AHLA's Speaking of Health Law

Women in the Law: Productive Teams in a Time of Disruption

March 03, 2021 AHLA Podcasts
AHLA's Speaking of Health Law
Women in the Law: Productive Teams in a Time of Disruption
Show Notes Transcript

Delphine O’Rourke, Partner, Goodwin Procter LLP, speaks to Roberta Liebenberg, Partner, Fine Kaplan and Black, and Stephanie Scharf, Partner, Scharf Banks Marmor LLC, about the concept of self-care and preventing burnout among teams, in light of the current career stresses accompanying the pandemic. They discuss some of the specific factors involved in stress and burnout among women lawyers and strategies that legal employers can take to promote wellbeing and success among their workforce. From AHLA’s Women’s Leadership Council.

To learn more about AHLA and the educational resources available to the health law community, visit americanhealthlaw.org.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Productive Teams in a time of disruption, burnout , leadership, and engagement. Thank you to the American Health Law Association and to the Women's Leadership Council for hosting this podcast. And thank you to our guests, Bobby Leibenberg and Stephanie Sharp for joining us today and sharing their advice. They're both spot leaders in data-driven strategies to advance women in the legal profession. And welcome to all of our podcast listeners. So we're gonna start out talking about self-care. You know, what is self-care? Uh, there's a perception that self-care is sort of just fluffy, you know , uh, it's good to have some self-care, maybe get your nails done, who knows what that means. Um, but I think what we'd like to do today is really debunk that concept. And, and the purpose is to show that corporations, teams, law firms, really need to focus on self-care, to have thriving employees, thriving partners, thriving associates. Um, the W H O , for example. And this shows the level at which self-care really is a health issue. Define self-care as the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability, with or without the support of a healthcare provider. Even the C D C has a webpage on self-care, and the time of covid and self-care is critically important in times of stress. And the Covid Pandemic has stressed our country. It has stressed our employers, it has stressed our team has stressed us as individuals. So what do we do? What can we do today individually? What can we do as teams to make sure that we're continuing the self-care or even starting it and hoping that we don't get to the point of burnout out ? And if our teams are burned out , how do we bring them back from the brink? Thank you so much. I'm gonna start with Bobby and ask her to introduce herself, and then we'll dive right in.

Speaker 2:

Great. Um, thank you Delphine and thank you a H L A for this podcast and for allowing us to speak about this really important topic that unfortunately I think we're all living through. Uh, I'm a partner in at Fine Kaplan and Black , uh, here in Philadelphia. And I concentrate my practice in complex commercial litigation. Um, I've also been deeply involved in , um, organizations and strategies to help level the playing field for women lawyers so that they can advance and succeed and get paid at a level commensurate with their male colleagues. I twice served as chair of the a b A Commission on women in the profession. I served as chair of the aba , A b a gender Equity task force , which really looked at addressing the longstanding paid disparity between male and female lawyers, which increases with seniority because money, especially in the legal profession , um, constitutes power. And we wanna make sure that women lawyers , um, are compensated fairly and also attain leadership positions with real power. I also , um, was one of the founders and chaired , um, the na , a national organization whose mission is to put women lawyers on the boards of public boards entitled , it's called Direct Women. Stephanie is also on the Board of Direct Women. And , um, we, we want to make sure that , uh, women lawyers , um, who have great skills, critical critical thinking skills and strategic building skills are considered for public board positions. Um, Stephanie and I also co-chair the A b A Presidential initiative, which look at long-term careers for women in the law for experienced women lawyers, those 50 plus. And we are now principals in the Red B group that conducted the first of its kind national survey of the impact of the pandemic on the legal profession. And of course, many of our findings go to the issue of anxiety, stress, and burnout that lawyers, but particularly women lawyers and women lawyers with children and lawyers of color are experiencing.

Speaker 1:

Thank you, Bobby . And that relates to the first podcast that we did in this series where we said, you know, retention and the importance of retaining women , uh, attorneys and attorneys of color and addressing the stress and addressing the self care is also important for those initiatives. Stephanie, I know you and Bobby have worked together for a long time and are both passionate about this area. Um, please share , uh, more of your background , uh, which I know overlaps with Bobby's cuz you've been soldiers in this crusade , uh, so that the audience can learn more about you.

