Save the Date: April 2 at the Japan Society

There is an important and interesting lecture and reception at the Japan Society in New York, New York, with former Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoriko Kawaguchi and Ruth Porat, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Morgan Stanley, from 6 pm to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, titled "Tapping Potential: Encouraging Women’s Empowerment in the U.S. and Japan." For more information on the program and registration, refer to the Japan Society website. Hope to see you there!

Getting to the Top: Jumping the Hurdles or Creating Them?

On February 24, the National Association of Women Lawyers (“NAWL”) published the results of its eighth annual survey regarding the retention and promotion of women into senior and equity positions within the law firms surveyed—200 of the top national firms. The survey results were disappointing in terms of the ascension of women into equity partnership ranks and compensation when compared to male counterparts and the ability of these women to “make rain”—i.e., to convert their contacts into clients. 

While the results of the NAWL survey raise unfortunate and unanswered questions regarding law firm career development for women, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the blockbuster book Lean In, provides her observations regarding the dearth of women “at the top”—in corporations, law firms, not for profits, and as global political leaders. “No judgments,” as Sandberg says, but beware of “the messages we tell ourselves!” Self-defeating messages become professional liabilities that can hinder our advancement. The message of Sandberg's video presentation “Why we have too few women leaders” addresses her insights, borne of her own successful career, concerning self-made, defeating obstacles to reaching the top. Enjoy the video's thoughtful content and share your thoughts with us.

What Employees May Now Expect While Expecting: Reasonable Accommodation of Pregnancy

Maxine NeuhauserSince enactment of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it has been illegal for most employers to discriminate against women because of pregnancy.  Employers have, however, generally been excused from providing reasonable accommodation to pregnant employees, unless the women’s condition qualifies as a disability under federal or state law. Thus, although a woman having a normal pregnancy may, for example, be advised by her doctors to avoid heavy lifting, for the most part, employers have not been required to adjust an employee’s job duties to accommodate the restriction.  The trend—and the law—however, is changing. 

On January 21, 2014, New Jersey joined Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and Texas, as well as cities like New York, in prohibiting discrimination against pregnant workers and requiring employers to provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodation.  Under these laws, “pregnancy” is generally defined as including “childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including recovery from childbirth.”

My law firm, Epstein Becker Green, has prepared Act Now Advisories summarizing two of the most recently enacted laws that extend the requirement of providing reasonable accommodation to women having a normal pregnancy: New Jersey’s amendment to the state’s Law Against Discrimination and New York City's amendment to the city’s Human Rights Law. 

An employer need not provide accommodation where doing so will create an undue hardship.  How the balance between a pregnant employee’s need for accommodation and an employer’s business needs gets struck will, no doubt, lead to further evolution in employment law. It will be a trend that employers will need to watch.

Congratulations on Your Same-Sex Marriage! Don't Forget to Review Your Employee Benefits

By Michelle Capezza

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court held in United States v. Windsor that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that the federal interpretation of "marriage" and "spouse" should not apply solely to heterosexual unions. To date, same-sex marriage has been legalized in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and the number of states recognizing the validity of same-sex marriage continues to grow and be subject to court proceedings. As a result, employers continue to navigate the nuances of their domestic partner, civil union, and same-sex spouse policies as they relate to employment issues and benefits. If you previously attained employee benefits pursuant to these domestic partner policies or recently entered into a legally recognized same-sex marriage, revisit your employee benefits and consider the following issues.

1.      What were the employee benefits exclusions for same-sex spouses prior to the Windsor decision, and what types of employee benefits are now available to employees with legally married same-sex spouses?

Prior to the Windsor decision, the federal definition of “spouse” under DOMA was applied to hundreds of federal statutes, including those that govern benefits, such as ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. Therefore, a same-sex partner was not recognized under federal law as a legal spouse who could be entitled to certain spousal rights in benefit plans or favorable tax treatment. Some examples of how employee benefits were impacted include:

For health and welfare plans before the Windsor decision:

  1. Health coverage might not have been extended to same-sex partners under an employer plan unless the plan was self-insured and the employer chose to do so or unless the plan was fully insured and the insurance was issued in a state that required such coverage (for example, the New York Marriage Equality Act, which passed in July 2011, required insured plans issued under NY contracts to extend coverage to same-sex partners).
  2. The value of any employer-provided health coverage for a same-sex partner of an employee who was not otherwise a dependent had to be included in the employee’s income.
  3. Employees could not pay for premiums for same-sex partner coverage on a pre-tax basis through a cafeteria plan or obtain reimbursements from flexible spending accounts for same-sex partners unless the partner qualified as a dependent.
  4. Employees would not be able to make mid-year election changes based on a change in marital status in cafeteria plans.
  5. Same-sex partners would not have qualified as spouses for continuation of health coverage under COBRA.

