Women Lawyers Advocating For Themselves

This is a continuation in a series of blogs based on information gleaned from a Women in Law Empowerment (WILEF) virtual meeting presented by the WILEF Chicago Young Lawyers Committee to address impacts on women lawyers of practice during the pandemic.  The first installment, published on August 5, 2020, addressed the subject of setting boundaries, and the second installment, published on August 20th addressed privacy issues in a Zoom world. Today’s topic is advocating for yourself.

Self advocacy is a necessity but it also does not come easy, especially for women. Women lawyers of my generation were taught not to brag about their accomplishments, and those early teachings became impediments to climbing the ladder of success. A few years ago I moderated a panel at the Georgetown Law Women’s Forum that focused on this issue, and it was a very lively discussion. The panelists included Georgetown Law graduates from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s. Although the panelists did not agree on everything and approached the issue differently, typically according to years in practice, they all agreed that it is a continuing problem.

Women lawyers doubt their competency more than their male colleagues, and some women even suffer from the Imposter Syndrome. Women lawyers are often reluctant to fight for the work they deserve and the compensation they are entitled to for doing it. They must be cognizant of this and focus on ways to overcome it. We all know that the compensation gap between men and women doing the same job also applies to the profession of law. What you might not know is just how much that compensation gap amounts to over a legal career. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least. So that is what you are fighting for.

You also want to be doing the work that suits you best. The work that you enjoy. The work that brings you the most satisfaction. To do that, you have to learn how to advocated for yourself. My programs on “Owning Your Career,” which I present at law schools, law associations and law schools, are very popular. Young women lawyers know they need these self-advocacy skills, and they are eager to become comfortable with them. The emphasis is on taking control of your career, recognizing your value, and owning your future in the law. Contact me if you are interested in knowing more about this.

The participants in the WILEF virtual meeting also recognized the importance of this subject matter, and they had the following recommendations on how to increase your ability to advocate for yourself.

  • Seek out advice from someone you trust. This may be hard for the third-year association, who has not developed relationships with those at the management level, but that same associate can get advice from senior associates through an organic mentoring process. Those higher level associates have been through it, and they can be a rich source of information on meeting your goals within an organization. Although law firms are often described as “cut throat,” the speakers thought that was overstated and agreed that it only takes a couple of trust relationships to help you along the way.
  • Put your goals in writing and share them with those you trust. It seems that we always are putting our concerns in writing, which comes off as negative, but goal sharing is different. It is positive. It shows that you are focused on the future and how best you can contribute to the law firm or law organization. Start with a 3-year business plan that you would like to discuss. One that includes the skills that you want to acquire, how you are going to get those skills, and how having those skills will make you a more valued member of the firm.
  • Do not take for granted that your good works will be noticed. This is a common mistake that women lawyers make. They think that if they work had and produce good work that, magically, senior lawyers and management will notice. Not so. You have to set the trail, and lead them down it.
  • Do not be embarrassed to call attention to your accomplishments. Men do it all the time — even when they do not deserve the credit. If you accomplish something big, let it be known. Taking credit for a job well done is not the same as bragging. If you got a case dismissed, tell people about it. You did a good job for your client, and the members of the firm need to know it.
  • Pretend like you want to make partner — even if you think you don’t. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and revisit those lists periodically. Be positive about the importance of your career path because it will lead to the best mentoring situations. If the senior partner thinks he or she is developing you for partnership, that lawyer will be more inclined to invite you to client meetings and share inside information with you to give you a critical window into how law practice really works. And, who knows, your plans and your preferences may change. And you will be ready for whatever comes your way.

So start today by advocating for yourself. Don’t hold back. Just go out and do it.!!!!!

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