Women Lawyers: Up Your Confidence Game

I recently read this explanation for the high rates of attrition among women lawyers, especially women in litigation:

Male lawyers are conditioned to be overconfident decision makers whereas female lawyers are conditioned to believe they’re impostors, not smart enough or not ready. That conditioning starts from the way we’re brought up as boys and girls and the cultural ideas that are ingrained in us from early childhood.

Think about that.  Imagine a bunch of boys gathered for a game of pickup basketball on a Saturday afternoon.  What would you hear from those boys?  Bravado?  Yes, plenty.  Bragging about their abilities and how much better he is than the rest?  Yes, certainly?  All of them thinking he is headed to the NBA.

Then ask yourself whether you can imagine a group of young girls acting tha way.  The answer is likely no.  A group of young girls would be sizing themselves up against each other in a very different way.  Does my hair look good enough?  What about my makeup?  I wish I had a new dress like hers.  I am sure the boys like her better than me.

And, the girls are not all to blame.  Women have been taught for generations that bragging is not lady-like.  And it is not.  It also is not man-like.  It is obnoxious from both males and females, but men get away with it because of cultural norms.

But, you are stuck with being a girl and a woman.  Not smart enough?  Not ready?  An imposter?  Now tell me that you never have felt that way.  Don’t bother because I probably would not believe you anyway.

The differences between the way that male and female lawyers evaluate their capabilities does not fall purely along gender lines, however.  Surely, many young male lawyers have found themselves feeling the same kinds of insecurities as the young female lawyers, but the men seem to get over it faster.  As the young men become more capable, they gain confidence.  Not so for many young women.

Women lawyers really need to work on the confidence factor.  The law profession is difficult and can make you question your competence on a regular basis.  But, it has been my experience that confidence trumps competence every time.

And, you have so much competence to be confident about.  For the most part, you excelled in undergraduate schools, gained entrance into prestigious law schools, and statistics show that women graduate at the top of their law school classes in terms of gpa and honors more often than men.  These are not small accomplishments.  Treat them with the significance they deserve.

Make it a point to be consciously confident, and stop being too humble.  Humble doesn’t help when it keeps you under the radar and holds you back.  Check your persona to make sure that you are presenting a confident face to the world.  Check your communications to make sure that you are talking in a confident manner.  That does not mean bragging and claiming to know what you do not know.  That is obnoxious and dangerous, but there is a confident way of saying that you do not know but will find out and come back with the information.

Start developing your professional brand and an “elevator speech” that reflects confidence and competence and references your strengths, your abilities and your unique perspectives.  If your brand is right for you, it will inspire and empower you to connect effectively with both clients and colleagues.

Stop beating yourself up with the NOTS — not good enough, not smart enough, not this, not that.  Stop thinking of yourself as a fake or an imposter.  By those standards you never will be good enough.

And you are good enough.  You just are not recognizing it and marketing it.  Play to your strengths not your weaknesses.




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Best Firms for Women Lawyers — How Reliable are the Lists?

I know that I have published list after list of the “Best Firms for Women Lawyers” over the years in my blogs and on my website.  It seems like the right thing to do for someone who has been devoted to the retention and advancement of women lawyers for more than a decade. 

But, honestly, I did it with some reluctance.  I always was a little skeptical about how those lists were compiled, whether the research was based on an even playing field for all contenders, and the nature of the relationships between the ranking entities and the firms ranked highest on their lists.

Now a new batch of those lists (from Law 360, Working Mother, and more) has been released, and it turns out that I am not the only one with these kinds of questions and concerns.   One of the most savvy law reporters around has doubts similar to my own and has looked critically at the lists and the law firms that appear there.

In her article, “‘Best’ Law Firms for Women?  Really?,” Vivia Chen of The Careerist and ALM calls the lists “confusing, if not misleading.  And sad.”

Here are some of her concerns for you to keep in mind as you read and rely on those lists:

  • Having a high percentage of women lawyers in a law firm is different than having a high percentage of women equity partners or shareholders;
  • Effort is not the same as results, and firms that have flexible work arrangements, generous parental leave policies and business development training (while all laudable efforts) should not be given equal weight with firms that “walk the walk” and have impressive percentages of women as partners, demonstrating real equality for women within their ranks; and
  • Sugar coating and “misrepresenting” the data will not get us where we want to go in terms of true equity for women lawyers.

We all are trained as fact finders for three long years in law school and in our practices, and we must look behind representations to discover the facts and who really deserves credit and who does not.  We need to expect that of ourselves.

For more on the “lists” and progress in gender diversity at law firms, see “Who’s The Best? (Leading Law Firms for Women)” in the current issue of the  ABA Journal.