If you are now in a legally recognized same-sex marriage, check with your employer as to coverage options for your new spouse and inquire about special enrollment rights or making a midyear election change on the basis of change in legal marital status for health coverage and flexible spending or similar accounts within required time frames pursuant to your employer’s cafeteria plan. The value of coverage for your same-sex spouse should no longer be imputed as income if it was previously, and you should be able to pay for coverage on a pre-tax basis if your employer offers a cafeteria plan; additionally, you can obtain reimbursements from flexible spending accounts for same-sex spouse medical expenses. Your same-sex spouse can also qualify as a “spouse” for purposes of COBRA continuation coverage in case of a qualifying event.

For retirement plans before the Windsor decision:

  1. Same-sex partners would not qualify as spouses for purposes of qualified joint and survivor annuities, qualified preretirement survivor annuities, or survivor benefits under pension plans or 401k plans.
  2. Spousal consent rules would not apply for purposes of naming beneficiaries or taking distributions.
  3. Benefits could not be assigned to a same-sex partner who was not a spouse under a qualified domestic relations order.
  4. Hardship distributions could not be taken on account of same-sex spouse expenses.

If you are now in a legally recognized same-sex marriage, a same-sex spouse is a spouse for purposes of any qualified joint and survivor or similar annuities, same-sex spouse expenses are recognized for hardship withdrawals, spousal consent of a same-sex spouse is required before an employee names another beneficiary under a retirement plan, same-sex spouses are spouses for survivor benefits and qualified domestic relations orders, a same- sex spouse may now roll over a plan distribution to his or her own IRA rather than to an inherited IRA, a same-sex spouse must be taken into account for plan testing purposes where family attribution rules come into play, and a same-sex spouse is factored into any required minimum distribution calculations.

The rules do not change, however, for domestic partners or members of a civil union who are still not treated as spouses under the law.

2.      What can employees do to recover federal income tax paid on the value of same- sex spouse health coverage that was imputed as income to the employee?

There was a series of guidance issued last year after the Windsor decision that addressed refunds of income tax as well as FICA (Social Security and Medicare taxes) that would have been overpaid if the value of health coverage was imputed. Employees can claim a refund by completing amended 1040s for overpayments of federal income tax on the value of health coverage that may have been imputed as income or for coverage that was purchased on an after-tax basis rather than a pre-tax basis for prior tax years—going back up to the later of three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid. Employees should speak to their employers to request amended W-2Cs. This will be important to ensure proper filings are completed for the 2013 tax year. 

With regard to FICA taxes, there were different procedures available to correct 2013 errors if completed in 2013. An employer could have corrected its quarterly tax filings in 2013 and reimbursed the employee for any overpayments of FICA. If this was not done, an employer can file a Form 941X to correct 2013 and prior tax years that are eligible for correction if the employee consents to the employer reimbursing him or her and doing the filing. Otherwise, if it is not practical for an employer to do the filing for various reasons, an employee can seek a refund of his or her own overpayments of FICA taxes by filing a Form 843.

So, there is some level of coordination here that needs to occur. Employees who have these issues should approach their employer and inquire as to how this is being handled, request a revised Form W-2C for the employees’ own 2013 Form 1040 filing and prior years’ amended returns, and inquire how any overpayments of FICA tax will be recouped or whether the employee should seek their own refund from the government by filing a Form 843.

3.      What should employers do to ensure benefit plan compliance with the new legal landscape, and what open issues still remain?

  1. Employers should definitely assess where they are in terms of employee demographics and, if operating in different states, determine if there are state payroll tax issues that differ from state to state and whether same-sex spouse, domestic partner, and civil union benefits are being offered consistently.
  2. If the value of health coverage had been imputed for same-sex spouses, that process needs to cease for federal tax purposes—however, local state laws may differ on the tax treatment, so that still needs to be considered.
  3. Review all benefit plans, summary descriptions, communications, and domestic partner packages—all of these documents need to be reviewed to confirm how “spouse” is defined and determine if anything needs to be updated to be consistent with the new law, and confirm where any plan amendments may be required.
  4. Update any COBRA procedures and paperwork to include same-sex spouses, and revise beneficiary forms and all processes and procedures to include same-sex spouses as spouses for all purposes.
  5. Allow midyear election changes in cafeteria plans that pertain to same-sex spouses as spouses.
  6. Ensure that reimbursements for flexible spending and similar accounts are properly being made for same-sex spouses.
  7. Request updated beneficiary elections, and determine if you need to obtain consents for someone other than the same-sex spouse to be named a beneficiary.
  8. Develop a communications plan for employees on these issues, and determine your strategy with regard to any claims for refunds of FICA taxes.

