Friday, April 28, 2006
Got Kids? Savvy Clients Care
Some female clients are all business – apparently, this is considered news because of their gender. In “Got Kids? These Clients Don’t Care,” (Kellie Schmitt, The Recorder, April 26, 2006), two female in-house attorneys were quoted as saying that they want their female outside counsel to give them 100% of their attention and to refrain from discussing their kids. One of them harshly says that she doesn’t care if an attorney has a family crisis, she just wants the work the attorney is doing for her to get done. After all, she says, outside counsel are just commodities that she wants to be able to call at home or during a soccer game or whenever, and she doesn’t care about having a relationship with them.
So, should female attorneys in law firms go back to the days of trying to hide their personal lives and trying to pretend that they share the same privileged status as men who have wives taking care of the home front?
Not a chance. First, these client comments have to be put in perspective. One of the in-house counsel attempts to explain her impatience with attorney mothers by saying she came of age in the law when it wasn’t cool to have kids. PAR’s Joan Williams responds in the article that there is “‘a generation gap between baby boomers who played by the old rules and Gen X men and women who want to establish new rules.’” Research and experience show this is clearly the case.
Moreover, these clients represent a minority view. Most clients want long-standing and stable relationships with their outside counsel. As PAR heard again and again in its Better on Balance? study, in-house attorneys are fed up with high attrition in law firms because of the loss of historical perspective, institutional knowledge, and personal relationships when an attorney leaves and the effort and expense involved in getting new attorneys up to speed. In-house attorneys support lawyers in law firms having balanced lives and try to respect their time outside the office, because they realize that to do otherwise is to help open the exit door for them. In other words, savvy clients who want to maximize efficiency and minimize costs in their outside legal work try not to exacerbate the pressures that force law firm attorneys to leave.
Let’s not be mad at these clients because they aren’t acting “nice” and “warm” the way stereotypes of women dictate they should. Let’s be mad at them instead for treating other human beings as mere commodities that have to respond to snapping fingers night and day. Let’s be mad at them for undermining attorneys’ attempts to achieve work/life balance and for making life outside law firms look more attractive. Let’s be mad at them for treating women differently from men (if, as we suspect, they are – would the tell a male attorney who had a heart attack that they didn’t care and they just want their work to get done?).
And let’s just realize that some women, like some men, are all business and treat them accordingly without letting their constricted views spill over into our other relationships.