challenges for women lawyers are integrally related to,
and symptomatic of, the greater concern about how we
approach the business of law in America.
The challenge before us has less to do with gender than
with culture and what has become a workaholic profession within a workaholic America. To the degree that the
challenge is gender-related, efforts toward real progress
in turning the law profession into something more work-life balanced, reasonable and satisfying for today’s lawyers and those of the future will depend on the presence
of male lawyers in the conversation. The law firm culture
all started with them, and it will have to change with their
efforts as well.
I have listened for years to women lawyers and spokeswomen for women’s law organizations refuse to invite men
into the conversations about the challenges for women lawyers. Those women have postured stridently and repeatedly that women lawyers will overcome these challenges
on their own, and that they do not need the help of men. I
do not believe this.
It is the male lawyers whose work-driven lifestyles have
become the templates for the stereotypes that define suc-
cess in our profession, and set the standards for women to
achieve success, particularly in law firms. Those same men
continue to control the law firms. The reality of this situa-
tion seems simple to me. You cannot speak truth to power
without having power in the room.
And it’s not enough to just have them in the room. We
have to get them to listen as well. That is the subject of my
new book, “Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership
for Women Lawyers” (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business/
Aspen Publishers 2015). In that book, I take a deep dive
into the roles of male lawyers as leaders of women lawyers,
and the kinds of effective leadership it will take to appropriately respond to the work-life and gender challenges for
the benefit of the women lawyers, the benefit of the law
firms and the benefit of the law profession. It is a candid
and sometimes painful exploration, albeit a necessary one.
The motivation for law firm leadership (read that as
“male lawyers”) to listen and take the issues seriously will
not derive from the good and equitable thing to do. Not at
all. It will be based on good business practices—because
law firms are, first and foremost, businesses. The compelling arguments for law firm leadership to become part of
ILLUSTRATION BY ALISON SEIFFER