Is The Law At Odds With Women In The Workplace? How Women Can Become Better Bosses

Some days it’s hard to be a woman and appreciate the law.

Let’s take a recent incident in Iowa, for example.

For an entire decade a man enjoyed the hard work of his female subordinate. Ten years the two worked side-by-side in a dental office without incident. But, following a midlife crisis, failure in his own marriage, or some other unprovoked change of heart, the boss suddenly finds his assistant too attractive to be around. He promptly fires her.

“Dr. Knight said I couldn’t work in the office, because he was becoming attracted to me, and not able to focus on his family, and his family life… I instantly broke down in tears. All I remember is just sitting there, and not able to get up, telling him that I love my job,” explains Melissa Nelson in an interview with “20/20” correspondent Paula Faris, reports ABC News.

A lawsuit was filed on the grounds of wrongful termination due to gender.

Dr. James Knight, the dentist in question, doesn’t agree with Nelson’s claims. Although he doesn’t deny the sexual advances through text message or other incidents, his attorney told ABC News: “… she was not terminated because of her gender, but to preserve the best interest of his marriage.”

Sadly, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Knight. The most sympathy they could utter was that Nelson’s one month’s severance pay was “ungenerous” but his actions, legal.

This outcome is less surprising when we consider the justices, David, Daryl, Brent, Bruce, Edward, Thomas, and Chief Justice Mark. More than their verdict, there’s another commonality among these lawmakers—they’re all men.

See, it’s hard to keep track of the whims of men these days.

For every dollar men earn, women still earn just 77 cents. Nonetheless, the majority of Congress is unconcerned.

The Senate was six votes shy of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act this year. Why? Republicans argued that discrimination based on gender is already illegal, and feel their hands are tied to do anything more. If those laws worked for women like Nelson, then that would be true.

What’s sad is that these unjust cases of discrimination or sexual harassment are not new.

Bloomberg Businessweek admitted that an unpaid intern that is not legally considered an employee, and thus cannot sue for sexual harassment in the workplace:

“This discrepancy’s not new: Unpaid interns aren’t covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and while local laws can protect them, New York’s state and city laws do not.” In many states, it seems the law does not favor female subordinate employees. But, life’s even harder on female bosses.

Only 4.6 percent of public companies have female CEOs.

“The United States, once a world leader in gender equality, now lags behind other similarly wealthy nations in women’s economic participation. In the two decades from 1990 to 2010, our country fell from having the sixth-highest rate of female labor-force participation among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, countries to 17th on the list,” writes Michelle Patterson, Founder and President of The California Women’s Conference and President and CEO of Women Network.

An astounding 46 percent of Russia’s leadership roles are held by women, 24 percent in Europe, and 31 percent in Turkey. These numbers are significantly higher than North America’s mere 18 percent, according to Career Bright’s article on the marginalization of professional women.

On a list of 200 companies with a workforce of over 1,000 employees, a survey by Glassdoor found only 2 companies with female bosses ranked high on employee approval of CEOs. Forbes, who reported on the survey, asks pertinently: “Do We Hate Female Bosses?

Well, do we?

Some blame confidence. Men are just more confident in leadership roles.

If that’s true, it’s not at all surprising why—given all the legal cards stacked against a women: Don’t look too attractive, don’t look too ugly, don’t be “bossy” or “bitchy” yet still command your subordinates with authority…

How could any woman balance such a heavy double standard?

If there’s one thing a woman in the workplace can do to be taken seriously, it’s speak up—more often and more assertively. Like this blog post. Like today at work.

Are you too nice, too modest or way too quiet when it comes to saying and getting what you want in the workplace? Do you assume the blame when things go wrong? And what about when things go right? Do you credit other people, good luck or circumstances for your success?

You’re not alone. In fact, a recent survey found that half of women managers admitted to feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31 percent of men reported the same.

Condescending colleagues, gender bias, and stereotypes can make it hard for women to take credit when it’s due, or steer the company ship with confidence. But a woman’s actions, assertiveness and communication skills—or lack thereof—could also be sabotaging her career.

