By Lina Guo, Barbara Kott • May 14, 2015•Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector
Lately, it feels like every article out there about women in the law highlights the obstacles we face in this profession. A recent Harvard Study noted that women in the law “appear to be leaving their prestigious positions – and the profession as a whole – in alarming numbers.” According to the National Association of Women Lawyers, in 2013 women accounted for only “17 percent of equity partners in the 200 largest law firms.”
The facts and reality are hard to ignore, and can leave us all feeling a little disenchanted with our future in the law. Rather than highlighting the dismal numbers, we wanted to remind everyone that we cannot let these statistics impact our motivation and dishearten us. Instead, let’s stay focused in our day-to-day career life and continue to pave the way to success.
Spring is a great time to clean out some of the negative noise from our heads, and instead, go back to the basics. Let’s go to work each day encouraged, inspired, and ready to blaze our own path. Below are 5 reminders on how to approach our jobs on a day-to-day basis. It’s time to get out there, find our strength, and change the statistics, one step at a time.
Own it. Don't rely on senior associates to walk you through assignments and review your work. The most valued junior associates are the ones who take the initiative to find the right answers without having to be told.
While senior attorneys understand the need for training, they do not have time for hand holding. Show them you don't need it. For example, if you are a litigator, be familiar with the court rules and scheduling orders that govern your cases so you can be on top of deadlines and filing procedures. If you are a corporate associate working on a deal, try to find closing binders from similar deals to guide you in compiling first-draft documents. In other words, be proactive.
Network. Knowing your peers in the legal community is critical to future success, so start early. Networking is actually much easier than it sounds. Start by keeping in touch with law school classmates and the people you summered with. Join local bar associations and industry-specific groups. Attend relevant networking functions.
The legal industry is smaller than it seems, and getting your name out there can lead to opportunities. It’s equally important to get to know your law firm colleagues, too. The most sought-after matters are usually staffed with associates who are well known throughout the firm. Attend firm events and find ways to spend time with your coworkers.
Be positive. Do your best to remove yourself from situations involving a group of junior associates complaining about the firm's policies, long hours, or the personalities of certain partners. Regardless of whether associates are engaged in harmless banter, whiny junior associates are a partner's biggest peeve. Those associates are always noticed – and not in a good way.
Take the long view. Think strategically about your career. A common game plan is to "stick it out" for a few years and then decide what to do next. Instead, set goals early on and then position yourself strategically to achieve them as soon as possible. If you want to eventually move in-house, ask to work on projects for clients that interest you and put you in touch with the right people. If you want to join a litigation boutique, introduce yourself to attorneys in those firms and stay in touch with them over the years.
Specialize. Keep up with the latest developments and become known as the go-to attorney in a particular legal area. Attend events related to your niche, and let your firm's marketing department know that you are available for speaking engagements, interviews, and/or writing articles.
Think like a partner and understand the partner's perspective. Partners are under more pressure than ever to bring in new clients, keep existing clients happy, and maintain a prestigious reputation in the industry. Recognizing a partner’s responsibilities and goals will make you more supportive when you are asked to work extra hours on a particular client's case.
Stay current. Keeping in mind that your practice area and related industries are constantly changing and evolving will make you a much better associate. Demonstrate to partners that you are committed to your area of expertise.
Read relevant articles, attend continuing education classes, and familiarize yourself with new laws and regulations that affect your practice. Although many partners may not notice that you took the time to learn the information, almost all of them will surely notice if you don't.
Life at law firms is changing. Attorneys are expected to accomplish more than ever before, not just in terms of billable hours, but also with respect to building client relationships, and having deeper knowledge and expertise. Working in the legal profession can feel very tough at times. It’s important to remember to stay positive, work smart, and learn how to survive the less glamorous moments of the job. There is a dearth of women in the legal profession – if you can stay the course, the fruits of your labor will be the ample opportunities and the doors that will be opened to you down the road.