Women in Law: How to get the critical career-boosting assignments

One area that women I coach can find challenging is ensuring that the opportunities they are given, and matters which are assigned to them are as interesting and developmental as they would like them to be.

Here’s how to be more successful at winning work internally and ensuring your place at the table.

Adapt to your partner’s style

We all have different ways of working, communicating and getting along. Take time to understand how the partner you are working for likes their team to operate. What level of delegation do they like to use? To what degree are they looking for you to take the initiative versus follow their instruction? By staying attuned to their style and adapting your responses accordingly you’ll create a productive working relationship.

As with any successful relationship you need to work at it and find common ground. This can be harder when you are working with different genders and generations (as is often the case). While it isn’t necessary to become a football fan in order to interact with the football-crazy partners in your group, it is worth investing in understanding their likes and dislikes when it comes to ways of working.

Hunt in pairs and mingle with other tribes

A hellish prospect for most, internal networking is a must to raise your profile. At firm social events push yourself to talk to those you might not naturally speak to and could even find slightly intimidating. Sometimes networking in pairs can be a less frightening way of mingling seamlessly between partners, associates and support staff who tend to congregate in tribal groups at work events.

Be aware that in a male-dominated environment women can miss out on “locker room” conversations where partners gravitate to associates they have played or watched sport with. It really is worth finding out what the partners in the firm are interested in outside of work, so you can perhaps find some alternative common ground when chatting to them outside of work discussions.

Women in Law

Emma Spitz women in law

Ask!

What’s wrong with asking a partner who gives out the type of work you want to do if you could be involved in the next job that comes up? Don’t feel the need to justify your request; just ask.

Have you noticed that this is something your male counterparts tend to find easier? As a coach I’m often asked to help female lawyers become more confident by men who misinterpret reluctance to be assertive as a lack of confidence.

These women don’t lack confidence rather they have learnt to conform within a society that views assertive behaviour in men as a successful strategy for self promotion whilst remaining suspicious of assertive women. I think women need to challenge their inhibitions and show their light more.

Take the Nike approach and just do it

Research from Hewlett Packard shows that men put themselves forward for a job when they meet only 60 per cent of the requirements but women apply only if they meet 100 per cent of them.

Yet the reality is that it’s only possible to become competent at a job by doing it. Push yourself out of your comfort zone so that you put yourself forward for assignments that you might initially feel are beyond your level of experience. Many women hold themselves back from work opportunities, as they are concerned they might not have all the answers and could be found out. Just go for it and learn along the way. Ask for more responsibility, don’t wait for it to be given to you.

What are you famous for?

Another way to attract work from partners is to become known for something. It might be a specific area of law that you become expert in or maybe it’s becoming the go-to person for a particular industry group. Once you develop a point of view or an area of interest maybe a passion, it makes networking much easier because you narrow the field and you will find others either partners or clients that share that interest.

In my next article I’ll look at why business development is critical to your career progression and how to get involved.


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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