We are still awaiting guidance, however, on the retroactive effect of the Windsor decision for purposes of plan qualification. It is unclear if retirement plans will be required to comply with the Windsor decision retroactively in order to maintain their qualified status. This is significant because if it is ruled that the Windsor decision must be applied retroactively for plan qualification purposes, pensions would need to be recalculated; beneficiary issues would need to be revisited; rights to death benefits would need to be reviewed; required minimum distributions would need to be recalculated; plan rollover, hardship, and loan consent issues would need to be addressed; and plan testing issues could arise. We are awaiting guidance from the IRS and Treasury Department on these issues.

And, of course, the number of states that recognize same-sex marriage as valid continues to grow and be subject to controversy. Until all 50 states recognize same-sex marriages, the nuances in tax treatment and benefits will need to be administered properly as there isn’t one uniform set of rules.

Employers should consult with qualified benefits counsel to review their same-sex spouse, domestic partner, and civil union policies and prepare appropriate amendments to benefit plans, materials, and processes. Individuals in legally recognized same-sex marriages should review their employee benefit plans and compensation arrangements and make appropriate inquiries to their employers. It will also be necessary to review any personal income tax and estate planning considerations as well with the appropriate advisors. As they say, marriage is a lot of work, but it can be fun, too!

Joan Disler Featured as Female Powerbroker

Joan Disler

Joan Disler, chair of Epstein Becker Green's employee benefits steering committee, co-founder of the firm's Women’s Initiative, and a co-editor of this blog, is featured in a recent Law360 Female Powerbrokers Q&A.

Joan, whose career included a period of working a reduced hour schedule when her children were young, points out how family and work priorities shift over time. She strongly suggests that women, “find a way to make that work without giving up your commitment to your career.”

Joan also advocates the importance of cultivating one’s own professional network. As she explains:

By cultivating my own network, which included professional women, I found that women love to help other women. I also began to recognize that my professional network, which could help me advance in my practice (and my firm), was not limited to those whom I met through my practice, but also could include those whom I knew through my personal life. Previously, I believed that my personal and professional lives were separate, but when I recognized that they were related and that my personal life could help my professional life, my practice expanded and blossomed.

Download the entire interview here (PDF).

Census & Sensibility: Stay-At-Home Dads. Trending?

Maxine NeuhauserLast month, The New York Times ran a profile of women banking executives who have found their career advancement enhanced by the support of a stay-at-home husband. The article, “Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers: As Husbands Do Domestic Duty, These Women Are Free to Achieve,” by Jodi Kantor and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, refers to those women as “a small but rapidly expanding group.” The article optimistically cites data showing that the “number of women in finance with stay-at-home spouses has climbed nearly tenfold since 1980 … and some of the most successful women in the field are among them.”

In terms of raw numbers, the article acknowledges that this supposed trend represents only about 2 percent of the mothers who were working in finance, that is (using 2011 census data) about 430 out of 21,600 women—not even enough to fill a high school gym.

The Times article, based on interviews with “dozens of couples,” shows how some couples have made the role reversal work for them. The assent of these women was not because the workplace became more flexible or provided more balance, far from it. Rather, “the demands of working in finance made a two-career marriage impossible.” When one partner earns over $1 million, a decision that the other partner stay home begins to make sense—regardless of gender. To the credit of the article’s reporters, they acknowledge that the path is not accessible to most.

I celebrate the increase of women in top-tier positions, but let’s not read too much into what might best be characterized as a “man bites dog” new report; it’s interesting, but far from the norm.

Presciently, two months before the Times article, The Atlantic published a piece by Jordan Weissmann, “The Overhyped Rise of Stay-at-Home Dads,” which began by noting, “Every, so often, a trend piece comes along that heralds the rise of the stay-at-home dad. More fathers are choosing childcare over career, we’re told, and it represents yet another shift towards gender equity in the age of the female breadwinner.” He explains that the big pictures data, however, does not bear this out.

The Census data, as Weissmann points out, shows “[a]mong all married couples with children under 15, only 0.8 percent include a stay-at-home dad—up from about 0.3 percent in 1994—compared to 23 percent that include a stay-at-home mom. But even those small percentages probably overstate the relative importance of stay-at-home fathers in the greater context of U.S. families.”

As Weissmann notes, lost in the discussion is the fact that “we’re living in the age of the single parent. More than half of births to women under 30 happen out of wedlock, and women disproportionately end up taking care of those children.” Added to this, in many instances, single motherhood—whether through divorce or widowhood—is far from a choice.

Weissmann shows that, “even among two-parent households where women work, the percentage of men acting as the primary caregiver has actually declined slightly since the early 1990s.” Moreover, “the fraction of these men regularly providing any care whatsoever for their children while their wives work has been static since at least the late 1990s.” Indeed, a March 2013 Pew Research study shows that women in dual-earner households spend 12 hours a week on childcare on average, compared to just seven hours for men. It thus appears that the willingness of most men to take over childcare and household responsibilities—and perhaps also the willingness of women to hand over the reins—is open to doubt and calls into question whether there is a trend toward voluntary stay-at-home daddy-hood.

