Hon. M. Margaret McKeown and Roberta Liebenberg | The Importance of “Office Work” and the Hazards of Women Lawyers Becoming “Office Moms”

Margaret McKeown

The Honorable M. Margaret McKeown is a Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Before being appointed to the court in 1998, she was in private practice for more than two decades in Seattle and Washington, DC. 

Judge McKeown is recognized for her work on judicial ethics, gender issues, and international rule of law. She is a member of various committees, has lectured throughout the world, and has participated in numerous rule of law initiatives with judges and lawyers. Judge McKeown is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the ABA Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, the ABA John Marshall Award, and the Girl Scouts Cool Women award, among others.

Roberta LiebenbergRoberta (Bobbi) Liebenberg is a Senior Partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black, focusing her practice on antitrust and class actions. She’s also a Principal of The Red Bee Group, a women and minority-owned consulting firm that concentrates on helping organizations and law firms use data-based strategies to attract and retain talent, foster innovation, and attain diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives. 

Bobbi is one of the nation’s leading authorities on advancing diversity and inclusion inside the legal profession, and she has written, spoken, and consulted extensively on these issues. She has chaired organizations devoted to gender equality in the profession, spearheading a number of initiatives, studies, and publications concerning various matters of importance to women lawyers.

Judge McKeown and Bobbi have diligently researched implicit gender biases, specifically regarding office work in the legal space. “The Hazards of Female Lawyers Being ‘Office Moms,’” an article they co-authored, describes why women are often viewed as the “glue” or the “moms” of the firm — and thus why office work is often disproportionately delegated to them. Judge McKeown and Bobbi dig into the history, the current trends, and their advice on how firms can avoid yielding to the “office mom” phenomenon. 

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Why the Hon. M. Margaret McKeown and Bobbi Liebenberg co-authored an article exploring the “office mom” phenomenon in the legal space
  • The importance of valuing and rewarding office work in legal organizations
  • Judge McKeown and Bobbi explain why women tend to take on office work duties
  • How legal employers can ensure that office work is assigned more equitably
  • What women lawyers can do when asked to perform office work: speak up, seek allies, or use humor
  • Why you shouldn’t necessarily start at the top when bringing up equity issues
  • Bobbi’s advice for advancing your legal career
  • Judge McKeown and Bobbi’s words of wisdom for lawyers and law firms: recognize and reward office tasks, and don’t underestimate yourself

In this episode…

Extra office work — like administrative tasks, lifting morale, and organizing client meetings — is mission-critical to the health of a firm. However, these duties are often uncompensated, unrecognized, and fall on the shoulders of women lawyers, feeding into the “office mom” phenomenon. So what can leaders do to ensure they’re assigning this work more equitably? And what strategies can individual lawyers use to avoid these gender-biased assignments?

Through their research, Judge M. Margaret McKeown and Bobbi Liebenberg were able to explore the “office mom” stereotype and brainstorm strategies to avoid this kind of implicit bias, specifically in law. Because of social pressure, obligation, and fears of being penalized, it can be challenging to navigate resolutions to biased office work assignments. However, Judge McKeown and Bobbi have discovered solutions for women in any industry: speak up, use humor, and seek the advice of allies and mentors to help guide you.  

In this episode of The Lawyer’s Edge Podcast, Elise Holtzman talks with the Hon. M. Margaret McKeown, Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Bobbi Liebenberg, Senior Partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black and Principal of The Red Bee Group. Together, they delve into the reasons why office work is so important, why the tasks are often assigned to women, and how individuals and firms alike can break this inequitable cycle.   

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by The Lawyer’s Edge, a firm based in the New York metropolitan area founded by Elise Holtzman in 2008 to help lawyers become skilled business developers and leaders so that they can grow their practices, retain top talent, and step confidently into leadership roles.

The firm offers customized coaching, consulting, and training programs such as their signature business development program, Lawyers Making Rain.

Now more than ever, it’s not enough to just do good work and hope your law firm will thrive. And no matter how smart and hard-working you are, it can be time-consuming and overwhelming to figure it all out by yourself.

To learn more about how we help lawyers become rainmakers and leaders, visit thelawyersedge.com or email us at podcast@thelawyersedge.com.

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