Women Changing Law Office Scene

The makeup of the law office is in a state of change as the number of women entering the legal profession increases.
But that change from a male dominated profession presents both obstacles and opportunities for women, according to Dr. Ellen Ostrow, a LawyersLife Coach.
Ostrow, who spoke at the Women in Law Seminar, said that about 40 percent of the students graduating from law schools nationwide are women. Within a few years, that number is expected to increase to 50 percent or higher. Even American Bar Association officials have noted that 2010 will be the ‘‘year of the perfect storm’’ when the change is expected to occur.
Some of that change already is being felt as large companies are being reviewed to ensure they meet gender requirements where women have key roles in law firms, Ostrow continued. That review includes more than token roles assigned to women when representation is required.
But those corporate requirements are just part of the stress placed on law firms, she said. The billable hour system is under close review as clients become increasingly unhappy with rates being charged by some law firms. With some rates at $250 an hour and upwards, clients want their attorneys to be there immediately when they call. That concept is great for the attorney who is constantly on call.
But that concept also is contrary for those wanting to work a flexible schedule, to have time with families and a personal life, Ostrow added. Women working the billable hour schedule don’t bring in the money that others do who are willing to work 3,000 hours a year. Yet, those firms embracing the flex schedule find their income is not dramatically changed and often improves.
That is because personnel are better able to deal with job pressures, make fewer, costly mistakes and there is less burnout.
When an attorney, regardless of gender, starts suffering burnout, there is an increase in absences because of illness, dependence on alcohol and/or drugs, divorce rates increase and in some instances, suicide.
Many lawyers focus on the concept that time is money, so to earn more money and build standing in the firm, they must work harder, Ostrow said. Their success is based on how many hours are billed out. That is why it is so hard for many to ramp down.
There are those who are trying to slow down, but that most often happens toward the end of the career, she said.
Women have a particularly difficult time with this because they realize early on they cannot work continuously, yet have the energy to keep up with children and maintain a home.
Ostrow recalled a lawyer client who decided she wanted to work for a time before starting a family.
For eight years this woman worked, earning glowing reviews from her supervisor, she continued. It was after she had her first baby that she learned how unforgiving her partner really was.
She reminded her partner one day that she had a child to care for in the evening and no longer was available for the long hours.
The consequence was that she received a scathing efficiency report at her next review.
Unequal treatment is a reality in a law firm even when the top management buys into the flexible hours concept, Ostrow said. Some partners and associates maintain their own billable hours schedule and expect close associates to do the same.
Some firms using flex hours are finding that annual incomes are not affected and some even make more money, Ostrow continued. There will be more transitions as women enter the legal field, but that will take time.
The makeup of the law office is in a state of change as the number of women entering the legal profession increases.
But that change from a male dominated profession presents both obstacles and opportunities for women, according to Dr. Ellen Ostrow, a LawyersLife Coach.
Ostrow, who spoke at the Women in Law Seminar, said that about 40 percent of the students graduating from law schools nationwide are women. Within a few years, that number is expected to increase to 50 percent or higher. Even American Bar Association officials have noted that 2010 will be the ‘‘year of the perfect storm’’ when the change is expected to occur.
Some of that change already is being felt as large companies are being reviewed to ensure they meet gender requirements where women have key roles in law firms, Ostrow continued. That review includes more than token roles assigned to women when representation is required.
But those corporate requirements are just part of the stress placed on law firms, she said. The billable hour system is under close review as clients become increasingly unhappy with rates being charged by some law firms. With some rates at $250 an hour and upwards, clients want their attorneys to be there immediately when they call. That concept is great for the attorney who is constantly on call.
But that concept also is contrary for those wanting to work a flexible schedule, to have time with families and a personal life, Ostrow added. Women working the billable hour schedule don’t bring in the money that others do who are willing to work 3,000 hours a year. Yet, those firms embracing the flex schedule find their income is not dramatically changed and often improves.