Finding a way to “make it work” for most of us is the challenge. A stay-at-home husband may be one solution, but for most of us (unfortunately?), it’s just not an option.

Fake It 'Til You Make It

Maxine NeuhauserPodcasts.  They are my new thing. I listen to them in my car and while jogging and waiting for a haircut. Listening to an installment of NPR’s TED Radio Hour Podcast, I was introduced to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and an Associate Professor at Harvard Business School.

Cuddy’s research focuses on nonverbal communication. Her research suggests that warmth/trustworthiness and competence/power are the two critical judgments that shape social interactions and that determine, among other things, outcomes, such as who gets hired and who doesn’t.  Who among us has not had to cope with the imposter syndrome? It’s the sense that regardless of how wonderful our jobs may be, how impressive our achievements, or how numerous our successes, we are not talented enough and, one day, our bosses and our clients will wake up and question our worthiness.

In her TED Talk, Cuddy summarizes her recent work, which shows that our body language links to our hormone levels, feelings, and behavior.  In other words, communication is an equation, with our audience on one side and us on the other. Thus, our nonverbal communication—our body posture, our facial expressions, and the like—influences not just our audience but, as importantly, us.

A striking finding that Cuddy discusses in her TED Talk is that “‘faking’ body postures that convey competence and power (‘power posing’)—even for as little as two minutes—changes our testosterone and cortisol levels, increases our appetite for risk, causes us to perform better in job interviews, and generally configures our brains to cope well in stressful situations.”  As she explains in her talk, standing in a Superman or Wonder Woman pose—head high, chest out, hands on hips, elbows out, and legs apart—measurably increases testosterone and, with it, confidence.

Listen to Cuddy’s TED Talk or watch the video, embedded below. See if you’re convinced. Regardless, before a presentation, an interview, or a phone call that you don’t want to make—close your office door and try power posing. Really. I think it works.

Does Lean In Miss the Bigger Picture?

Maxine Neuhauser

Last week, GM appointed Mary Barra as its first woman CEO, the Pew Research Center issued a report showing that the gap between women’s and men’s pay widens the longer women remain in the work force, and Advocates for Children of New Jersey reported that working families in New Jersey spend about a quarter of their income on childcare. 

The juxtaposition of these news items got me thinking about a recent article published in The Baffler, "Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not," by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Faludi.  In it, Faludi, who is known for her progressive feminist leanings, offers a thoughtful critique of Sheryl Sandberg’s best-seller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Faludi suggests that Sandberg’s advice to women for getting ahead substitutes “feel good options” open only to “credentialed, professional types,” and essentially ignores the institutional impediments that stand in the way of women’s advancement. While acknowledging that tens of thousands of women have been inspired by Lean In and recognizing that a long list the high-powered celebrities – including noted feminists, from Gloria Steinem to Katha Pollitt – have praised Sandberg’s message, Faludi wonders whether Sandberg has actually created a movement that will have any real impact on improving the workplace for women.  

Faludi questions whether the Lean In movement has done anything much to advance the interests of women in the workplace beyond building Facebook likes and feel-good enthusiasm. She suggests that the Lean In movement has done nothing to address structural social and economic change, “beyond tsk-tsking about the pay gap and lack of maternity leave.”  “If you were waiting for someone to lean in for child care legislation,” she writes, “keep holding your breath.” 

Sandberg, as reported by Faludi, unequivocally acknowledges “that women are held back ‘by discrimination and sexism and terrible public policy,’” but turns the conversation to individual action – what can each woman can do for herself.

Faludi wonders whether this model, with a virtual “Community” tethered to a Facebook page, amounts to cheerleading rather than actual work toward institutional change. Are Lean In’s peer membership “circles” an effective way to build a grass roots movement? Faludi offers, by comparison, historical examples of women who have organized to improve working conditions and advanced women’s rights.

Is Lean In “all about the glass ceiling, never about the floor,” as Linda Burnham, another commentator, who Faludi quotes, opines. Does it matter? 

Clearly, Lean In has struck a chord with many of us. For those of us who remember when the discussion was about whether professional women should “opt out,” the popularity of a voice urging women to “lean in” is heartening. Much of what Sandberg says plainly resonates with many women, including me. Is it the last, definitive, or only word on the topic? Undoubtedly not. But Lean In has reinvigorated the discussion about many important issues affecting women in the workplace, the economy, and our values as a society, among other things. Articles like Faludi’s remind us of the importance of staying engaged, finding (and using) our voices, broadening our vision, being open to new insight, and remembering to pay it forward, while we continue our advance.