So, take The Center For Competitive Management’s audio course Friday, July 11, 2014 from 11AM to 12:15pm EST: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Confident, Assertive Leadership.

While it will likely take more time to convince lawmakers that effort and work ethic, not the sexual desires and whims of men, should take priority in the workplace, it doesn’t take much for a woman to ask for promotions, initiate salary negotiations, speak up at meetings, manage subordinates productively and successful manager, and master guiltless self-promotion with gusto.

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Twitter To Add “Buy Now” Button? How Your Firm Can Profit From Social Media

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 11.57.53 AMTwitter may well become the Internet’s next online shopping platform.

For the first time, a “Buy now” button appeared on multiple tweets this month, all of which included products that link back to a shopping site called Fancy, reports Mashable.

The button only appears on Twitter’s mobile site, not its web version, and the company itself has yet to comment. But, allowing this sort of third-party link to shopping services isn’t at all that surprising.

“A law firm could develop landing pages for ‘simple legal services’ at flat fees and run ‘Buy Now’ ads on Twitter. The Twitter ad schema would enable ultra focused ads to reach locales and various demographic groups,” writes Kevin O’Keefe on a Real Lawyers Have Blogs post.

Sound farfetched? Not really. It’s already happening.

“I would never have dreamed lawyers would buy pre-written blog posts, sell a half hour of their time for $50 per hour on an a legal matching site, sell services via Groupon, or pay $90 per click through on Google Adwords,” admits O’Keefe.

But law firms do, and have.

Even if Twitter doesn’t rollout this new service, there are plenty of other reasons law firms should use social media.

Law firms, LexisNexis, and client management solution providers are just a few of the many legal services groups taking advantage of Twitter. LexisNexis does a great job at using Twitter to build relationships and enhance their visibility and reputation among customers.

LexisNexis has over 26 thousand followers on Twitter. And there’s no wonder why. Its posts are readable, interesting, and we’re all vying to be their next re-tweet.

Taking notes by hand (w/ pen & paper): A must for lawyers ‪http://bit.ly/1mWSKRY via ‪@lawyerist ‪@samglover

Blogger Kevin O’Keefe talks about the many positive takeaways from being re-tweeted by some of these bigger names in legal services:

  1. “I feel an enhanced relationship with the companies and their executives.
  2. I am more apt to speak positively about the companies and their work—when deserved.
  3. I begin to tweet things they blog or share on Twitter. I am more apt to reach out to the companies on ideas.
  4. I view these companies as more innovative and social. While most of the people in the legal profession, including law firms and companies serving the legal profession are slow to adapt to a real social presence, these companies are proving they understand the future of social.”

The last reason being no small thing.

Read more about how to use Twitter effectively as a law firm or legal services entity on O’Keefe’s Real Lawyers Have Blogs.

Twitter is just one social media tool of many. And even if you would never do the same, if you consider it nearly unbelievable, as many as 56 percent of consumers and 72 percent of minorities who searched for an attorney in the past year reported doing so via social media, according to a study conducted by The Research Intelligence Group.

In fact, over one-fifth of survey participants went so far as to consult the social media pages of the specific lawyers or firms that they were considering during this search for legal representation.

So whether or not shoppable tweets are on their way, there’s already more than one reason for law firms to use Twitter.

How can you maximize the potential of social media while ensuring the appropriate use of intellectual property and customer information? What can counsel do to proactively protect brands from infringement by social networking website users?

Listen to C4CM’s audio conference “Copyright and Trademark Enforcement in Social Media: Policing and Protecting Against Brand Infringement” and learn about the potential trademark, copyright, and privacy issues presented by the use of Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and best practices for the protection of intellectual property and privacy on social media sites, including:

  • Copyright and Trademark Enforcement in Social Media
  • Social Media and Defamation, Patent, Copyright, Trademark and Trade Secret
  • Social Media and IP Policies You Need Today
  • Trademark Infringement Threats on Twitter, Facebook and Other Social Networking Websites
  • New Challenges Posed Both to Brand Owners and Users

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Should Law Firms Deliver Clients Good News Or Bad News First? Well, It Depends…

How do you tell a client that he’s lost his case, but there’s hope, at least, in appeal? How do you tell an employee you value their service, but the firm is downsizing?