Speaker 3:

Thank you, Delphine, and I'm really delighted to be here. Um, we, Bobby and I do have certain parallelisms and the paths we've taken . Um, I specialize in complex litigation on the founding partner of a women-owned law firm, Sharf Banks Marmor , and I also have been very active in bar organizations for the advancement of women in the law. I'm a former president of the National National Association of Women Lawyers. I founded the Na Annual Survey of Women in Law and oversaw it and conducted it for 10 years. Bobby has also helped in that regard. Um, I've done many other, I've done over a dozen national surveys about women in the law, and most recently , um, with Bobby , we conducted for the American Bar Association, the largest national survey of lawyers that the a b A ever conducted with a strong focus on how lawyers are adapting to covid , what's going to happen when they come out of Covid, and what particularly is the impact of what's happening in the law and what's happening in the legal profession on women and lawyers of color. Um, so that's, we , I really would recommend if people are interested to take a look at the Red B Group website, because we do a lot of work in the area of developing excellent talent for organizations de and i and board effectiveness. And we really believe that data tells a story that's much more persuasive than anecdotes. And that's why so much of the work that Bobby and I have done our database strategies for how to progress.

Speaker 1:

And , and I love that last point because you do hear these anecdotes and, and you know, I've heard, oh, well, women lawyers, you know, can afford childcare. So really they're not gonna leave. Well, you know, childcare isn't necessarily vaccinated, so it's not just a question of money, you know , um, what you do and what Bobby does is you bring those, that data that's, that's frankly undisputable. It's not anecdotal, it's not , um, you know, it doesn't, it hasn't been gleaned with, with an agenda. And I think it's so important when we're having these discussions to look at the data and say, yeah, we do have a burnout problem. We do have a self-care problem. And on top of that, culturally high performing women, I don't wanna say that they're burnt out because, you know , um, self-care is about taking care of yourself for you, but also so that you're in a position to take care of others. So what kind of message does that send to your kids if you're saying, Hey, I'm burnt out and, you know, I I can barely take care of myself. Um, so let's, what can companies do? You know, again, you're, you're in a position where you're advising, I know you do a lot of this work with the red B leaders in a law firm or in a corporation, and they know everybody's saying they're working harder. Um, there's stress both from work and from home. What would you suggest a systemic change?

Speaker 2:

Um, well, I, I, again , um, think you have to go back to the data. So I think , uh, what we found in our practice forward survey is that all lawyers, not just women lawyers, but all lawyers are experiencing anxiety and stress and showing signs of burnout. Um, they reported more feelings than they did a year ago of being missing, seeing people in the office feeling isolated, feeling disengaged, finding it harder to keep work and home life separate. I think, again, especially , um, for working parents , um, the pandemic and remote working has almost really reinforced a 24 7 type of work where you can't really even tell the difference between when your workday ends when the weekend begins. Um, it's just Groundhog Day, day after day after day. And I think we shouldn't under m m under , um, estimate , um, zoom fatigue and how much, while it has brought us together, it also seems that we are in endless zoom meetings that last , um, all day. And so this has exacerbated feelings of stress. Um, in addition, we , um, and, and this of course for women and women with children, when you layer on childcare responsibilities, homeschool responsibilities, elder care responsibilities , um, workloads that have not been , um, have not been diminished , um, the stress is unbelievable. And women, and especially women with children are worried about that They will receive more negative evaluations, that their compensation will be impacted, that they will be overlooked for important assignments, and that they , uh, may as a result , uh, be furloughed or even terminated. And , uh, as we've, we've known it is , uh, and as the McKinsey Leanin , um, survey showed , um, that's why you're seeing , um, more women thinking about either downsizing their career or leaving altogether. Um, the practice survey , um, uh, also looked at how women and lawyers of color were experiencing their , um, their workday as compared to pre pandemic. And I think the results are very interesting because both lawyers of color and women responded that they , uh, were feeling more stress and anxiety because their everyday experiences were different, and that these differences were completely attributable to race, ethnicity, and , um, gender. So 66% of lawyers, of colors, of color reported that they felt stress at work. The mirror image was for women, 67% of women reported that they also felt stress at work. And again, it was re as a result of gender , um, and , uh, race or ethnicity. So again, organizations have to understand , um, what their lawyers are going through, especially , uh, working parents, and especially of course, women with children because we know that they are bearing the disproportionate burden of that, and that , um, that they, they need to be taken that into consideration in terms of billable hour requirements, evaluations and compensation decisions.

