Successful Women Lawyers Play to Their Strengths. You Can Too.
Negotiating the politics and obstacles of being a woman in what has been a male-dominated profession can be challenging. In our recent Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast, employment law attorney Olivia Goodkin shared her experience navigating the legal profession as a woman as well as lessons for all young lawyers starting out today.
- TIP #1: Be Proactive
In other words, lean in. For many women, it never occurs to them to just ask for what they want. For example, if you want to be partner, ask for it. All they can do is say “no” or “not now,” in which case, you can ask what you need to do to make that happen. Get in the habit of promoting yourself. Look interested. Get involved. Be on committees. Be proactive with your own career. Am I getting a raise? A bonus? Ask for what you want!
- TIP #2: Have Your Own Voice
Do things your way and don’t pretend to be a man or do things the way men do. You can be effective as yourself. Women have different strengths from men that are just as effective, and you should play to those; just be you.
- TIP #3: Understand Your Audience
With so many different generations in the workplace, it’s important to understand your audience and how they like to communicate. This applies to your boss, your partners – everyone with whom you work. The older generation tends to prefer face-to-face meetings while the younger generation likes to email or text. Those who know their audience and communicate in ways most appropriate for each person, will get the best results.
This also applies to how you dress. You will never be criticized for overdressing, but you may be criticized for being too casual. When you are meeting a potential client for the first time, even if you know they wear jeans, don’t wear jeans. You don’t need to go over the top and wear a three-piece suit, but initially, it is better to dress conservatively.
Clients actually expect their lawyers to look like lawyers, but again, age makes a difference. If you’re meeting with a 30-year-old who has started his or her own business and it’s a notoriously casual industry, you don’t have to wear a suit; but if you’re meeting with a 65-year-old woman, a suit is probably the best choice. The tip here is to always consider your audience and be aware of, and on top of, generational differences.
- TIP #4: Let Go of Guilt
According to numerous studies, men and women are very different when it comes to guilt. Here’s an example: when women want or need to take time off for family matters, such as taking care of aging parents or kids, they tend to feel guilty, whereas men typically don’t.
Law firms have billing quotas and when men don’t meet that hour quota, they may not feel great about it, but they don’t feel guilty. They just figure, “Oh, I had a down year” or “I didn’t have enough business” or point to a family issue. But women, instead of just cutting back on hours and continuing to take salary will often go to management and say, “Hey, how about if I work three-fourths time and take three-fourths salary?” Men don’t do that. They just work less and, not to disparage men, they just don’t seem to feel as guilty about not meeting their targets.
Men don’t have emotional attachments to numbers, and instead look at statistics as “information.” Women tend to think, “Oh my gosh, I only billed 100 hours; I’m terrible.”
- TIP #5: Take a Leadership Role and Set Goals. Business Will Follow.
Joining organizations, taking a leadership role and then networking within the group is a good way to generate new business. Do what you’re comfortable doing. Some people are more comfortable speaking; some are more comfortable writing. The main thing is to commit the time to whatever you choose to do. You may get lucky and people might call you out of the blue, but generally, business doesn’t just happen. You must commit to going after it.
Give yourself weekly goals and make yourself accountable for meeting them. Your efforts may not necessarily pay off in the area you put them in. For example, you might give a speech and not get any business from those in the audience, but the next week, you get a call from someone else. If you put yourself out there, you’ll get something back. It may not come from where you think; however, doing nothing isn’t a fruitful option.
And remember, life isn’t fair. Some lawyers get business with minimal effort. They might have family businesses or connections, or they might be recipients of some inherited business like when a senior partner passes away or leaves the firm. Luck does play a part, but you have to take responsibility for working hard and developing relationships. If you don’t do anything, you’re not going to get anything and you’re not going to have any control over you career.