The legal services business is rife with the good news/bad news scenario. So which do you present to people first?

Let’s start with the bad news. At least, that’s what most people would say.

In a paper published March 2014 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, authors Angela Legg and Kate Sweeny studied whether or not participants would rather hear good news or bad news first. An overwhelming number of people (78%) preferred to receive negative feedback first, followed by positive feedback.

According to the study, participants believed that hearing good news last would help them end on a high note.

This is not entirely surprising as we’ve all been in the same position—wanting to jerk the Band-Aid off bad news quickly before reaching the healing, positive portion of the getting-news phase.

However, a second study, according to Psychology Today, turned around and asked the same participants to deliver good and bad news. It asked which order participants preferred to present it in, and the results are not what you might think.

Participants were split. Half wanted to deliver bad news first, assuming that’s what others wanted to hear, and half wanted to deliver good news first, believing it would be—selfishly—easier for them.

As a law firm manager, which matters most? Do you want to make bad news easier to hear or easier to deliver?

Well, it turns out, this all depends on what outcome you desire.

Let’s say you’re delivering a performance review to an associate. It may be that you want him or her to work on honing a specific skill or improving a certain behavior. In this case, it might be better to deliver bad news last.

Studies show that when negative feedback about a person’s personality is delivered last, people are more interested in changing their mood and behavior than if the same feedback is delivered first. Apparently once negative feedback is heard and followed by positive feedback, participants are less worried and committed to changing negative aspects of their personality.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re a law firm delivering good and bad news to a client. You likely want to retain their business, so leading with the bad news and ending your meeting with the good news might be the best way to go. Once clients hear the positive aspects of your firm’s performance and their legal prospects, they will have a heightened mood and perception of the situation.

Giving bad news last may sour a client’s opinion of your firm and leave them lingering on a low note.

In the end, it’s probably not a good idea to give people a choice: do you want to hear the bad news or good news first? Instead, decide what follow-up behavior you’re hoping to spur and decide on a sequence of news accordingly.

A law firm manager or partner’s position as the bearer of bad news is certainly not an envied one. But, with the proper ordering of feedback to clients and employees, perhaps society can learn to stop shooting the messenger.

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Why Your Maternity & Paternity Leave Policies Are A Hit & A Miss: Mets Fans Teach Law Firms About Priorities

This April, many Mets baseball fans were more up in arms about paternity leave than the opening day game. It turns out time off for fathers is as much as a hotbed issue for Americans as batting average and runs scored—which is saying a lot for the country’s number one patriotic sport.

In case you were watching the Mets get slaughtered by the Nationals that day, here’s what happened: Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy decided he would take his contractually guaranteed three days of paternity leave to spend time with his wife, Victoria, and newborn baby, born from cesarean section. This meant Murphy missed the season opener and one other game, spurring insensitive comments from two sports radio hosts, Mike Francesa and Boomer Esiason.

Among the worst offenders, Esiason said (via Slate), “Quite frankly, I would’ve said, ‘C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day.”

Esiason would go on to apologize to the many listeners appalled at his lack of taste or common sense (a healthy baby trumps a coach’s first-choice lineup). But, it reminded Americans of the sad fact that dads, by law, are just not prioritized in parenthood.

Outside Father’s Day and the FMLA, dads just can’t catch a break.

This week, Obama spoke out in favor of paid leave for parents. He cited the fact that the United States is the only nation in the industrialized world without paid maternity leave—something Obama is eager to change.

On Monday, at the White House Summit on Working Families, Obama said, “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us.”

“And that is not the list you want to be on, on your lonesome.”