Are You Leading From the Back Seat or Are You Driving the Car?

In case you missed it, an interview with Katia Beauchamp, co-founder and co-chief executive of Birchbox, a beauty products website, drives home some leadership tips especially noteworthy for professional women.

We have linked to the full article, but here are some takeaways:

  • A drive for success and ambition is learned at an early age, and a mother’s influence plays a meaningful role in that development process.
  • As Ms. Beauchamp points out, there are “drivers” and “riders” in life—learning to take ownership of feelings and moods impacts taking responsibility for your career.
  • The challenge of effective management is a lot like parenting! As Ms. Beauchamp puts it, "Trying to figure out the balance of caring about somebody and managing somebody."
  • Give credit where it is due, and think about the development not of your career but of your team.
  • Negativity has no place in the workplace.

Enjoy the article and let us know your perspectives on leadership. We would love to hear from you!

Relationships - the Key to Making It Rain: An Interview with Lynn Shapiro Snyder

Lynn Shapiro SnyderLynn Shapiro Snyder joined the law firm Epstein Becker Green in 1979 as a first-year health Associate and has been at the firm now for 34 years. In the following interview, Lynn shares her thoughts on the importance of developing and nurturing professional relationships and the significant impact these relationships have made in the success of her law practice. In addition to her active practice, Lynn had been actively engaged in firm leadership and mentoring and is the founder of The Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry.

Q: How did you become a rainmaker?

A:  I became a rainmaker by spending a certain amount of my time on developing strong personal relationships with people in the health care industry regardless of whether they were clients of the firm.

I grew up in a family-owned business where the customer was king and queen.  We had a pharmacy and, later, a home medical equipment company.  I was taught that you want to make the customers feel comfortable in your store, and you want them to come back.  Most importantly, you want them to recommend your store to someone else.  This was ingrained in me from the beginning.  Whether it is for a pharmacy, the home medical equipment company, the 24 hour diner where I waited on tables or at Epstein Becker Green, the customer relationship is the same.  You want their experience to be so positive that they will remember you because you want them to come back.  Most of all, you want them to recommend you to someone else.

It can be a very surface relationship. It does not have to be a deep relationship.  They don’t have to be invited to your family affairs.  But there needs to be a relationship and not merely the provision of a service or the sale of the product.

Q: How do you stay a rainmaker?

A:  Every interaction is a building block towards future rainmaking.  I focus on the key three pieces: the legal content, the communication style and responsiveness, and the value from the billing side.

Private practice is different from in-house law, which is different from working for government.  You are running a business, and that business requires you to attract people to come to it because they trust you.  So, if you think about it from a perspective of trust, how do you get people to trust you?  Consider being a nice person, genuine, a good lawyer, a good listener, someone with empathy.  My philosophy is that every relationship matters, whether it is with the receptionist or the chairman of the board.  You don’t know how you can be helpful to them or how they can be helpful to you.  It is better to have some modicum of a relationship before the "ask."  Business currency is in having the relationship before the "ask."

I just read this book, Monster Loyalty.  What do we need to learn from Lady Gaga?  It’s all about how to create “little monsters.”  How do you create alignment with your customer?  The concept is, if you just answer a legal question and send a bill, that is a lost opportunity. 

If you don’t create a relationship with that person—and ask, “What’s bothering you? What’s going on with your company? How can I be helpful?”—then you are missing a lot of the fun of private practice.  I have been blessed to have so many wonderful personal relationships with so many people who are either clients of the firm or just friends of the firm. You make a difference in their lives, and they make a difference in your life.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring rainmaker?

A:  From the day you start at Epstein Becker Green, you have the internal clients that you have to generate, which is in wanting lawyers in the firm to use you for the legal services.  Establishing those positive relationships becomes the training ground for how you translate that skill set into having people outside the firm want to use you. 

When you first start out as a lawyer, you are nervous about wanting to make sure you are giving the correct legal advice.  Once you have more command of the correct legal advice, then the question becomes, “Who is asking you for that advice?”  It is a misconception that you have to wait until you are a partner before you should be considering all three components (legal expertise, communication style, and value).  The reason why that is a misconception is because the engagement is about trust, first and foremost.  Trust comes from personal relationships.  Somebody could trust you even if you are an Associate.  What they are trusting is that you, as the Associate, will get the project to the right lawyer in the firm and to have it addressed correctly.  They may think, “Well, how can an Associate be able to do that?” But an Associate might be able to do that if he or she also has the trust of the potential client and understands that he or she can be that client's internal cheerleader at the firm.

Many of our health care and life sciences Associates have had industry experience before attending law school.  I want to encourage them to think about their industry contacts.  You have to ask for the work. It just doesn’t come in the door.  You currently work for one of the best health law firms in the U.S., and you want to know how Epstein Becker Green could be a resource for their company.  Do you want to ask your contact whether you can schedule a call with some Epstein Becker Green lawyers based upon your contact's potential needs?  You have only a few seconds to establish your credibility.

