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A continuing conundrum

The Winter 2015 issue of “Litigation,” published by the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation, uses “regrets” as its theme—particularly the regrets, or lack of them, by women in BigLaw.  Successful women partners expressed their continuing zest to practice law, for the intellectual energy, learning from their colleagues and their clients, the combination of process and surprise that litigation often involves, and working a job where you can keep your hands clean and also be well paid.

A less happy theme concerned the cocoon that envelops women who stay in big firms: peers who are mostly male, the falling away of long-time friends because partners just don’t have the time for friendship, lack of time for any activity outside the firm, an “all of nothing” approach to work—you either stay in the game full time or fall off along the way, never to return.

I get that there are many successful women in BigLaw, and I have happily been one of them.  But I also get that even today, to succeed in large private practices, women lawyers must contort their lives to the inordinate demands of their firms. Why has it been so hard for big firms to accommodate the many talented lawyers who are unwilling or unable to endure the intense 24/7 lifestyle required of a career in BigLaw—is BigLaw’s main focus simply to increase leverage and compensation for senior rainmakers?

I doubt those are the goals that clients want to pay for, especially when those goals are at the expense of diverse points of view among their outside litigation counsel.  As Christine Lagarde has said, “If Lehman Brothers had been ‘Lehman Sisters,’ today’s economic crisis clearly would look quite different. . . . When women are called to action in times of turbulence, it is often on account of their composure, sense of responsibility and great pragmatism in delicate situations.”

For some ways out of the conundrum, check out this ABA publication