That is because personnel are better able to deal with job pressures, make fewer, costly mistakes and there is less burnout.
When an attorney, regardless of gender, starts suffering burnout, there is an increase in absences because of illness, dependence on alcohol and/or drugs, divorce rates increase and in some instances, suicide.
Many lawyers focus on the concept that time is money, so to earn more money and build standing in the firm, they must work harder, Ostrow said. Their success is based on how many hours are billed out. That is why it is so hard for many to ramp down.
There are those who are trying to slow down, but that most often happens toward the end of the career, she said.
Women have a particularly difficult time with this because they realize early on they cannot work continuously, yet have the energy to keep up with children and maintain a home.
Ostrow recalled a lawyer client who decided she wanted to work for a time before starting a family.
For eight years this woman worked, earning glowing reviews from her supervisor, she continued. It was after she had her first baby that she learned how unforgiving her partner really was.
She reminded her partner one day that she had a child to care for in the evening and no longer was available for the long hours.
The consequence was that she received a scathing efficiency report at her next review.
Unequal treatment is a reality in a law firm even when the top management buys into the flexible hours concept, Ostrow said. Some partners and associates maintain their own billable hours schedule and expect close associates to do the same.
Some firms using flex hours are finding that annual incomes are not affected and some even make more money, Ostrow continued. There will be more transitions as women enter the legal field, but that will take time.
The makeup of the law office is in a state of change as the number of women entering the legal profession increases.
But that change from a male dominated profession presents both obstacles and opportunities for women, according to Dr. Ellen Ostrow, a LawyersLife Coach.
Ostrow, who spoke at the Women in Law Seminar, said that about 40 percent of the students graduating from law schools nationwide are women. Within a few years, that number is expected to increase to 50 percent or higher. Even American Bar Association officials have noted that 2010 will be the ‘‘year of the perfect storm’’ when the change is expected to occur.
Some of that change already is being felt as large companies are being reviewed to ensure they meet gender requirements where women have key roles in law firms, Ostrow continued. That review includes more than token roles assigned to women when representation is required.
But those corporate requirements are just part of the stress placed on law firms, she said. The billable hour system is under close review as clients become increasingly unhappy with rates being charged by some law firms. With some rates at $250 an hour and upwards, clients want their attorneys to be there immediately when they call. That concept is great for the attorney who is constantly on call.
But that concept also is contrary for those wanting to work a flexible schedule, to have time with families and a personal life, Ostrow added. Women working the billable hour schedule don’t bring in the money that others do who are willing to work 3,000 hours a year. Yet, those firms embracing the flex schedule find their income is not dramatically changed and often improves.
That is because personnel are better able to deal with job pressures, make fewer, costly mistakes and there is less burnout.
When an attorney, regardless of gender, starts suffering burnout, there is an increase in absences because of illness, dependence on alcohol and/or drugs, divorce rates increase and in some instances, suicide.
Many lawyers focus on the concept that time is money, so to earn more money and build standing in the firm, they must work harder, Ostrow said. Their success is based on how many hours are billed out. That is why it is so hard for many to ramp down.
There are those who are trying to slow down, but that most often happens toward the end of the career, she said.
Women have a particularly difficult time with this because they realize early on they cannot work continuously, yet have the energy to keep up with children and maintain a home.
Ostrow recalled a lawyer client who decided she wanted to work for a time before starting a family.
For eight years this woman worked, earning glowing reviews from her supervisor, she continued. It was after she had her first baby that she learned how unforgiving her partner really was.
She reminded her partner one day that she had a child to care for in the evening and no longer was available for the long hours.
The consequence was that she received a scathing efficiency report at her next review.
Unequal treatment is a reality in a law firm even when the top management buys into the flexible hours concept, Ostrow said. Some partners and associates maintain their own billable hours schedule and expect close associates to do the same.
Some firms using flex hours are finding that annual incomes are not affected and some even make more money, Ostrow continued. There will be more transitions as women enter the legal field, but that will take time.



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