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Where the Buck Stopped: Comments on a Unique Triumph

Posted in Law firm practices

“Stucco!”

When I was a kid, that’s what the surprise victor would yell when the worm turned and the underdog triumphed over long odds and greater forces. It was a corruption of “stuck it to you!” or perhaps of some other sexual suggestion Anthony Scaramucci would no doubt recognize.

And so to female senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins (and also, for the purposes of this post, to Honorary Female John McCain), we shout out a hearty “Stucco, Ladies, Stucco!”

Regardless of one’s particular political leanings, and we suppose our own have been pretty clear over the years, the steadfast refusal of these senators to buckle under to unrelenting pressure and belligerent bullying has resulted in one of the most striking political upsets of our time (and a lot of overconfident pols are indeed pretty upset), one that subordinated political expediency and preserved the healthcare coverage of millions and millions of Americans.  In our view, here was a triumph of courage, integrity, common sense – and perhaps most importantly, compassion.

Is it a coincidence that the successful resisters were female?  We don’t think so, and we also think there is a lesson here for female lawyers, who have long known that they have to work twice as hard to get half as far, who daily still have to scrabble at the edges of The Men’s Club, who are marginalized at every turn.

The Shaft

Only this week, a new article came out with old news: women are getting screwed, figuratively speaking, by the legal profession. Although over 50% of current law school graduates are women, females make up under 35% of lawyers in law firms and about 20% of equity partners.

As Elizabeth Olson wrote in The New York Times, “even as more women add a law degree to their resumes, carving out a successful career at a law firm remains an uphill endeavor.”  As the 2017 Law 360 Glass Ceiling Report documents that in the legal profession, “progress by women is, at best, static.”  As Ann Urda, the Law360 Editor in Chief put it, “it’s a bleak picture, with a few bright spots.”

Despite numerous women lawyers initiatives, programs and conferences, female lawyers remain boxed in lower-ranking and lesser paying jobs, which, by the way, has triggered a rise in gender bias law suits against law firms (most recently against Chadbourne & Park, Proskauer Rose, LeClair Ryan and Sedgwick).

What’s the Point?

As we contemplate redress for this shameful and economically indefensible state of affairs, we must ask, “so what’s so special about female lawyers that their plight should be acknowledged and made the focus of a crusade for parity?” Is giving women lawyers a better break simply a matter of charity or pity?

We certainly think not.  Having worked with thousands of lawyers of various genders (and, not incidentally, gender preferences), we are comfortable making a relevant sweeping generalization: women collaborate better.

In a profession where intense competition (and competitiveness) promotes self-interest, aggression, and various types of covert and overt bullying, women’s tendency toward finding common interests and common ground often leads to better legal outcomes. This is particularly evident in those areas where the role of law and lawyers is in helping to build things, promote contracts and  agreements, and advance some ball or another, rather than parceling out blame for catastrophes that have already occurred.

The Future Tense

It is a most noteworthy trend that a dramatically increasing number of General Counsel are women. And we can report that they are demanding a more collaborative and more efficient approach to legal service delivery.  Is their emergence solely a result of organizational political perseverance or perhaps greater legal technical expertise? Not in our experience: our consulting work with scores of power figures on the client side shows that added leverage and better outcomes come through building bridges rather than fighting wars or indulging in perpetual arm-wrestling.  Moreover, the purchasers of legal services on the client side are imposing a constructive mandate (and often getting intense push-back) on the outside counsel: Work with us, not just for us.

Final Note and Bottom Line

We believe that the health care bill vote represents a triumph of another characteristic, another priority that warrants better expression in the legal profession: compassion.  We are aware that the very word makes a lot of testosterone-driven lawyers retch, but the fact remains that law is supposed to be a human endeavor charged with promoting human values, as well as corporate profitability and law firm profits per partner.  We do not blush when we say that part of lawyers’ responsibilities should be to give a damn about other people, to equalize opportunity, combat tyranny, and resist buckling under to the bullying of the powerful.

And so we say to Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, as well as to John McCain, whose confrontation with mortality seems to have only sharpened his long-recognized integrity, “Stucco!  You have done yourselves proud, you have preserved the integrity of the Senate, and you have created a model for rational, common-sense behavior. Now let’s all work harder to get Alice out of Wonderland.”

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