Women in law: Don’t leave it to others to recognise your success

Are you highly intelligent, analytical with a robust work ethic and excellent communication skills to boot? Fantastic, you have what it takes to be a great lawyer, but are you a successful lawyer? The difference between being a great and a successful lawyer can be influenced by your ability to have your success recognised and rewarded.

It’s one thing to perform effectively and, quite another, to be perceived as performing effectively. It’s common to assume that if you do a good job at work, recognition and reward will automatically follow. The belief that we make decisions regarding performance based solely on evidence and rational judgment is not substantiated by research.

One of the most valuable lessons a female lawyer can learn early on in her career is that doing a good job is not enough, in itself, to ensure you will definitely get ahead.

Research shows there are gendered differences in the way success is perceived with men benefiting from a positive bias. While a man might attribute his success to competence, a woman is more likely to put it down to hard work or luck.

If you want recognition (as a man or woman) you need to be willing to take responsibility for broadcasting your own achievement and press for appropriate rewards and advancement.

Act on your bragging rights

If the prospect of self-promotion feels uncomfortable be reassured that you are not alone. Some 42 per cent of women in the UK find it difficult to talk about their work achievements compared with 28 per cent of men, according to a recent poll in the Telegraph. While two-thirds of women recognised the need to talk about their success they feared doing so would be seen as bragging and would rather talk about a colleagues’ achievements than their own.

Yet it’s imperative that you do act on your bragging rights. Not only are some of your male colleagues already doing a good job of promoting themselves, so are your female competition in the international market. American women are the most comfortable talking about their success, followed by Brazilians and Canadians (43 per cent, 40 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively). Here in the UK, only a quarter (25 per cent) of female employees are confident in this area. In a global workplace the message is clear, if you don’t self promote your career will stall.

Emma article

Emma Spitz

Tips for self-promotion

It’s important to find a style of promoting yourself that you feel comfortable with and make it a habit. Keep a file of your successes, wins, and positive feedback to remind yourself of the key messages you are entitled to promote.

The next step is to identify whom it is important to promote your success to and why. Then decide what you want to develop your reputation in. It’s best to focus on building expertise in just a couple of areas or with a particular client. Don’t keep changing focus or it will dilute people’s perception of your expertise.

Make sure you speak up and subtly drop your achievements into conversation with colleagues and clients on a regular basis. Forwarding on the appreciative or congratulatory emails from clients is a very easy way of making others aware of your success. If you find this hard to do informally then make sure you have it high on the agenda for your regular performance reviews.

Channels for communicating your success

There are a number of avenues open to you to build a reputation as an expert in a particular area. You could write an article showcasing your expertise for your firm’s newsletter or for external publication in the legal press.

Confident speakers may prefer to raise their profile by speaking at relevant events. Speaker opportunities are a great way to raise your profile, giving you the perfect platform to share your key messages with a captive, influential audience. To pitch to speak, write your own speaker profile, including a biography and topics that you can speak on.

Finally, don’t forget that future clients and employers will probably browse your LinkedIn and other social media profiles. Think of these channels as your career shop window and keep them well dressed with engaging but professional content that reflects your offline persona.

Emma Spitz is a Director at the Executive Coaching Consultancy. She has over twelve years experience advising City law firms and coaching female lawyers on their career development.

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