Thursday, October 30, 2008
Today's administrative task for me was sending out my monthly client invoices. That reminded me of one of my pet peeves: poor billing practices by timekeepers. I want to send out bills that clients want to pay; they may not be exactly happy to pay, but they are more likely to recognize that it is a fair invoice.
There is one excellent way to learn very quickly how to write helpful time entries: Be a client. Hire a lawyer to represent you in a critical matter and pay the bill for several months. I guarantee that your own time entries will improve when you have a daily dialog with your inner client about how you would justify each of your time entries.
If you can't do that, try these "Rules of Two" for billing practices:
● Use at least two words in every time entry: one noun and one verb. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone write the single word "Research." I wouldn't want to pay for that.
● Never use the same description two days in a row. It looks like you didn't do it right the first time, or couldn't figure out the answer the first time you tried.
● Never "revise document" two days in a row. If the first entry, "revise indemnity provision to reflect client instructions," is followed the next day with "revise representations and warranties to reflect negotiations between the parties," then the time entries are likely to be helpful to the client. It may be the same document, but the time entry describes distinctly different tasks.
● Never wait more than two days to record your time. If your time isn't entered within that time period, you'll either overstate or understate your time. That is either misleading the client, or cheating yourself.
As I've mentioned before, it is my firm belief that more women will rise to more prominent leadership positions only if they have the currency for it, and that currency is derived in very large part from the economic success of the practice. In more crass terms, the size of her billing book is her entrée to leadership. It may not be a sufficient condition, but it is a necessary one. Excellent billing practices are an essential part of meeting that condition.
Hope this is helpful.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I have been commuting on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART, as we call it in the San Francisco Bay Area) daily, more or less, for 35 minutes each way since about 1985. I spend most of that commute time reading, so I've read a lot of books. I've always wanted to join a book club; my sister belongs to a mother-daughter book club which seems like such a fine idea. What I really need to do is organize a group of women lawyers who would meet on the same BART car once a month to discuss the book of the month. I'll put organizing that on my to-do list.
In the meantime, perhaps a virtual book club will suffice. The first book for our Club is selected by me (you can choose the next one). It is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Here is a link to the Amazon page so you can get your copy http://tinyurl.com/difficult-conversations. Hurry though there are only 104 used copies available as of today. I first read the book in the summer of 2007 as part of the curriculum for the Hastings Leadership Academy for Women, and revisit it from time to time.
It is not a new book, nor is it a book about lawyers, law firm management or leadership. But it is a great little book with insightful thoughts on how to prepare for a difficult conversation, how to start the conversation without defensiveness, and how to keep it constructive and focused regardless of how the other person responds. Although it is useful for all sorts of difficult conversations, it is also a very useful approach to organizational management. The approach in this book promotes constructive discussions about the contributions to problems by the individuals involved in organizational dysfunction, rather than assigning blame. The approach is particularly helpful in thinking about difficult conversations in the context of performance reviews that are less than stellar.
P.S. Have you used tiny url? It is really easier and is a much better mechanism for posting those horribly long strings of characters for websites you want to use in a message. The original string to the Amazon page was 129 characters; this link is only 42. Go to www.tinyurl.com to learn how.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Busy day today in the actual practice of law, so I haven't got much new to post. I do want to clarify my comments in Heroes, Role Models and Mentors. I meant to make the point that the most effective mentors are those who are trusted friends and counselors; it has been my experience that trust and wisdom are more important in a mentor than gender, race, or any other diversity characteristic. Mentor programs that focus on matching up diversity characteristics may miss the boat on the actual goals of mentoring.
Only four days left to respond to my survey so don't delay. The free version only lasts for 10 days and one hundred respondents.
Next up: Book Review, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
Monday, October 27, 2008
I've spent some time extolling the virtues of networking on the internet, and new ways of communicating and keeping in touch with clients, colleagues and friends. But I do still think that old-fashioned networking and community leadership in "live" Bar associations is a fundamental pillar for professional growth and satisfaction.
Tax lawyers, especially new ones, start their careers with years immersed in research. I remember spending weeks in the early '90s doing little but research, writing, and reporting to the partners in my firm about esoteric tax minutiae. There really weren't (and aren't now) many opportunities for meaningful client contact for young tax lawyers. So in order to generate some modest amount of personal contact, I joined a local group--San Francisco Women Tax Lawyers--so that I could get out once in a while. Before long I had a chance to be in the leadership of that group, scouting out speakers for our monthly luncheons. From there I "graduated" to the State Bar Tax Section committee in my field--Exempt Organizations. This led to a stint as chair of that subcommittee. Once I termed out of that, I moved on to the ABA Business Law Section Nonprofit Corporations Committee (http://www.abanet.org/dch/committee.cfm?com=CL580000), and after a few years moved into the chair ship there. So you can see the progression.
