James Meadows in Law360: Mentorship Is Key To Fixing Drop-Off Of Women In Law

 

Law360 recently published an article authored by Culhane Meadows’ co-founder James Meadows, in which he discusses how mentorship can build a better future for women in law.

Here’s a short synopsis of the article:

Mentorship is what distinguishes the practice of law from the performance of a job. Yes, mentorship takes place within the business world at large — and certainly all forms of occupation would benefit from a mentorship model — but mentorship has always been at the foundation of the legal profession.

Law schools teach students about the law, and how to find and present it, but law firms and more senior, often male, attorneys have traditionally undertaken the responsibility of integrating newer lawyers into both the practice of law and the business of law.

Now it’s up to those same men to recognize the crisis that female attorneys are facing as the pandemic amplifies an already unequal system and to offer their knowledge, experience and counsel to build a better future for women in the law.

It is not too difficult to realize that experienced women leaving the legal profession means both a financial and intellectual drain to the law firm and to the profession, or that the gender imbalance at most firms limits the problem-solving abilities that they can offer their clients.

For example, through my mentorship of women, I, and the firms of which I have been a part, have had the opportunity to observe gender-communication disparities, which have allowed me to encounter new ideas and perspectives that I would not necessarily have received from white male counterparts.

It also enabled me to manage group dynamics based on a better understanding of the individuals involved, whether the group exists within the law firm, or includes vendors or clients. Female and male styles of conversation are equally valid, so it only makes sense that an understanding of both perspectives will benefit all of us. So the preference for equality is a shrewd business move that also has a social benefit.

Change needs to happen at both the institutional and individual levels. At the law-firm level, and this point goes beyond the scope of this article, origination credit is at the center of much that is wrong with law firm culture, up to and including the loss of the spirit of true partnership. Successful male mentors are often reluctant to mentor women who they fear will steal their clients — in particular those expressing a preference for diversity — or receive credit within the firm that reduces the credit enjoyed by the potential mentor.

Since origination credit is unlikely to go away, law firm accounting systems need to be adjusted to inject more variables into the origination number, not necessarily who landed the client years in the past — which disproportionately advantages men. And it needs to be called origination, not some lesser concept of file-management credit or some other title that everyone knows does not equal origination.

I have found that the best systems track origination credit at both the client level and the matter level, and allow for a split among two or more attorneys at both levels. In an objective compensation system, such a split goes right to the attorney’s bottom line, and rewards the female attorney for her efforts in transitioning up the ladder into the business of law. Even in a more subjective system, having the origination reports in hand will ensure that the right answer is reached and that more female attorneys get the benefit of their labor — financially and in terms of advancement opportunities.

At the individual level, attorneys need to be comfortable giving origination credit to their mentees as they prove themselves ready to assume the attendant responsibilities. It is not a gift; rather, it is a savvy business decision.

Read the entire article HERE.


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