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It Is NOT OK For Women Lawyers to Cry at Work

If you have followed my writing for the last ten years, it will not surprise you that I do not advise crying at work — unless it is behind closed doors and the telltale hints of crying are erased before you re-enter the office common space.  Or unless you are facing some devastating personal loss.

So, when I saw the articleIt’s Okay To Cry At Work” on Above the Law recently, I had a visceral reaction.  Visceral because I am trying to help you become the most competitive and highly competent and regarded professionals possible — and crying at work is not the way to reach those goals.

The question of whether you should cry is different from whether you have a right to cry.  Your “right to cry” is firmly established.  You have a right to cry because there is a lot that women lawyers have to cry about.  They are outnumbered by men in a profession that is also hugely male dominated.  Only 20% of the partners in law firms today are women and that leaves a lot of management and leadership that does not understand the challenges to women lawyers and/or does not care about them.  Women lawyers with children and family responsibilities are pulled in so many different directions that they are sure their limbs will become detached at any moment.  And there is still far too much gender discrimination and implicit bias running rampant in the profession that it stretches the causes for optimism, even on a good day.

Yes, there is a lot to cry about. But, don’t do it.  It makes you look weak — as recognized by Kathryn Rubino, the author of the ATL article.  Why would you want to look weak in a shark tank?  That just does not make any sense.  The fact that women have traditionally been the criers does not change that result either or establish the wisdom of weeping openly in the workplace.  In fact, in a profession as challenging as the law, where criticism comes from all directions, including the client, the senior counsel, the opposing counsel, the managing partner, and the judge, why on earth would you want to look weak???

Apparently the men have figured this out.  I have been a lawyer for almost 40 years, and I have yet to see a male lawyer cry in the workplace over stresses related to the job.  Yes, I have seen tears in male eyes on 9-11 and at the images of Sandy Hook Elementary, and I would expect that.  But, I do not expect it for the reasons suggested by the ATL article.

And I am not interested in the health benefits of crying in this context.  Although I generally am interested in women lawyers paying attention to their psychological and physical health, this is not one of those times.  You will find yourself in a much more “healthy” state if you safeguard your professional future.  Job security trumps endorfins every time.  Trust me.

Your job always should be to keep communications open, and crying will shut down a conversation in a nanosecond, especially if the person on the other end of the conversation is a man.  Men do not feel comfortable seeing women cry, and they will do everything possible to wiggle out of the discussion.  So will a lot of women.  The reason for that is that shows of emotion like crying are personal and — as a rule — do not belong in communal settings.  Sure there are exceptions, but do not strain your brain looking for them and trying them out.  There is a law of diminishing returns associated with academic exercises like that.

You are a professional, and you are expected to act professionally.  I have a rule of thumb that is appropriate here:  If you would not exhibit certain behavior in the courtroom before the judge or jury, don’t do it in the workplace.  It is an easy rule to apply.


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More on Women Bullying Women

I hope you read the article on women bullying women (aka Queen Bees) that I wrote about in last week’s blog.  In case you missed the conclusions from that article,  I am here to help you.  It is a very long article, replete with research findings, and you have so many demands on your time.

In recognizing that the answer can’t be to simply give into and tolerate the Queen Bees, the writer makes these conclusions about how to eliminate women bullying women in the workplace — and, of course, that includes women lawyers bullying other women lawyers:

  • Better support for working mothers, including training female bosses to “buy” into and support those policies;
  • A greater effort by employers to show talented women that they are valued because women who feel optimistic and confident about their career prospects are less likely to victimize each other;
  • Current female leaders breaking down entrenched stereotypes about how female leaders should behave and defeating bullying behaviors; and
  • Women becoming more confident in their abilities and cease apologizing for their talent and success, which makes them vulnerable to the criticism of others.

These are valid conclusions but will be very hard to accomplish in practice.  You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.  Behaviors are very hard to change, but that does not mean that we should not keep trying.  We need to remember:  If women cannot figure out how to exhibit kindness and grace to each other, they cannot expect that same kind of treatment from the rest of the world.

It was the summary I liked best, however.

“Someone has to be the first … to behave confidently, to risk knee-jerk bitterness from our colleagues as a result, and to not hold it against them.  But it would be easier if we could do it as a hive.”

This should whet your appetite and get you back to that article when you have time for it.  Reading it will be very much worth your while.  You are not likely to be one of the rare women who dodges the woman-bullying-woman bullet, so prepare yourself.  Knowledge is power.

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Women Lawyers Bullying Other Women Lawyers — Not a Pretty Picture

If you never have been bullied in the workplace, you are lucky.

If you never have been bullied in the workplace by another woman, you are very lucky.