Leadership experiences with legal associations broaden horizons, extend networks, enhance professional abilities, lead to public speaking opportunities, build confidence, and provide experience in teamwork, leadership, and mentoring. They also lead to career opportunities: I doubt that I am the first or only lawyer who first met my new employer at a Bar association-sponsored effort. Early in my career I wrote a paper that became part of a California State Bar delegation to Washington D.C., and on that trip I met a key tax partner at what became my new firm.
With the coming slow down in the economy, most lawyers I know are feeling that their careers are vulnerable. Nothing makes time go by more slowly, and anxiety increase more, than a day spent at the desk without any meaningful, challenging work. Use the slow down in billable work to find a place to volunteer time, expand horizons, and learn new skills. Not only will the day go by faster, but in the long run you'll be a better, and busier, lawyer.
Here are some links to sites that gather lawyer organizations:http://www.alllaw.com/legal_organizations/
A final note: The most valuable experiences in volunteer Bar organizations for newcomers are those that provide visible, personal contacts. One of the easiest ways to break the ice and get involved is to volunteer to put together a panel on some topic that existing leadership has already identified. It isn't necessary to know anyone for the panel at the outset--the value in the work is the personal contacts made trying to find, recruit, organize and then watch the panel perform. Volunteering for this task may well endear you to the existing committee leadership, leading to more and more leadership opportunities.
So get out there!
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Just a short post tonight. The Oct/Nov edition of the ABA Law Practice Magazine is so full of good articles I have to recommend the entire issue, cover to cover. Probably the most useful day-to-day piece is the BlackBerry 101 article with tons of features I didn't know about. But the articles about and by women leaders are useful to all firm leaders.
The most thought-provoking for me was "The Leader's Mind-set: Cultivating Success." It is not gender specific. The author, Marcia Pennington Shannon, describes two types of attitudes or mind-sets: the "fixed" mind set and the "growth" mind set. The growth mind-set refers to a person who believes that people can improve their intelligence and abilities by their efforts. The fixed mind-set refers to people who believe that intelligence and abilities and personality are carved in stone. That people arrive with a certain level of intelligence, abilities, talents and character traits that cannot be changed. If you only read one article in this excellent issue, read this one.
It seems to me that firms can also be described as having a "fixed" mind-set or a "growth" mind-set. A firm with a growth mind-set would have a core value of training, mentoring and opportunity for attorneys at all levels. Such firms would recruit for individuals that demonstrate past performance of developing the skills necessary to function at their prior levels in several environments, and then would provide the recruit with opportunities for skill development throughout the course of his or her career. The risk with a firm "growth" mind-set is that it might provide unending opportunities for an attorney who really can't make it to the next level, which is frustrating to all concerned. The "growth" mind-set firm needs to be able to discern when growth is not going to lead to success, and provide a compassionate exit strategy for the attorney involved.
On the other hand, firms with a fixed mind-set would recruit for individuals that display the highest level of skill possible for the position being filled, and would not find it necessary to devote resources to training, mentoring or skill development beyond the basic required continuing legal education required by the state. Thus, entry level attorneys would only be recruited from the top of the class at the best schools; laterals would only be hired from prestigious, selective firms. Attorneys who are determined not to make the cut are culled early.
Where would you rather work?
http://www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/home.shtml is the link to the LPM site with all of the articles from the Leadership Issue.
See you tomorrow.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I love surveys. I love to find out what other people think about things. Even though they are sometimes tedious, I also love to answer surveys. I don't know why this is. I'd like to attribute it to my introductory psychology course in college but that seems kind of silly. It just is what it is and introspection isn't useful.
In any event, I don't think I'm the only one who likes surveys. Perhaps it is because the internet and modern computing capabilities have made surveys so much more efficient in reaching a statistically significant population, with quick computerized data analysis and report capabilities. The most popular free survey services that I know about are http://www.instantsurvey.com/, http://www.surveymonkey.com/ and http://www.zoomerang.com/. The really neat thing about these surveys is that they offer a tool for accessing information from staff and attorneys that is otherwise very difficult and time consuming to gather. I don't think that these types of surveys are the only tool for gathering important information, but I do think that there are good options for them. There are also ways to ensure that the survey respondents remain anonymous, which can be quite helpful in eliciting honest feedback. To be sure, there is always the possibility that the tool will be misused by the respondents (or the surveyor), so survey design and use needs some careful thought.
