The Lawyer's Edge
The Lawyer's Edge
Apr 19, 2022
Hon. M. Margaret McKeown and Roberta Liebenberg | The Importance of “Office Work” and the Hazards of Women Lawyers Becoming “Office Moms”
Play • 42 min

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

Hon. 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. Hon. 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 (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.

Hon. 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. Hon. McKeown and Bobbi dig into the history, the current trends, and their advice on how firms can avoid yielding to the “office mom” phenomenon.

In this episode…

The 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, Hon. 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 penalization, it can be challenging to navigate resolutions to the biased office work assignments. However, Hon. 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 Hon. M. Margaret McKeown, Judge in 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.

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