It happens much too often, and you need to make sure that you are not the bully.  That is the only way we will get this under control.

I, like most women lawyers, have been bullied at one time or another.  We are minorities, and that, unfortunately, is how minorities get treated.  Many of us were “pioneers” in our fields, and, because of that, the forces were against us in an even more powerful way.  The profession was not ready for us in the early years.  In those days, most of the bullying was done by male lawyers — because they could do it with impunity and because almost all of the managing lawyers were men.

But, to be bullied by another female is a whole different thing.  It is pure betrayal.  Any notions that we, as women, are all working toward the same equitable end, flies right out the window.  How could she do that to me?  How can she allow herself to weaken my position to make it easier for others to throw me under the bus?  How can she allow petty jealousies and envies to overcome the concern we all should have for helping each other get ahead on a playing field that is tilted against us?

Those are the kinds of thoughts that cloud your mind and disappoint your soul when another woman bullies you.  And, today, most of the bullies seem to come in the female variety.  Woman-on-woman bullying is running rampant in our profession.  My conversations with male lawyers today lead me to believe that it is as distasteful to them as it is to the women who are being bullied.  It is not a pretty picture, any way you look at it.

I hope it never happens to you, but chances are it will.  Read this article from the Atlantic to arm yourself against bullying, to recognize it when you see it, and, yes, to understand it.  Not to justify it, but to understand it.  “There’s hostility among the women who have made it,” states the writer.  “It’s like, ‘I gave this [part of my life] up.  You’re going to have to give it up too.”  You also will read some historical information that sets the stage for this kind of competition between women that is worth knowing.  But, hey, it is not the survival of the fittest to the same extent today as when there was only one strong alpha male to protect his “woman” and her offspring.  Presumably, we have evolved.

“Tokenism” is also discussed, and it needs to be.  It occurs when there are few opportunities for women, as compared to men, and women begin to view their gender as an obstacle, which causes them to avoid joining forces.  That is when they turn on each other.  Hardly the theme of Best Friends at the Bar.

And, you also will read about “competitive threat,” which takes place when a woman fears that a female newcomer will outshine her.  Been there, done that — from the receiving end.  Bad, bad.

Although the article is not specific to women attorneys, many of the “tales of female sabotage” reference them, and the article begins with information about a blog post by an anonymous young woman lawyer, who breaks down Female BigLaw Partners into three categories:  The “aggressive bitch”; the “passive-aggressive bitch”; and the “tuned-out, indifferent bitch.”  The connection between female bullying and our profession is clear to the reader.

I know it may sound like “sins against feminism” to “out” this kind of information, but it is time that we called it what it is.  It is time that we started policing our ranks against these abhorrent behaviors and practices. When it becomes “sport,” it has gone too far.

Read the article and find out why.

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Leadership Lessons for Women Lawyers

My friend, Caroline Dowd-Higgins, is an excellent career coach, motivational speaker and author of “This is Not the Career I Ordered.”   Her recent blog “15 Leadership Lessons to Invigorate Your Career”  is worthy of your attention.  Caroline and I first met when she was the Career Services Dean at Indiana University Law, and I think it is no accident that her advice rings true for young lawyers.

Here is her list (with a little editorial help from me!);

  • Be Confident:  Confidence can be more important to career success than competence.   Confidence is developed by you and comes from within you, but new skills can be learned.  People like to be around those who are confident because it is uplifting and makes them feel confident, too;
  • Develop You Professional Brand:  Learn to promote your unique skills so that others will recognize you as the “go to” person in some areas.  Even if you are not certain that your current specialty is what you want in the long run, take advantage of it in the short run to gain the confidence of others;
  • Read More:  Feed your brain with new information on even the busiest of days.  Intellectual stimulation is a common denominator for effective leaders and opens you up to diverse perspectives;
  • Identify 25 Influencers:  Think about who can help advance your career.  Inside and outside your field.  Meet those you can and read advice from those you can’t;
  • Make Time to Help Others:  Helping others is a road to happiness.  It puts the focus on the needs of others and takes it away from obsessing about your future and your problems.  It puts you in control.  Even the busiest and most successful people need to make time to help others;
  • Emphasize Your Strengths and Minimize Your Weaknesses:  Sell yourself by playing to your strengths.  Nothing is ever gained by concentrating on the negative;
  • Have a Plan:  Your career plan can be as short as a list of goals and achievements for one year.  Ask yourself what you want to accomplish in the next 12 months, and write it down.  If you are being blocked in accomplishing your goals, think about moving to another career setting.  You are young and flexible;
  • Ask for Help:  It is not a sign of weakness, and you should not treat it like one.  Everyone gets help along the way.  Ask for help and give help;
  • Take Some Risks:  Get out of your comfort zone, whether it be to ask for help, to seek advice about your career goals or to take on the challenge of new work.  Stretching beyond your comfort zone involves some risk but also provides great opportunities for growth;
  • Value Your Differences:  Be YOU.  Do not change who and what you are to fit into any group.  Diverse backgrounds and viewpoints are essential for growth and development — of people and of organizations;
  • Take Your Seat at the Table:  Be seen and be heard in the workplace.  Do not always have the attitude that no one wants to talk to you and that no one values your input.  The truth is that most people do not take the time to talk to colleagues because they are too busy or they are too insecure or socially awkward to start a conversation.  You be the one to initiate the conversation;
  • Fail Forward, Fast and Often:  Do not be afraid to fail.  Do your best and understand that failing is part of the journey toward success.  Learn from your mistakes and go forward; and
  • Be Curious:  Curiosity is key to success.  Learn something new about your firm and put it to good use at the right time.

