that come your way as a mommy. While the daddy was on board helping and holding down the fort with the little ones, the little tykes still want mommy and still miss mommy when she's out. So I had to kiss bye-bye to the 8 p.m. work nights out, as well as the after-work happy hours and the networking events.

Being a mom and working at a top tier firm is certainly doable. But it's not easy.

If you choose to take this path, then make sure you enlist all the help you can get. Call on family to help. Make sure your spouse is on board. And if you must, dish out top-dollar and hire a very good caregiver or housekeeper.

While some women luck out with fabulous work-life balance situations, many parents have to make some difficult decisions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Trivial Interests: The Mystical Key to Work-Life Balance

Looking back at my last blog post, one thought comes to mind: Boy was I ever wrong!

I started my summer internship on a tense and stressed note, trying to maintain a heightened level of professionalism and forcing myself to believe that there was no life outside of my career.

Then, it all changed the day the managing partner told me that the life outside of law is what mattered more to my career than focusing nonstop on the law, itself. He told me that I needed to develop, what he called, "trivial interests".

"What are trivial interests?" I asked.

"Trivial interests are those interests or hobbies that have no valuable or useful purpose in life."

As I got to know the partners more, I realized that they were such good lawyers because they had lives outside of the firm. One of the partners enjoyed travelling abroad with his wife, while volunteering with underprivileged kids in Marin County during the school year. Another partner spent every conceivable moment with his teenage sons, even during office hours, where they would be sitting in his office arguing the meaning of God. An associate volunteered with Big Brothers.

And then I came to learn- If we, as attorneys, spend our spare time focusing on law, then we risk becoming terribly one-dimensional. In time, we can burn out much faster and we miss out on the small, trivial interests that life has to offer. It's the law of diminishing returns. The harder we try to be the best, the less likely we will ever be the best because there will always be some new height to reach and a higher bar to cross.

So the lesson I take away from the attorneys at this firm is simple- make time for the trivial interests that bring you joy, because the law will always be there tomorrow.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First Day in Court

We conquer several major firsts in our lives. Although some of the first seem intimidating, once we conquer our fears and accomplish the task, in time, our fears ease. In time, not overnight.

My first day in court was two years into practicing law. Actually, I take that back. My first say in court was before I was even licensed to practice, but at the time, I sat in the back of the courtroom and performed last minute research.

My first time appearing before a judge was in Santa Rosa Bankruptcy Court. I began working for a bankruptcy attorney and my first day on the job was also my first day in court. She called me over the weekend to tell me about a motion I needed to argue on Monday. I saw the motion for the first time on Sunday night. I was to drive two hours to Santa Rosa the next day, to argue a motion I had only seen the night before. To add salt to the wound, I was to argue it alone, without my supervising attorney there.

In the end, the motion was granted. But the entire courtroom knew this was my first time. For starters, I checked in with the Trustee instead of the Court Clerk. The Trustee was kind enough to direct me to the Court Clerk. Then, when my line item was called, I spoke before I got to the podium. Finally, I had no clue that I would be arguing the motion to the Trustee, first. I guess Santa Rosa does things differently. So I was not prepared to state the reason for the motion, not was I even aware that they were calling my motion.

Talk about trial by fire. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Day on the Job at a Firm

I am starting this week on a temorary placement at a respected law firm. I take with me the wisdom from previous experiences.

And in taking my sucesses and my failures in stride, I came up with a list of what to do and what not to do when entering the legal workforce.

1. Do not underestimate the value of your appearance! Looks matter. Although many attorneys will say that they don't care what you wear to work, so long as you do the job right, there definitely is a certain stigma that is attached to you by way of your appearance. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have seen judges look with disdain at attorneys who wore bright colors and flashy shoes to court. I have seen the disparity in the way I get treated when I wear a suit, a dress or jeans.

My advice- wear muted colors and limit your accessories. Brown, biege, gray or navy-blue work very well. The image you want to get across is that you care more about your work than your clothes. Of course, you could easily accomplish this by wearing jeans and a t-shirt to work. too, but jeans and a T-shirt scream the word "slacker!".

2. Do not socialize unecessarily! You are there to work. It's understandable that you might want to build relationships and strengthen your bridges at your new firm, but there will always be time for that. Your priority should really be competence. You need to get the job done. For the first while, skip lunch and eat at your desk if you must. Don't stop at the offices of others and strike up conversation on the first day. You will have plenty of time to do that once you have proven yourself. For the first while, it will be the quality of your work and not your personality that will get you more points.

3. Go in early and work late. Get there before most of the other people in the office do and leave later than the rest. You don't necessarily need to be the first person in the office nor the last one to leave, but look at your timings relative to everyone else and be a notch more conservative than the rest.

4. Pay attention to the quality of your work! Your work will be the most important factor in making your first impression. Take down your assignments with a note-pad and work hard. Stay focused and ask questions if you don't know what you are doing. Also, try to gage your employer's expectations of the assignment and if you can, try to get hold of a sample of what he/she wants from you.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Diversity Initiative

Many firms have implemented supposed "Diversity Initiatives" in recent years as a response to the underepresentation of minorities in the practice of law. How honest are these initiatives? How many firms honestly care about increasing diversity in the workplace? Lately, many firms have been taking supposed pro-active steps to foster an environment that favors diversity. But do the words "equal opportunity employer" on a firm's website really mean that they intend to hire visible minorities? Does hiring a Diversity Director exonerate a firm from it's duty to create a true and reflective environment where diversity can thrive?

In 2003, the Equal Opportunity Commission issued a report on the representation of minorities and women as professionals in law firms. The report found that the representation of women in the legal workforce has more than doubled since 1975, from 14.4% to 40.3% in 2002. Yet, although the representation of women in the legal workforce is relatively proportionate to the number of women receiving JDs, the representation of racial minorities has yet to follow such example. For example, the representation of African Americans and Hispanics in the professional legal workforce is still proportionate to approximately half of the number who earn JDs.

Statistics aside, I happen to know a few partners at prominent law firms who are from visible minority groups. Of course, I do benefit from living in San Francisco, where diversity is the norm. My one favorite example of diversity in action is the junior partner at a prominent litigation firm who happens to be a Muslim woman wearing the head scarf. Conversely, I also know people who left large law firms, claiming that they felt that their ethnicity made their chances of growth much harder. I remember asking an Asian attorney from another well respected litigation firm about the diversity at his firm. He replied by telling me that his coworkers would often confuse him with another Asian attorney who was a whole foot shorter than him!

As the economy continues to globalize, law firms across America will need to reflect this globalization by retaining attorneys from various ethnic groups. And if law firms are unprepared to do this, we will probably soon see many smaller practices and solo attorneys popping up across the nation, reflecting the diversity of law graduates.

Perhaps, then, it will be the small firms and solos who initiate the change.

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