Neither is the list for professional sports stars taking advantage of time off. Whereas the Mets’ Murphy was allowed through the Major League Baseball (MLB)’s collective bargaining agreement in 2011 to take up to three days of paternity league, no other professional sports organization allows the same privilege.

The NBA and the NFL have no such agreement, and players who deign to spend time with newborn sons and daughters are often chastised by fans and authorities (Former NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo implied recently that he believes he was traded for taking 36 hours of paternity leave, reports Slate).

Nevertheless, although businesses may loathe paid leave, Americans as a unified culture and a workforce do not. And they seem willing to speak out against companies with bad policies. A backlash that forces men like Esiason, radio host, to formally apologize.

Even in the U.S., which rewards the super-macho all-American man, people prefer the stable atomic family to wealth or recreation. Forbes staff admit that alternative work schedules are a must for entrepreneurs and today’s businesses.

“Telecommuting is not the future, it is now,” writes Karsten Strauss for Forbes.

“Across the board, telecommuting increased over 80% since 2005. Over 3.3 million people in the U.S. do it (and that’s not including the self-employed).”

So how can your firm handle changes better than the MLB?

Well, according to SHRM’s FMLA survey, tracking and administering intermittent FMLA leave was identified as the most difficult activity by 80 percent of responding organizations. In fact, some of the most frequently voiced issues were about the administration and abuse of the FMLA, particularly with respect to intermittent leave.

FMLA itself is confusing and difficult to interpret, especially following the recent sweeping changes to the law. Even seasoned HR professionals have difficulty figuring out how to calculate intermittent leaves, how to decide when the 12-month calendar begins, and how to determine if the leave request is actually legitimate.

So, start by reading The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s guide, Managing Intermittent FMLA Leave, a no-fluff, plain-English report that will guide you through this intricate law. Jammed packed with compliance guidelines, this comprehensive, 101 page guide provides easy-to-understand FMLA guidance. Available here.

Next, create a flexible workplace for your law firm professionals valuing (and needing) time with their families.

Learn about the myriad benefits for the employee and employer, as well as strategies for implementation in C4CM’s training guide, Creating the Flexible Workplace. Available here.

Creating a flexible workplace that’s accommodating for moms and dads will lower costs associated with employee absenteeism and improve staff retention. It will decrease healthcare utilization costs and enhance your firm’s reputation as an employer of choice.

Don’t think twice, swing. It’s a homerun.

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Job References: Facts, Fiction & Fair Legal Practices

Why should employers do background checks? Should you outsource them or conduct them in-house? How far in a candidate’s past should you check? What’s legal, what’s not?

These are just some of many important questions law firm managers should ask before hiring new associates or employees. When you dig for dirt, it’s not just the EEOC you have to worry about. In fact, it’s essential that you also follow the rules put forth by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Title VII, the ADA, and federal and state privacy laws.

And it’s not just employers that make mistakes. Employees should be weary of what references they list, as well.

It’s not your typical myth-busting episode, but background check experts Allison & Taylor Inc. talk about the seven deadly myths of job references in a recent article. Both employees and employers should be weary of confusing the following fiction with fact:

Myth No. 1: Companies are not allowed to say anything negative about a former employee.

According to Allison & Taylor Inc., approximately half of their clients receive a bad reference, despite strict policies in place.

For job candidates, it is important to realize that your chances can be seriously harmed by even one out of three of your references sabotaging your chances. Seriously consider your reference choices.

For employers, you have to take references with a grain of salt. What was this candidate’s previous position compared to the one being offered? How might the personality of this old manager influence his or her opinion about the candidate? Sometimes previous employers are simply bitter about losing a qualified employee—or one they spent time and money to train.

Make sure a bad reference really merits the maligning.

Myth No. 2: If I had any issues with my former boss, I can simply leave him or her off my reference list and nobody will ever know.

The reality is that background checks are incredibly thorough. A “social security check” will determine where a person has worked in the past, and include a number for the human resources department. You cannot be sure HR will omit the names of previous bosses.