These tools can be used internally, for gathering information from staff and attorneys about any number of issues, from the mundane office functions to training needs and desires to critical feedback in upward reviews. They can also be used for client satisfaction surveys.
In the mid 90's I remember a senior attorney confidently announcing that no one would ever hire an attorney based on a website. I don't think that prediction was entirely accurate. That same person recently commented that using web-based surveys would not be useful in gathering client feedback. I don't think that prediction is accurate either. I predict that these web-based survey tools will become increasingly useful to law firms that want to know what their employees and clients (and partners?) are really thinking.
So here is my first survey. All responses are anonymous.
Let me know what you really think.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I wasn't going to write about politics, but in several recent conversations with other women lawyers the issue has come up, and it does seem timely. I confess that I am not a particularly political person, and I certainly am naïve where national and local politics are concerned. But earlier this year during the primaries I got caught up in the historic wave of activism along with 18 million other voters. When I "came out" for my candidate in the week leading up to the primary, a minor firestorm erupted. I realized for the first time that people actually cared what I thought, and that those who disagreed seemed to care even more. I wish I had had the foresight to check with a mentor before making my views public; I am sure I would have been warned not to make my views known on company time or company property.
Political commentary can also be bad for business. While a principled attorney may well take the position that he or she will be public with political views regardless of how his or her own clients may react, out of respect for the livelihood of other attorneys at the firm those personal views should be carefully communicated as personal, not firm, statements. Even here on the left coast clients have varied policy perspectives, and may be offended or affronted by strong views that are perceived to be held by the law firm to whom they write significant checks.
However, I continue to strongly believe that law firms should not have a policy that prohibits staff or attorneys from making their political views known. We should be able to tolerate differences of opinion and respectful political disagreements among our co-workers. Political views and political activism add spice and interest to our dialogues. An intolerant attitude that prohibits discussions, buttons, photos of political figures, and the like, will almost certainly be violated by someone, which would be even more difficult to manage.
But the views of firm leadership are another thing entirely. Those in leadership are in a different position of perceived influence and authority, so what is said and done will be subject to greater scrutiny. As a business matter in law firms, I think that is a problem that is better avoided.
After the bruising I took earlier this year, when a friend mentioned the topic recently in connection with the looming election, my immediate, unequivocal reaction was to opine that firm leadership absolutely shouldn't take a position on any candidate or initiative on the ballot. But I still remain convinced that an internal policy forbidding political expression is counterproductive.
Next up: Heroes, Role Models, and Mentors
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Next up: Politics in the Workplace, or, What I Wish Someone Had Told Me.
Monday, October 20, 2008
We are just about on the eve of an historic election--one that is historic not just because of race but also because of many interesting issues and challenges. Much is being written in the popular press and discussed on television about implicit bias. All people have biases, and with a bit of self awareness most people are aware when these biases are at work to help us predict how our companions on this planet will react to what we say or do. It isn't a bad thing to acknowledge that we have biases. Lack of the awareness that I have a bias is more likely to harm people around me, than is awareness and acknowledgement that bias exists.
A leadership consultant friend of mine directed me to Project Implicit, at Harvard. Try the implicit bias tests at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ and see whether the outcome is what you would predict. I was not surprised to learn that I have a slight automatic association of "Male" with "career" and "Female" with "Family".
Try it and let us know whether you are surprised with the results, or not.
Talk to you tomorrow!
Sunday, October 19, 2008
The style and color selection for this blog was easy. When considering the design, I knew I didn't have the creativity or artistic sense to do anything novel and so would be stuck with whatever templates were readily available on the site. About 5th on the list was this lovely rose-colored alternative, and that made it simple. My fascination with roses? It actually started with my garden (I now have about 40 rose bushes) in a phase of my life when home-based nesting was the best option for mental relaxation from the stress of an active practice and full-throttle parenting of three children.
Then after I wrote the last check for my oldest son's college tuition, I realized there was still some money in the account earmarked for his education, and it was just enough to buy my dreamhorse. (Browse http://www.dreamhorse.com/) So I took lessons and rode a bunch of nags until I found Rose. Actually named Hilde, the sales barn wisely renamed her in an attempt to find her a home in Northern California. Here is a picture of Rose and me at our very first horse show; she is 6, I am 46 in the photo. The brilliant photographer is my friend Howard Slavitt.