Speaker 3:

And , you know, I'd like to add on , oh ,

Speaker 2:

Go ahead, Stephanie, please.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I'd like to add onto that because I think there are a number of themes that are pulling together here. One is, do firms and companies want to take a long-term view of hiring and developing talent? Uh, you know, we, no , we're no longer in a situation. And, and Delphine and Bobby , we've all talked about this before, we're no longer in a situation where the majority of people graduating from law school are white men. We are firmly in a situation which she's going to continue. If you look at the demography where half of the people graduating from law school are women, and a quarter of the people graduating from law school are lawyers of color. When you have a demography like that, if you are a workplace that can't accommodate the needs of people you hire, you are just not gonna keep them. And let me give an example. Um, it's a truism that women lawyers have far more responsibility for childcare than men. It , it's just the way it is . And we're not going to change large social norms overnight. But what firms and corporations can do is tailor policies and practices to accommodate to the talent they say they want to hire and retain. What is an example of that for so many years? Going part-time or going, flextime was a career killer , um, a few years ago. They used to call it the mommy track, and maybe they don't call it that anymore, but functionally it still exists, that if you decide you don't wanna work full-time 24 7, somehow you're off track . There's no reason why you lose your talent or you lose your ability or lose your client relationships just because you decide you do not wanna work full-time for a period of of time. And I feel the same way about if a lawyer needs to take a year or two years off, why when that happens is that lawyer treated somehow as though he or she died and can never come back. There's no rational reason for it. And if you think of it as a business and take the long view, I think that companies and law firms would be very well served to really think hard about how they can keep people who may need the flexibility that in the past a firm could not provide.

Speaker 2:

Stephanie, I think that's such an important point, and I think what we're gonna say is that remote work is here to say, right? It is gonna be in the culture of every organization. Our survey found that lawyers want to have the flexibility to choose when they can come into the office and when they can with at least , uh, a majority of lawyers winning at least one to two days where they can work remotely. And I think you're gonna see, especially in recruitment, and then , um, in terms of lateral moves, lawyers are gonna be looking at organizations that provide them that flexibility. And that may be even more important in terms of what their compensation is going to be. But the organizations that don't allow this type of flexibility, as Stephanie said, again, are gonna be competitively disadvantaged.

Speaker 1:

Stephanie , about the great points and beyond , so we've talked about flex time . We've talked about not making it the, the mommy track or what it was called, you know, the off ramp , which I've never liked. It makes it seem like, you know, we're all on a highway and all of a sudden you'd go and like park yourself in a gas station. Um, what else could we do? You know, what else can we do now? Because I'm hearing this , you know, I'm , I'm, I'm stressed, I am burnt out this covid, you know, I left the office thinking it was gonna be a month, and it's been a year. And you know, and I hear it from young associates who, you know, maybe some of us are juggling kids and , and parents and the rest of it. I was talking to an associate the other day who's been living, you know, by himself in an apartment for eight months, right? So it's at all levels. It's not just about women. It's not just about people of color. It's at all levels. You know, they say, and, and this audience, you know, we're healthcare attorneys, we're focused on health. And, and many, many , uh, listeners, you know, have also been who work for hospitals and health systems. They've been on 24 7 . I mean, it's just been an insane year in the healthcare system. So what would you suggest? Because I mean, this is really, you know, this is really where you can help those of , um, those of our listeners who are in power, or if you're not in power, share this podcast with someone who is, what can they do tomorrow? You know, having, having a get together on Zoom to your point, it's nice, but we're all zoomed out . Um, you know, having a day where, you know, we just celebrate each other is great, but it's not enough. What are you suggesting concretely that companies can do? Is it, you know, saying to people, you know what, you have to take vacation. It's not the fact that, you know, you've been working for a year , um, weekends, 24 hours, nobody's gonna contact you. What can you suggest that we could implement two weeks from now?

Speaker 2:

Um, well, I'm , I think what's really important , um, is , um, that burnout is not just an individual system, a symptom. It can be a sy symptom that , uh, the organization and a team culture is not working well, is not supporting , um, the lawyers and other staff members on that team. So if you are a team leader, you really need to be thinking about making sure that your team continues to be engaged in the work you're doing, that the team leader is accessible and approachable, that if team me members are feeling overworked , um, there can be increases in interpersonal conflicts that may be insufficient resources, which damage team morale . Um, and I, I think it's, it's also important that team leaders continue to stay in touch with their team to really understand what, what they're going through. Do they have deadlines, do they have childcare responsibilities? Does work have to be shifted? Um, they also have to express gratitude for what people have been doing. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . And to be empathetic, I can't stress that , um, uh, enough. You have to be authentically empathetic, not just because someone tells you to be empathetic, but to be genuinely empathetic and understanding in terms of investing the resources in your team members, I would say perform a 300, 360 degree , um, evaluation. How do members of your team view your leadership or their skills? They would like to see you build, build psychological safety. And by that I mean a climate in which people are comfortable asking questions, admitting mistakes, sharing concerns. And this will help to build resilient teams. And this is something especially for lawyers where they don't like to admit mistakes, but sometimes , um, really talking about failures that the team has had that individual team members have had , um, is important because of course, you can't grow unless you've made a mistake and you've learned from that mistake. And so you, you have to be able to, to talk about that and to be able to come back from that and to be able to receive criticism and give criticism. And if you're a member of a team , um, promote innovative ideas, work to get consensus, get feedback from other team members on an approach. Um, and as I said, learn from constructive feedback. I think what's really, really important, quite frankly, about the issue of burnout and stress and anxiety is that it's wrong to believe you can just somehow yoga your way out of this . This is a real , um, psychological , uh, impact for , uh, for individual lawyers. And it's really important that organizations understand , uh, their , the wellbeing and mental health of their employees.

