Can you handle the truth? Can your law firm handle the truth? Or will you just keep on ignoring the truth and hope it goes away?
Edwin Reeser, former Los Angeles managing partner of Sonnenschein (now SNR Denton), sent me the link to the following story today, “We’d Rather Not Change,” by Vivia Chen @lawcareerist about a certain Wall Street firm that doesn’t want to do anything with the findings on their “woman problem.”
Let’s pretend you head a firm that has a woman problem—like trouble retaining female lawyers, poor record elevating them to partners, etc. And you hire a consultant to look into the problem, who, after an exhaustive study, tells you that your firm’s evaluation process is riddled with gender bias. If you’re in charge, what would you do?
M.J. Tocci was the actual consultant in that situation. Tocci, along with Monica Biernat and Joan Williams, authored a study (which I wrote about just a few days ago) on how male and female associates were reviewed differently at this anonymous Wall Street firm. In a nutshell: Male lawyers at the firm got higher numerical scores (which counted more for partnership) though women got raves in the narrative portion of the reviews.
So what did the firm do with these startling findings?
Here’s the kicker: Nothing. (emphasis added)
And is anyone really shocked by that? The doing nothing part.
To me, doing “nothing” is the sad (and telling) part of this story, and says so much about these law firms.
So many firms out there are 100% driven by the annual payout for the equity partners, that rocking the boat, shaking things up, is seen as too expensive, unachievable, and really not that valuable in comparison to the PPEP.
Ed has a very strong take on this:
As long as they believe they have an unlimited supply stream of people willing to work like mules and be abused, without negative consequences for doing so, they will continue doing what they do. The abject failure of leadership in the subject firm, and the profession as reflected in the larger law firms, is pronounced. But this approach to managing people extends far beyond the scope of bias in the profession. It is applied with comparable diregard to pro bono,community service, and all initiatives both external and internal. “We will do it as long as it does not cost us money” is the underlying theme.
And that then means it extends, as we have all seen, to the staff, associates, contract partners, and equity partners within the firms and the manner in which they are treated/mistreated.
We have a system that is akin to a tea kettle, leaking from many seams with dismay and discontent. It is negatively affecting the quality and value of the work to the clients, the reputation of the profession, and delivering a life that is not worth living or being a part of for those who work within the firms.
The good news is that not every firm is like this. There are incredible law firms all over this country, which may or may not be listed in the AmLaw 100 or NLJ 250, but where people show up to work every day, are valued, treated well, do good work, and have lives.
If we, as the employees, do not value ourselves well enough that we take abuse in exchange for a paycheck, then we are just as dysfunctional as our firms.
I feel very lucky to have fallen into one of those great firms I mention.
We might not be on the AmLaw 100, but, then again, we’re not striving to be there.
Our firm’s leadership has a vested interest in the employees within our firm, from the associates down to the folks in office services, because they know who each and every person is.
I’ve worked for firms described above, and worse, and I’ve learned one thing: You can’t hide from the truth.
If your firm’s leadership recognizes a problem, yet is unwilling to change, well, that’s your answer.