So what does all this have to do with women as leaders in law firms? My point today is that all work and no play makes Jane a very poor and frustrated leader. Yes, the demands of the practice can be all consuming. Yes, family must come near the top of the priority list. But every healthy leader must have a fun, playful, and legal (as in not illegal), outside interest. Whatever it is for you, make the time for it on a regular basis. That may mean some other things don't get done, or don't get done in time. If you are always too tired, too overwhelmed, or too overworked to sustain an outside hobby, something is out of balance. No one is going to fix the balance for you, though, so take control and do something fun.
One final thought: It would be naive to think that just because a healthy person needs balance, law firms and law departments will respect this and make allowances for it. There is much written these days about how diversity among lawyers is a good thing; women bring unique skills and benefits to law firms and leadership; women (at least women with children or spouses) need some personal time; and therefore, the logic goes, law firms must take this into account in designing advancement and compensation systems that reward women who balance their lives in this fashion the same as similarly-situated men. That logic seems a bit utopian to me. Perhaps morally they should, but don't count on it or beat your breast if they don't. Some firms will do so (mine certainly did, and does), some of the time (most likely when economic times are good), but some won't. For good articles and programs on work-life balance, see the Project for Attorney Retention at Hastings College of Law (http://www.pardc.org/about/).
Anyone out there have an interesting hobby to share, or comments on how to balance their life?
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
I started this Blog today to offer a dialogue for women and men who have an interest in developing and supporting women in leadership positions in law firms and law departments. The site will include links to reviewed sites, helpful resources and commentary (mine and yours, I hope).
So, with the gazillion blogs out there and the massive search engines that can find information on anything and everything in 0.15 seconds, what can I possibly add? When I googled "law firm leadership for women" I got more than a million hits. But after scanning the first dozen pages or so, all I found were a few academic blogs, lots of law firm links to their diversity pages, some postings by consultants, and a few articles. But I did not find a resource that would actually provide direction, resources and thoughtprovoking content for the challenges that women and law firms face when women advance to leadership roles. There may well be something better out there, in which case no doubt someone will let me know and I'll move on to something else.
In any event, what I am hoping to provide here is a resource for those interested in women who are practicing lawyers and are leaders. Of course my direct experience is only in law firms but I hope to find and provide content and resources to women who work in-house in legal departments, too.
Why would my view on this in particular subject be of any use to anyone? It may not be, but a little background about me may be helpful to you as you decide whether to read on. When I started practicing in 1988, I had no idea or intention of being a leader in law or anything else. As many of you know, I was married while still an undergraduate. My first son was 12 months old when I started at Hastings in 1985, and my second son was born during spring break of my third year of law school (the plan had been to have the baby during semester break around Christmas, but as with many of my plans it took a little longer than I expected. Not for lack of trying.)
I had skipped Fall on-campus interviews in my third year because I was pregnant, and in those days one simply didn't even think about applying for a job when in a family way. Nevertheless, in January of 1988 I mentioned to a professor that I still needed a job, and with much good fortune I landed a job at a top firm in San Francisco, even though I was eight months pregnant and hadn't yet passed the bar.
So, by the time I graduated and began work as an associate, I had a young family and a deep desire to succeed at both family and law. We bought a house we could barely afford (yes, even then housing in the SF Bay Area in a nice neighborhood was just out of reach for two-income professional families), and we knew that my income was essential. I had an hour commute each direction, so the days were long. There were no working mother lawyers in the law firm then who had had children when they were in law school. There were no women in leadership positions in the law firm either. Mentoring women lawyers was in its infancy. "Worklife balance" was as far in the future as the internet, email, cell phones, and blackberries.
During what seemed like tough economic times back in the early 90's, I was "downsized" by my firm to a part-time position, and at that point I decided that the only way to have a secure economic future for myself and my family was to build an independent practice. So I started reading voraciously about law practice management. I joined the ABA Law Practice Management Section, and read everything I could about how to earn the trust of clients, build a specialty, become known as an expert in my field, and get paid for it. I wasn't interested in law firm management per se, just law practice management so I could be a better lawyer. So while I was learning to be a lawyer, I was also learning how to manage a law practice. I have learned a lot over the years from my studies and experiments in practice management. But I am a professional lawyer, not a professional manager, as are nearly all lawyers in law firm management. In the course of doing all of this I have held leadership positions in my firm, on nonprofit boards, and in local, state and national Bar associations.
This blog is my attempt to help others who are also interested in this topic by reviewing, posting and organizing things that I think are useful to emerging leaders. It is also for women with many years' experience who are driven to lead, and who strive daily for better and newer and more effective ideas and approaches. So feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, interesting links, and ideas.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Coming Next: Top Ten List for Business Development