(Yes, I know there are not 15!  I consolidated a few.)

Keep this list handy, and check it from time to time.  Ask yourself whether your short-term plan is working and how you can use these leadership lessons to get where you want to go.

And then, enjoy the journey!

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Women Lawyers Need Mentors — and Why the Profession is Failing Them

It is not just young women lawyers who desperately need mentoring — it is all young lawyers.  And, the profession is failing them.

Young lawyers need mentors to help guide them in their professional growth and provide opportunities to discuss their futures as lawyers.  Instead, too often, young lawyers flail around doing what they think they should be doing without knowing what it is they should be doing.

And, that leads to a lot of insecurity and loneliness on the job.  The profession has evolved in such a way that an associate lawyer can spend eight to ten hours a day in front of a computer screen reviewing documents and having very little interaction with others at the firm.  Senior lawyers feel they are too busy to “bother” with newbie lawyers, and some firms don’t even provide much in terms of interaction between associates.  Gone are the days of associate meetings, which served two meaningful purposes.  Those meeting brought associates together in a semi-social setting so that they did not feel so isolated, and the meetings also helped them develop the interpersonal skills that are critical to success in our profession.

I talk to young lawyers today who rarely, if ever, attend meetings of any kind.  They just toil away in their offices, day in and day out, ignored by senior lawyers and managers, and wondering whether the promise of law school was just one big and very expensive lie.

Is this what we really want?  Are we content to develop “researchers” instead of “lawyers”?  Where, along that path, would these young lawyers develop the “soft skills” that will determine their value as they progress in the firm and interact with clients and develop new work?

Young lawyers do not have to feel that isolated, and law firms should not be content to have them feel that way.  Mentoring is not just an investment in a young lawyer’s future; it also is an investment in the law firm.  Is it really that difficult to have breakfast or lunch with young associates periodically and bolster their confidence to feel like lawyers instead of like unimportant cogs in a wheel?

If you are a young associate, who is feeling this kind of isolation and loneliness on the job, you will have to get proactive.  Seek out a mentor, as uncomfortable as that might be for you.  Think of it as taking initiative — a very important trait for a leader.  If you have one, let the associate coordinator know your desire to learn more about the profession from people with the experience and the answers so that you can become a valuable asset to the firm.

Young lawyers, whose futures are being ignored, are very justified in seeking out more satisfactory turf.  And, I would advise them to — but not until they have tried to find mentors and make the system work as it should.

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Women Lawyers Need Balance

Every year at this time, I put Best Friends at the Bar on hold to spend time with family and friends.  It is a month-long hiatus that I know is enviable but that I feel entitled to after all these years.  And I LOVE it.  I will be at the Massachusetts shore with friends and at the Maine shore with family, and I can’t wait for the games to begin!

It is not that my work is over or that my desk is clear. That is not the case at all.  I am completing the manuscript for a new book, on deadline for a book proposal, developing a new soft skills program for associate lawyers, and writing speeches and developing Power Point slides for presentations in the Fall.  I am plenty busy.  But, that is not the point.

Vacation does not happen when your desk is clear.  Vacation happens when you need it and when your loved ones are available.  If you wait for the desk to be clear, vacation never will happen.  If you wait until someone at work tells you that the time is right, trust me, the time will never be right.

Understand what you need and what you have a right to expect.  You can do the math.  If you are on target with billable hours and have not taken your allotted vacation for the year, what are you waiting for?  It is time to act.  Go dip your toes in the ocean like me or go climb a mountain or take a cruise.  August is the perfect month for taking a break and chilling out.  September is a time when the law profession springs back into action.  After that, you are lucky if you get a break until Christmas Eve.

Go for it.  I know I will.  And, when September rolls around, I will be ready to go full steam ahead to grab the brass ring!

See you then.

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