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Women in Law: five pieces of advice

Written by: The Lawyer
Published on: 7 Aug 2017

One of the questions I frequently ask experienced, successful women lawyers is, “if you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, what would you say to her?” Here is a distillation of their wisdom.

Create your own definition of success
Partnership by 35 is not the only version of success and is challenging to achieve if you have other commitments beyond work.  Be aware that careers advice for young female lawyers may be predicated on the assumption that success looks like a linear advancement toward partnership.

This may be the traditional career path but career patterns now, particularly for women, can take a different trajectory. Weigh up careers advice and plan your own career with realistic milestones that suit the personal choices you want to make.

Convert mentors to sponsors
You probably recognise the value of mentors inside and outside your firm to provide a wise sounding board and assist your career ambitions.  Recognise that advice and support from mentors is invaluable for personal development but for career development you need to convert mentors or key stakeholders into sponsors. When you are up for promotion you need advocates who will talk for you, act as your champion and promote your strengths over the next person.

Focus on your career not your job
Spend time and effort on activities that contribute to the strategic success of your department and firm. In a desire to help others, it is easy to end up fulfilling the agenda of other people rather than what will make a positive difference to you. Learn to distinguish between work activity that will reflect success back to you versus what is only important to others and focus on the former.

Never pass up an opportunity to network internally and externally. It is critical to business development and therefore your success. When you achieve success blow your own trumpet. Share any positive feedback on your performance from clients and colleagues with your boss. After all, you cannot expect others to know what you have achieved unless you tell them.

Take time to plan your own career development and play the long game. Don’t be tempted to make short term decisions or have knee jerk reactions based on immediate needs or challenges while ignoring your long term career plan.

Male and female lawyers think and react differently
Understand this and adapt your communication accordingly. Various studies show that women tend to take a collegiate and consulting approach to decision-making and communication. The danger here is that in male-dominated partnerships others’ may wrongly perceive your collaborative communication style as a lack of confidence or hesitancy when it comes to decision-making.

You cannot thrive without good health, family and friends
You will not be able to stay on top of your work without a healthy life outside of work. No is not a four-letter word and you must take responsibility for drawing boundaries to protect all that keeps you healthy in mind and body. Work out your non-negotiables and stick to these.  Manage your time effectively and make staying late something you do when there is no other choice rather than something that is expected of you.  Consider how efficient and productive you look if your chargeable hours are high but your hours in the office are not extreme.

I hope this insight from experienced women lawyers will help you to identify early on in your career what will accelerate your success and what will hinder it. I’ll end with the words of an eminently successful female partner whose advice to her younger self is, “Above all else believe in yourself and recognise your value. Don’t ask permission just do it.”

Emma Spitz is a Director at the Executive Coaching Consultancy.