I encourage our lawyers to be leaders and role models in the community.  Not merely participants.  It should be in an organization that you otherwise have a passion for.  You can’t do it artificially.  Alumni clubs are great resources.  The easiest way to lead is to become a leader in something you have a passion about. Just give back, either in time or checks.  You never know who you may meet.  Giving back crosses industries.  And then, people you meet are in a position to be one of your “little monsters.”

Q: Tell us a rainmaking tale.

A:  Many years ago, I had a client in that had no general counsel.  My relationship was with the Senior Vice President of Business Development.  Let’s call him “John.”  I can’t remember how I got them as a client, but I kept in touch with John even after the company was sold.  John ended up at another company that was already using Epstein Becker Green.  He then moved to a third company where he is now the CEO.

A few weeks ago, out of the blue, in the afternoon I get an email saying, “John would like to know if you are available for a 30-minute call today.”  I hadn’t heard from him in over a year.  My last contact with John was in 2012, and there had been no engagement.  I’m in Boston helping my son come home from a summer camp.  The question is, “What do you do next?”  People don’t call their lawyers for good things; they call their lawyers because they are under stress.

I called John’s office—I didn’t use email but a phone call—to reconnect and to make sure that he was okay. John said something to the effect that:

We were sitting here, Lynn, and we have this issue and I said there’s only one health lawyer who could probably figure out what we should be doing here.  I had my assistant reach out to you. And I said to my colleague here that I want you to know that Lynn and I go back all these years, and she doesn’t have to know the answer, but she’s probably the best person to figure out who do we go to for this answer. 

John was not even sure Epstein Becker Green is the right firm for the subject.  He knows that, from a trust standpoint, I will help him regardless of whether Epstein Becker Green is the right firm.  I am known as a resource.  I do not just answering legal questions.  That is the reputation I have tried to create all of these years.  I said to him, “It sounds very familiar to something Trish Wagner may be doing.  She’s our privacy officer.  And I have no clue whether she’s around or not.  I’m up here in Boston with my son because I am a ‘mom’ today.  I’ll get back to you."  Later that day, I was able to confirm that Trish would be able to handle this new matter.

I am being responsive.  I am addressing the matter when the client is addressing the matter—while the iron is hot.  I am generating something that somebody came to me with that is not in my subject matter area.  Also, I am collaborating and bringing in my partner who can address this matter.  I am having Trish be part of the rainmaking, share in the credit, and take the lead because I also trust Trish.  We are all salesmen for each other.  Fifty percent of a larger pie is more valuable than one hundred percent of a smaller pie.

When did my relationship start with John?  It started in the 1990s – early 2000.  Our relationship is more than 10 years old.  And John still came back.  That’s a satisfied customer. 

If you cultivate relationships, and years go by, then you have accumulated a cadre of “little monsters.”  People need to know that it was not just anyone who happened to call me.  We have a relationship.  There is a story for each person.  If you don’t create that story when you have the opportunity to interact, then that is a lost opportunity in the years to come.

Q.  Why be in private practice?

A:  Private practice is fun and so professionally rewarding, especially when you are a rainmaker.  It is the ultimate compliment for someone to hire you for your legal and business acumen with respect to matters that are challenging them in some way.  It is very rewarding for someone to put their trust in you regardless of whether you are the actual attorney at the firm who does the work.  I believe the four main components to success in private practice are:  (1) the quality of the work product that you produce for the client, (2) the responsiveness within which the client will get the work product, (3) the value that will come from the work product based on what you charge for that work product, and (4) the positive relationships you establish both inside and outside the law firm.

Opportunities from Career Transitions: An Interview with Barbara Kolsun

I want to share with our readers an interesting article from this month's Corporate Counsel, featuring Barbara Kolsun, General Counsel of Stuart Weitzman. Barbara's professional journey illustrates that career transitions and change can bring us fantastic opportunities—and glamour!

Following is an excerpt:

In the fall of 1979, Barbara Kolsun retired her character shoes. The Sarah Lawrence graduate had spent the last eight years acting, singing, and touring the United States. From the trumpet-playing stripper Mazeppa in Gypsy, to pious Sergeant Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, she was ready for a new role: lawyer.

"Absolutely no thought went into law," she explains in an interview at the midtown Manhattan headquarters of Stuart Weitzman LLC. "I knew I wasn't talented enough to go to medical school," says Kolsun, who once graced the stage of Radio City Music Hall. After 12 years in private practice, Kolsun decided to switch roles again, and she took her first in-house job at Calvin Klein Jeans. This fashion-savvy lawyer has now worked at many of the top fashion brands in the states and pioneered three legal departments, including Stuart Weitzman's, where she now wears ballet slippers once again.

