Trying times as a woman in law can be really trying. Everyone – surely – knows that by now. But when you have a salary of circa $400,000 and have emerged relatively unscathed through the horrors of layoffs and recession, what could be wrong?
The problem, if you hadn’t guessed it, is the fifth word in the first sentence: “woman”.
If you’re wanting to have a child, for instance, then things get tough. But the ‘tough’ involves a lot more than glass ceilings and gender discrimination according to lawyer Kristen Jarvis Johnson, a veteran lawyer with Squire Patton Boggs who has quit and created a social media storm via her Ask Me Anything session on Reddit.
She starts the session with a self-description:
IamA burned out international lawyer just returned from Qatar making almost $400k per year, feeling jet lagged and slightly insane at having just quit it all to get my life back, get back in shape, actually see my 2 young boys, and start a toy company, AMA!
And then she explains her background experience with the firm.
for the past 9 years I have been a Partner-track associate at a Biglaw firm. They sent me to Doha for the past 2.5 years. While there, I worked on some amazing projects and was in the most elite of practice groups. I had my second son. I witnessed a society that had the most extreme rich:poor divide you could imagine. I met people who considered other people to be of less human worth. I helped a poor mother get deported after she spent 3 years in jail for having a baby out of wedlock, arrested at the hospital and put in jail with her baby.
Lawyers Giving Anything for Money
She became “disgusted” by the luxury lifestyle of lawyers “who would give anything and everything to make millions. I encountered blatant gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and a very clear glass ceiling. Having a baby apparently makes you worth less as a lawyer.”
As a lawyer, I was working sometimes 300 hours in a month and missing my kids all the time. I felt guilty for spending any time not firm related. I never had a vacation where I did not work. I missed my dear grandmother’s funeral in December. In March I made the final decision that this could not last. There must be a better way. So I resigned. And now I am sitting in my mother’s living room, having moved the whole family in temporarily – I have not lived with my mother since I was 17. I have moved out of Qatar. I have given up my very nice salary. I have no real plans except I am joining my sister to build my company.
After working for the firm for almost a decade, Johnson began to experience issues with gender bias. In an interview with the Washington Post, she said a female leader at her firm told her about numerous instances where her ideas and proposals were stolen from her, with male leaders taking credit for them. She’d even heard stories of male partners saying “the partnership isn’t a place for working moms.”
She provided an op-ed piece published in Big Law Business which provided some idea of what lead to her resignation.
Johnson found diversity lacking at the firm, and felt there was a huge gender imbalance. She was once again turned down for a bonus and told to work harder than she already had been — so she quit. “This is an opportunity to regain the things I value in life, continue to pursue a successful career — but on my own terms, and to stop supporting a broken and biased firm system. I decided not to fight to break a glass ceiling, only to find myself in a hostile, overly-competitive, and unhealthy environment,” Johnson wrote.For my career, I thought I could move past a senior partner trying to grab my leg or asking for a hotel rendezvous during lunch.
Then I hit my breaking point. The working environment spiraled downward after the firm merger. I saw women in leadership positions leaveen masse within the first few months of the merger. My workload was constant and unrelenting. I had my second child, and balanced my maternity leave with my continuing work obligations.
Then I was turned down for a bonus for the first time while on maternity leave. I came back to work and hit the ground running in March of last year. Never took a real break, even on vacation, and gave it my all. My new baby was demanding, but I juggled his (and my older son’s) demands with everything else, even taking him and our nanny overseas to continue nursing during a long hearing. My grandmother — after whom my own son is named — died right before a hearing, and her funeral was during another. I was too busy even to mourn, let alone attend the funeral.
So what did Squire Patton Boggs think of the op-ed? Not much, as you might expect and they provided a statement to Big Law Business that read:
We are committed to a firm culture that promotes full and equal participation, advancement and retention of women. This vision is supported throughout our firm and guided by the tireless efforts of our Legal Personnel Committee and Women’s Enterprise which were long-ago established to ensure our policies and procedures consider how the sometimes immersive nature of the legal industry could negatively impact women in the profession. This is demonstrated by the many exceptional women leaders throughout our firm, including those serving on our Global Board, acting as Practice Group Leaders and Office Managing Partners, as well as our General Counsel and Global Chief Operating Officer. This commitment extends throughout our Middle East practice. Four lawyers have been promoted to partner in the Middle East since the Squire Patton Boggs merger — two men and two women. Of the women, one was on maternity leave the year she made partner and the second was on maternity leave the year before she made partner. During the period when Ms. Johnson was in Doha, there were four partners in the office, two of whom were women. Our Doha office was also founded in 2003 by a woman partner who was the first non-Qatari attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Qatar and supported Ms. Johnson’s move to the office.
So now she’s moved to her new phase, the business starting a company with her sister making life-like dolls for boys, called Boy Story. It’s the man-story that has, however, compelled her move from Big Law to a Big Move away from the law.