Law firm managers should ask a candidate for reasons why they may have left off a place of employment. Not all omissions were made with malicious intent.

Myth No. 3: I sued my former company and they are now not allowed to say anything.

A law firm hiring an litigious employee? Now you’re treading on dangerous ground. Is it proof of an associate’s prowess and passion for legal practices or a liability? That’s for your firm to decide.

For the complete list of myths, click here.

In today’s world, where legal services demand is on the decline, law school graduates are likely to have non-traditional backgrounds. It’s for this reason that law firms may start to see non-standard backgrounds for associates during their reference checks.

Because of reduced on-campus recruitment, candidates may experience higher numbers of videoconference interviews and stronger importance placed on resumes and background checks.

Law firm managers should be sure they understand the most efficient way to cover their bases from afar, without risking compliance issues at home.

To learn more, take The Center For Competitive Management’s course, Background Checks: What’s Legal, What’s Not—a powerful resource you can use to ensure you hire the best candidate for the job and safeguard your organization against negligent hiring claims.

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Supreme Court Rules Against Patent Trolls (Again): What Does This Mean For Your Firm or Clients?

Patent Trolls beware. There’s a Supreme Court-backed knight crossing your bridge, wielding a powerful verdict.

On Thursday, in a unanimous decision in Alice Corp. vs. CLS Bank International, the Supreme Court ruled that ideas are not patentable just because they are performed on a computer. Although the ruling still leaves plenty of ambiguity in the patentability of software, it is one step closer in the recent anti-NPE movement.

Non-practicing entities, or NPEs, have been on the minds of high-tech business owners and the lawyers representing them for decades.

Today, however, the trial court invalidated Alice’s patents, stating they were just concepts, not patentable ideas.

“Viewed as a whole,” wrote Justice Thomas wrote (via New York Times), “petitioner’s method claims simply recite the concept of intermediated settlement as performed by a generic computer.”

“[The methods neither] improve the functioning of the computer [nor] effect an improvement in any other technology or technical field.”

In the recent past, the court was weary of hampering innovation by restricting patenting requirements. Long advocates for protecting intellectual property of both the individual and businesses, courts worry that reigning in patent trolls means restraining creativity and invention.

What do intellectual property experts think?

Dana Rao, Vice President, Intellectual Property and Litigation, Adobe, wrote to Forbes:

“The Supreme Court added another nail in the coffin of patent trolls with a decision that reinforces the common-sense belief that patents can’t be granted for abstract ideas that have been around forever. Importantly, they made a critical distinction between those abstract patents and valid software patents that improve a technological process,” said Rao.

“This ruling supports true innovators while helping rein in the abuse of the system by the patent trolls. We’re pleased to see the judiciary acting where Congress would not. But we still need Congress to act, as only they can meaningfully change the economic incentives that are driving the abuse of the patent litigation system.”

If that happens, patent litigators—like patent trolls—might also find themselves without a job.

According to Bruce Wexler, partner at Paul Hastings, who wrote to Daniel Fisher at Forbes, patent lawyers shouldn’t fret quite yet. In fact, maybe the Supreme Court’s ruling just made their job easier.

“Chief Judge Archer’s dissent in In re Alappat some 20 years ago is now the majority rule,” writes Wexler.

“The mere recitation of some structure ‎in a patent claim is not the dispositive test for patent eligibility. Patent law demands more. The invention must reside in the application of an idea. While this can raise grey areas, the argument cannot simply be about whether or not structure appears in a patent claim.”

If anything, the Supreme Court ruling is one more reason innovators should contact patent experts about what is, and is not, patentable. Law firm managers should keep their clients apprised of changes in patent law. Between the America Invents Act and recent rulings against NPEs, intellectual property practice areas will have their hands full.

If you haven’t done it already, consider alerting implicated clients of recent court decisions affecting their operations. A monthly newsletter to clients helps assure them you’re there and cross-sell your services.

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The 2015 Vault Law Firm 100 Ranking & What It Takes To Get To The Top

The 2015 Vault Law Firm 100 rankings are in. Considering this economy, it’s not surprising that litigation powerhouses are taking the lead.