Read the full article, “An Accidental Sidestep,” here. (Free online registration to Corporate Counsel may be required.)

Women's Initiatives On the Move: Sharing Ideas and Taking Action

By the Women’s Initiative Committees of Epstein Becker Green and Citrin Cooperman & Company

The question is often asked as to whether women’s initiative groups in the workplace have any true impact in terms of helping to advance women’s careers, serving to aid in the retention of women in the workplace or assisting in professional and business development.  In a June 2013 American Bar Association Journal article, the question was asked again: “Do Women’s Initiatives Work?”  Statistically, despite numerous strides, women continue to grapple with many hurdles to career advancement.  That being said, where would we be without Women’s Initiatives?

In an effort to share ideas across professional service firms, on August 8, 2013, members of the Women’s Initiative Committee of Epstein Becker Green explored this question with the Women’s Initiative Committee of Citrin Cooperman. The catalyst for the meeting was Danielle Russo, a Manager in the Audit Department with Citrin Cooperman who reached out through LinkedIn to Michelle Capezza, a Member of the Employee Benefits practice with Epstein Becker Green, to see if she would be interested in meeting for lunch to network and discuss Women’s Initiatives.  Following that lunch, with the support of both firms,  a roundtable lunch discussion was planned to include the firms’ respective Women’s Initiative Committee members so they could explore the evolution of the Women’s Initiatives in their respective firms, the many accomplishments, and the work that lies ahead. We share with you the highlights of what we learned from this discussion:

  • Women’s Initiatives grow and evolve at different paces depending on the organizational culture
  • Women’s Initiatives can serve to create opportunities for women to learn professional skills to assist in career advancement, develop networks to connect and grow as professionals, and bring attention to important issues
  • Organizations that want to establish or grow their Women’s Initiatives should have a mission statement and business plan
  • The members of the Women’s Initiatives should:
  • Determine how the Women’s Initiative plays an integral role in the organization’s business and can support the needs of the business
  • Determine whether the focus of the group will be on external networking, internal development of women, or a balanced approach of both
  • Refine the focus, as needed
  • Women approach business development and work uniquely – Women’s Initiatives should try to capitalize on these talents for the good of the organization
  • It is helpful to carefully track business development leads and new business generation that result from Women’s Initiatives efforts
  • In order to obtain support and funding, a business plan should be presented to firm management
  • Programs and events should be in synch with the mission statement of the Women’s Initiative program
  • It is helpful to market the Women’s Initiative externally, but also internally to gain organizational awareness and support
  • Design networking events that busy career women would be interested in attending. Our firms have each sponsored various types of events including wine tastings, cooking classes, fashion events, golf clinics, and guest speakers/panel discussions
  • Design internal events to complement or lead professional development efforts of the organization
  • Consider organizational culture and determine whether Women’s Initiative can aid in development of, or bringing attention to, important workplace policies such as flexible work arrangements, maternity and paternity policies
  • Consider reaching out to other Women’s Initiative groups to share ideas, accomplishments, hurdles and brainstorm how to keep moving forward (like we did!)

At Epstein Becker Green, our efforts are achieving notable results.  For example, the firm:

  • Received a 2013 Gold Standard Certification from the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (this designation recognizes law firms that have successfully integrated and promoted a large percentage of their equity women partners to top leadership and management positions within their organizations)
  • Ranked among the top "Best Law Firms for Women" by Working Mother & Flex-Time Lawyers for 2012, receiving recognition in the following categories: leadership, compensation, and advancement of women; development and retention of women; flex-time; and time off and leaves
  • Ranked fifth on the MultiCultural Law magazine's 2012 "Top Law Firms for Women" list
  • Ranked as one of the top 10 law firms for female partners, in a 2012 survey conducted by Law360
  • Was one of 23 law firms listed as "The Best" for women's advancement in a 2010 survey conducted by the Project for Attorney Retention
  • Placed in the top 20 in The National Law Journal's most recent ranking of the 250 largest U.S. law firms by number of women partners
  • Ranked eighth in the nation among the 200 largest firms for its percentage of women attorneys by The American Lawyer's most recent "Women in Law Firms" study

 Notable achievements at Citrin Cooperman include:

  • Currently ranked 25th overall and 7th among Mid-Atlantic firms - Accounting Today's Top 100 Firms
  • Currently ranked 25th overall -  Inside Public Accounting's Top 100 Firms
  • Best Accounting Firms to Work For - Accounting Today
  • Best Places to Work in CT - Hartford Business Journal
  • Best Places to Work in NYC - Crain's New York Business
  • Best Places to Work in PA - Best Companies Group
  • Best Places to Work in NJ - NJBIZ
  • Future 50 - Philadelphia SmartCEO

The roundtable discussion between the two firms elicited numerous ideas for future growth.  “Women’s Initiatives play an important role in organizations, providing visibility and a voice to career women and avenues to career progression that might not otherwise be available, “ remarked Michelle Capezza of Epstein Becker Green. “Women’s Initiative groups not only help women by providing a clear roadmap of how to achieve their career goals, but also help motivate them when they otherwise believe these goals can’t be achieved.  By having this networking lunch, we realized that the challenges and accomplishments in two different professions are inherently similar.  And every idea shared will create positive results,” said Elaine Papadopoulos, CPA, of Citrin Cooperman.