Speaker 3:

And I'd like to add on to that because I think what Bobby is suggesting is there are really two major parts of what it means to have wellbeing. And one is the organization in which you work, which can do a lot and traditionally has not done a lot to advance attorney wellbeing. And then there's you taking care of yourself. And of course, self care has many different dimensions. I mean, yes, it's physical, yes, it's social, it's emotional, it's really growing and learning cognitive to some extent. Um, and everybody doesn't have always , it doesn't have the same balance or focus on self-care. And I believe that not everyone can do everything well. So yes, we should all exercise five days a week. We don't always do that, but at least we should do some of it. Um, I think that social self-care is very important. Having friends and outreach and not being alone and communicating with people. That's been harder to do in covid . And I think many people are suffering from being alone. Um, but you also wanna be in a work environment that allows you to take care of yourself. Um, Bobby mentioned it, and I , I hear these stories all the time where especially during covid law firms are emailing or calling their associates at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night, or they get an assignment on Friday afternoon and it has to be done Monday morning, that is not a way for a firm to take care of their lawyers. And it certainly doesn't allow to take a , a , allow a lawyer to take care of himself or herself. So what does that mean to me? One thing that we, we are in an era now when we are transitioning away from the pandemic to some kind of normal, we're not quite sure what it will look like and how much it will be the old or a new normal for a long period of time. But it's really a time for leaders to say to themselves, okay, let's stop now and think, how do we wanna be going forward? What kind of services? What kind of opportunities? What kind of policies do we wanna offer the people who work in our corporation or work in our firm? Who do we wanna look like in three or four or five years? How do we get there? There are many, many other questions, but I think that it , it would be, it would be good for any organization, the employees, people , to stop and think, where are we going now? And how do we get there? What do we wanna look like and how do we make sure we look like who we are too?

Speaker 1:

And I'll add that we're in a, you know, from an employer perspective, there's so many more offerings than there were in the behavioral health space or mental health space , um, than there were five years ago. There are companies now that offer wraparound services where, you know, in addition to a benefit plan, you can have someone to talk to. Um, you know, I've cl clients who, who, you know, are giving, you know, complimentary of , you know, complimentary support services for their employees regardless of the level. Um , this manufacturing, I mean, their digital apps, there are telehealth . And one of the wonderful things in my opinion about telehealth is how it's increased access to behavioral health. 70% of Americans say that they're experiencing currently anxiety or depression during covid. So any kinda sort of stigma, I mean, I know it's out there, but come on, when 70% of people are saying, I'm feeling this is no longer this, you know, hopefully, or at least it's pushed the doors in , in being a taboo. So , um, again, there's so many more tools. Another area for employers to look at is look at your benefits policy, you know, what does it look like? What kind of support, whether it's psychiatrists or psychologists or addiction, does it offer, I mean, lawyers before the pandemic, it was like 18% of lawyers suffer from substance abuse. I, I doubt we're the only ones who haven't been, you know, drinking more. Um, so we already, as a profession, we're , we're at a heightened risk before covid for depression and substance abuse. This is only exacerbated. Um, and I, you know, I would argue we can't wait two years. We need to think of the long-term vision, exactly what you're saying, Stephanie, and start putting some systems in place , um, ASAP and , um, this community of healthcare attorneys , uh, many work for or support behavioral health solutions. And let's share that information. Let's share which resources are out there, what's working, cuz we can be part of that solution.

Speaker 3:

Not only that, but a lot of times employers say, well, that's too expensive. We can't do that. But when you think about the real cost , I mean, consider if you have a fifth year associate in a law firm who has two kids who just is overwhelmed, she's well trained, or he's well trained and serves clients well, do you wanna lose that person because you're unwilling to provide really a not a large amount of resources to help them get through the situation? No, I mean, it , it actually could be a net plus for you to provide those services.

