The Role of Females in General (and Working Moms Specifically) in Law
An article recently came out in the ABA Journal entitled “Are Women Lawyers Paying Enough Attention to Upward Mobility.” We wanted to take some time to reflect on and discuss it here at Law Firm Next.
In order to help me, Melanie brought her good friend Valerie Fenchel onto the podcast. Valerie founded the firm Fenchel Family Law where she helps women break free from unhealthy relationships.
Throughout our conversation, we addressing multiple aspects of this controversial article. The entire concept forced us to focus in on the idea of working moms in the legal industry. Valerie and I come from different perspectives (me being a mom while Valerie is not), allowing us to bring diversity to the conversation.
Here are some of the thoughts we discussed on this article and on the role of females in the legal industry.
What Upward Mobility Is
The author of the ABA article mentioned upward mobility and success. Therefore, we have to define what success and progress are.
Progress and success are the ideas of living the life that you want to. This looks different for everyone. Success to you may mean being happy, having a family, or having the legal practice you want.
Therefore, progress is allowing that success for everyone. Not everybody wants to own their own business or have a lot of friends or reach the partner level in their firm. Progress means giving every single person the ability to reach what they feel is success, no matter what that is.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most law firms today.
What you’ll often find instead in very large traditional firms is the expectation to take on mentorship roles and work with teams a lot. Those aren’t bad expectations but they can often become very overwhelming when you think about the amount of time and energy devoted to them.
Sometimes all of this has a bigger effect on mothers or fathers. However, regardless of where you are in your personal life, the expectations can be very overwhelming.
Whether you’re a mother or a father or single, spending an inordinate amount of time in order to meet those expectations will cause you stress. That can lead to all kinds of terrible things like heightened anxiety, depression, drug abuse, suicide, and other things we often hear attorneys are susceptible to.
This is our highest concern and something that needs to be addressed by other firms as well.
Why We Need More Women Partners
Beyond this, a mindset shift needs to take place in regards to women’s roles in the legal industry. Women and mothers are less likely to be made partner. This means the new women coming up don’t have the level of mentorship they deserve.
When new women have someone in their practice group to help them deal with the firm politics and teach them what they can and can’t do in order to get chosen as partner and be valued, everything changes.
As we said earlier, the amount of pressure big firms put on their associates is crazy. Couple that with motherhood and it’s extremely overwhelming.
There is, therefore, a very specific need to have women partners in a position to mentor junior partners or women associates within their practice group. Firms need to make those kinds of inroads.
All of this comes back to our original definition of upward mobility. Everyone needs to be given the same opportunities to succeed, whether they have kids or not. It is an unfortunate fact that a woman’s decision to have kids would have an impact on her ability to be successful within a large firm today.
Whatever changes we can make to make it the same process for men as it is for women and for parents as it is for nonparents will put our law firms in a better situation. Making these changes will allow us to end up with people of very different genders and parental statuses to all be in leadership positions.
If you want to learn more about the ABA article and our thoughts on it, check out Episode 011: Controversial ABA Article About Lawyer Moms.