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LOS ANGELES � So much for sisterhood. Women juggling kids and careers in private practice might expect some sympathy, maybe even a little slack, from female clients. After all, the thinking goes, they can relate. Or not. Last week, a panel of in-house counsel at a National Association of Women Lawyers event in Los Angeles told the crowd to keep their personal lives out of the equation: Clients should come first. “If there’s a family crisis, or something with the kids, or other clients, we don’t care about it � get the job done,” Linda Louie, general counsel for the National Hot Rod Association, told an audience of about 100 women Wednesday. “You are a commodity to us � show me how you can solve a problem.” Panelist Elizabeth Atlee, a senior counsel for BP American Inc., doesn’t have a problem with lawyers leading balanced lives � so long as that’s not an excuse to blow off client demands. Don’t answer the phone if you’re putting kids to bed, Atlee told the audience, but call back with your full attention as soon as you’ve done so � and skip the blow-by-blow: “I don’t want to hear about your kids,” she said. “I’ll tell you if I do � don’t tell me.” Though those sentiments may sound extreme, Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at Hastings College of the Law, said it’s not all that unusual. “There’s a generation gap between baby boomers who played by the old rules and Gen X men and women who want to establish new rules,” Williams said. “When women my age entered law, if we had done anything different than men, we would have been out so fast our heads would have been spinning.” Women who entered the field under the old rules often emphasize those rules and want them to stay constant. Despite common perceptions, men of the same generation often have a softer stance on work-life issues, Williams said, because they weren’t forced to make the same brutal trade-offs that some women were. Louie, who has children of her own, said she’s always sought to separate her work from her personal life. Unfortunately, she said, some of the outside lawyers she’s worked with don’t draw that line. “Maybe it’s because I was trained mostly by men when it wasn’t as cool to have kids,” Louie offered. “When my clients call me, they expect 100 percent of my attention, and I expect to give 100 percent, no matter what I am doing.” Louie said she expects undivided attention, too, even if she calls in the middle of the kid’s soccer game. “I don’t want to feel I can’t call them at home,” she said. “I think that’s an issue.” Louie added that she isn’t looking to chat. When she hires outside counsel, she cares about the work, she said, not the relationship. Angela Bradstreet, the creator of the San Francisco Bar Association’s No Glass Ceiling Initiative, said it’s important for women to take a businesslike approach to clients and be careful about interjecting too much that’s personal. Business and time are valuable commodities, especially to in-house clients who are also held accountable, said Bradstreet, a partner at San Francisco’s Carroll, Burdick & McDonough. “Sometimes we can be more preoccupied with creating a relationship with someone, and we have a comfort level talking about personal issues as opposed to business issues,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s not appropriate to start talking about whatever personal issues one has.” Joan Haratani, president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, said that what’s appropriate is often the client’s call. “When you’re the client, you have the right to hire folks whose priorities comport with yours.” Haratani is working with a task force to come up with ways lawyers can strike a healthier work-life balance while still satisfying the most demanding of clients. “It’s a difficult issue, and it’s becoming more pronounced as more women enter the legal field,” she said. Williams, meanwhile, pointed out that there’s a distinction between a reduced schedule and a rigid one. While an attorney’s rigid schedule may be problematic for in-house counsel, a lawyer can work fewer hours and still be readily accessible. The BASF task force is surveying lawyers in hopes of finding a “win-win” approach to what is a growing concern, not just for lawyers but for law firm leaders. “Folks are paying close attention,” she said, “not only for recruiting and retention, but also in terms of succession planning.” Haratani said she hopes the survey results, due in September, offer some solutions. “I think everyone agrees you want your talented folks to stay, and folks also agree a lot of people choose to have lives outside of work. So how do you make those coexist?”

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