Speaker 2:

And I think the , the really important points is that you've seen a lot of employers probably helped by member , many health law , health law lawyers leading the way, who've really understood that they need to provide resources, they need to provide resources for working parents. And you've seen affinity groups for working parents. You've seen law firms coming up with innovative ideas to try and keep their parents. So tutoring, stipends, childcare bonuses, adding more days to personal , uh, time off or months to paid parental leave that could be taken to cover childcare. And in fact, our survey found that women and women with , uh, children, 67% of women lawyers , uh, wanted employers to implement these types of comprehensive plans for sick and family leave. And I think that you're going to see this , um, again, become , uh, an important part of the fabric of all legal organizations. And I think it is great to see that mental health and wellbeing is now being considered as important as business development. Because if your lawyers are not , um, are not , uh, engaged and feeling not stressed and anxious , uh, they won't be productive if, if , you know. So , um, I think that this is , uh, one of the benefits that probably will come out of the pandemic. I don't think this is going away.

Speaker 1:

And, you know, when we talk about the moral imperative, this is obviously the right thing to do, to care for, to care for others. It's also business imperative. Uh , you know, from a risk risk analysis, you don't want your employees coming in and, and, you know, being out of sorts or even worse, losing it at work, you know , um, and whatever your quote work is, that's not positive. Or to your point, replacing an associate, whether it's recruiting fees or time invested , uh, relationships with clients and our clients are stressed. I mean, let's remember that. And we're dealing with, you know, that constantly , um, you know, there's been a lot of, a lot of research in, you know, physicians , caregivers and burnout. I mean, really, we saw that , um, you know, starting 15 years ago, if not more on the physician providers, you know, your caregiver that burnout eventually and how that impacted both the medical profession and the care that was provided. So if you wanna give outstanding care to your clients, you don't want a bunch of strong out attorneys because this isn't just , um, you know, let's get through this case and it's better . This is the long haul and we're already talking about the sort of post-traumatic post covid , uh, effect. So, you know, and Stephanie has said this over and over, and I think rightly so, this is not a short game. This is a long game. And if you wanna continue to thrive, you need to put that effort into your employees and into your environment , um, so that you are successful in, in the long game, whether that's your individual career and saying , you know what? I can't. I'm , this is not someplace I need to be. I need to be someplace where, you know, I can take some time out to go see my doctor or whatever it is I need to do that's supporting me in , in my effort. Because this is just , um, and this is not my opinion. I mean, this is data supported. I happen to agree that we're gonna see the effects , um, psychologically, emotionally of covid for many years to come,

Speaker 2:

As well as on children who , uh, you know, working parents have to deal with. They're also suffering with anxiety. And to your point, delphine about the medical profession, I think it's really interesting that the medical profession has developed and utilizes an index for all doctors to look at burnout. The legal profession has been very slow , uh, to recognize this. And I we're , Stephanie and I are hoping to see more studies that really looks at and can develop a natural index of lawyer , uh, burnout because we need that as a base statistic.

Speaker 1:

Well, I, I love that. And that would be a great topic for another podcast because again, just saying I'm stressed out, that's become language that we use all the time, right? It has lost a lot of its impact. So I'm feeling anxious, I'm feeling stressed. What do you really mean? When does it get to a point where, and , and hopefully it won't get there. Hopefully you'll be able to address it, but we all know that sometimes you are so stressed out. So having an index , uh, would be, I think tremendously helpful. Like all of the other data and research that you have done , um, in this space. And I, we remiss not to mention the , our first podcast in this series where we talked about the study that you recently, both of you recently completed on the effects of Covid on our profession, where you were , were looking at the continuum, both, you know, prior to Covid Covid and then looking ahead and , um, and the continued , um, study that you're gonna be doing in diving into the long-term effects of Covid and more generally women in the law. Um, again, my last plug , cause I'm just so amazed by both of you. Uh , Bobby and Stephanie organized the , uh, largest and first inaugural, I guess if it's inaugural. It's the first , uh, world forum , um, for women. And it was amazing. So it is a privilege to have this conversation and be in dialogue with you. I would encourage , um, our podcast listeners to reach out to you at the B group . They can look at for you on LinkedIn or, or by Googling you. And you also have a tremendous number of resources. And I've shared this. Every company doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. You know, there are resources out there, there are consultants like you, they can help navigate. Um, and I share that because I don't think we have much time. I don't think this is an issue that we can take 10 years to solve. So the more we can collaborate and implement the solutions that'll make our profession healthier and better , um, the better off we all are. So thank you to the both , you both thank you to a H L A and to the Women's Leadership Council for continuing to shine a bright light on the issues that face women in the profession and the allies , um, to those women. So thanks again. Bye-bye .