Still fighting for the No. 1 and No. 2 spot, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz takes the lead with Cravath, Swaine & Moore following suit. Although both firms excel at far more practice areas than litigation—including corporate, tax, and trusts and estates—lawsuits seem to be driving America or, at the very least, this list of top ranking firms.

Take, for example, Quinn Emanuel and Boies Schiller, who continued to ascend in the Vault Law 100 this year.

Quinn Emanuel first reached the Top 40 ranks in 2009, Top 25 in 2010. This year it is No. 15 this year. Renowned for its trial skills and ranked No. 1 for General Commercial Litigation in Vault’s 2014 rankings, survey respondents called the firm “innovative,” “intense,” “feared” and the “best litigation firm in the U.S.,” according to Above The Law Blog (ATL).

Quinn Emanuel’s litigation expertise is diverse, taking on all areas of litigation: products liability, appellate litigation, all types of class actions, clients can take their pick.

And, with lawsuits on the rise—patents, securities, employees, class action suits—there’s no wonder litigation firms are leaders of the pack.

All this just to say that even one-trick ponies aren’t just one-trick ponies; they have two, three, four practice areas up their sleeve.

And while the major New York-based firms continue to dominate, smaller firms can still make a name for themselves via innovation.

According to the Vault (and ATL), here are the Top 15 firms for 2015:

  1. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  2. Cravath, Swaine & Moore
  3. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
  4. Sullivan & Cromwell
  5. Davis Polk & Wardwell
  6. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
  7. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
  8. Weil, Gotshal & Manges
  9. Kirkland & Ellis
  10. Latham & Watkins
  11. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher
  12. Covington & Burling
  13. Boies, Schiller & Flexner
  14. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
  15. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

The full list is available here.

As litigants are increasingly in demand, it is no surprise that litigation support is increasingly desirable, as well.

A recent survey by ALM Legal Intelligence reveals that the hourly base pay for paralegals continues to rise. Salaries for paralegals, litigation support and docketing workers at both law firms and law departments, according to the ALM/IPMA Annual Compensation Survey for Paralegals and Managers, 2014 Edition, released yesterday, are all implicated.

Conducted annually since 2002, the 2014 survey included 298 law firms and law departments reporting on over 9,500 paralegal, litigation support, and docketing positions.

According to their findings, at law firms, the highest hourly-pay positions are Litigation Support/Technology/eDiscovery Manager at $79.66 and Paralegal Director at $76.42. Among law departments, Paralegal Supervisor was the highest paid position at $70.32, followed by Litigation Support/Technology/eDiscovery Director/ Manager at $65.35, reports the ALM.

Law firm paralegals, the largest group reported, increased average hourly base pay to $36.57 from $35.98 in 2013, while law department paralegal pay jumped to $34.30 from $31.46.

Law firm bonuses on average increased most noticeably for Paralegal Directors at $18,421, compared to $16,149 the prior year.

Specialists/Industry Analysts bonuses rose to $6,939 from $5,749. Law firm billing rates for paralegal positions increased an average of 4 percent.

If you’re a law firm manager, should you care?

Well, it may be that the salaries of your first-year associates look a lot more attractive as litigation support than ever before. And, your first “innovative” act as a climbing-the-ranks firm might be reevaluating traditional legal positions and finding alternative arrangements, instead.

Competition to the top has never been fiercer. Pony up!

Are all your employees accurately classified as exempt or non-exempt? How can you be sure?

Businesses of all shapes and sizes are being forced to pay out big bucks for misclassifying employees and failing to pay proper overtime. In fact, the number of FLSA-related lawsuits in federal courts has spiked by 250% in the past decade.

Is your company at risk? The DOL estimates that nearly 70 percent of employers are not in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)!

Introducing FLSA Compliance: Your Practical Guide to Overtime Exemptions and Wage and Hour Law – a no-fluff, plain-English report you can to master the ins and outs of this complex law.

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