The opportunities that Women’s Initiatives create are limitless.  Women are natural connectors and Women’s Initiatives can provide the forum for women to reach their professional potential.  The Women’s Initiatives at Epstein Becker Green and Citrin Cooperman would be happy to speak to you further about establishing or growing the Women’s Initiative in your organization. 



The EYES Have it: Harnessing the Power of Eye Contact in the Workplace

Bonnie ScottBy Bonnie I. Scott

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported on the decline of eye contact in both work and social settings. This is hardly surprising. Every day, we split our attention among multiple projects and tasks; we text and email—even to the person in the next office; we meet through webinars and webcam; and, increasingly, we telecommute (nearly 10% of U.S. workers telecommute at least one day per week). Employees new to the workforce have spent their school years in classrooms, where eyes are focused on laptop screens, not each other or the professor. What was once considered the norm—speaking face to face, getting to know each other through chatting before getting down to business, giving undivided attention to the person speaking to you, and gauging reactions—no longer comes naturally to a workforce used to glancing at a screen every few seconds.

What does this decline in meaningful eye contact mean for business and for women in their careers? Plenty.

Studies show that men and women use and perceive eye contact differently. Men often use eye contact to exert dominance; for example, they decrease their eye contact to communicate that the person to whom they are speaking is inferior. Women, however, tend to use eye contact to read others and as a bonding mechanism. Generally, women are more comfortable with eye contact than are men; thus, women will tend to hold it longer.

These gender differences help explain the results of a 2009 study in which researchers found that face-to-face negotiations (as opposed to negotiations without visual contact) are more valuable for women than men. For two unacquainted women, direct face-to-face communication allowed for a better shared understanding and higher quality agreements than communication without visual contact. On the other hand, for two unacquainted men, the absence of visual contact led to higher quality agreements.

By giving up eye contact, women are relinquishing a natural advantage and powerful tool for building professional relationships and establishing the connections for achieving success.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal article, communications training professionals suggest holding eye contact for 7 to 10 seconds when engaging in one-on-one conversations and for 3 to 5 seconds when engaging in group conversations. Experts also advise that eye contact must be held for 60% to 70% of a conversation for an emotional connection to be formed; today’s adults only maintain eye contact for 30% to 60% of an average conversation. While too much eye contact can make people uncomfortable—so beware of starting a staring contest— women, especially, should remain cognizant of the value of visual engagement.

For speakers, maintaining eye contact shows confidence and helps keep listeners engaged. For listeners, maintaining eye contact demonstrates interest and respect. Checking emails during a meeting or glancing at a text during a one-on-one conversation can make those we are speaking with feel unimportant and make us look disinterested, disrespectful, or careless. By harnessing the power of eye contact in the workplace, we can differentiate ourselves from the madding (and maddening) crowd and gain an advantage. The ability to hold someone’s attention is critical in business. What you see, is what you get.

Changing Lives - One Act at a Time

As executives within the global corporate community, we are judged by our successes that largely impact the financial bottom line.  We are sharing with our readers a success story of a truly unique woman Joanna Chan, M.M., who has forged a journey, at once professional and personal, that has done little to impact the economic environment but has transformed the lives of others in significant, if not incredible, ways. Please enjoy the story by clicking here.

Women's Initiative of EBG Leans-In to the Conversation

Maxine NeuhauserSheryl Sandberg’s best seller Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead continues to be a hot topic of op-eds, blogs, television pundits and other media.  On Thursday evening May 23 the Women’s Initiative of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. joined the conversation with an event at the firm’s Newark, NJ office, “Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: What’s all the Buzz?”

Dr. Patricia Roos, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University and Fellow at the University’s Center for Woman and Work moderated a lively discussion among the many women executives who attended. Their insights were cogent, witty and insightful. Do we hold ourselves back? Do our attitudes hold others back?  How do we avoid or change the either-or thinking that pervades much of the conversation -- the notion leaning-in at work, means leaning-out at home? The group exchanged war stories and offered antidotes to overcoming self-doubt.

The event, which also featured a supper and dessert buffet, ended at 8 PM. The conversations, however, will certainly continue.