By Anna Johansson • October 29, 2018•Careers
Despite the growing number of women attending and completing law school, most women in the profession are familiar with the experience of being the only woman in a room full of men. In some specialties, however, this is the case more often than not, a result of self-segregation and because male clients hold male lawyers in higher regard. As such, when the client base is overwhelmingly male, such as in corporate law, sports law, and construction and industrial law, women lawyers are firmly in the minority. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your mark.
If you want to succeed as a woman in male-dominated legal specialties, you need role models and mentors who can help you navigate the tough situations. Women face undue hurdles when attempting to break into these roles, and you may have to work twice as hard to prove you’re as qualified as your male peers to do this work.
Build Your Network
One of the most important factors for women lawyers seeking to break into male-led specialties is the strength of your network – and you need to look beyond your initial law school contacts. Very often, your close network doesn’t include individuals who have a deep understanding of your professional niche.
In order to find your network, you need to keep talking. As sports law practitioner Alexa Galloway explains, “nine times out of ten, people want to help you. For example, all of my internships have been by word of mouth and I would not have gotten them had I not reached out directly to an individual instead of applying through a portal.” We succeed via our networks, so be brave and reach out to people who may be able to help you, even if you don’t have an introduction or formal connection.
Learn The Language
Another key element for women trying to succeed in fields like industrial, corporate, or sports law is the ability to speak the language, beyond just knowing professional terms. Yes, you obviously need to have a solid grasp of the equipment or practices of the industry you work with, but it’s more complicated than that. You also need to learn the tone of those industries. You don’t need to use locker room talk, as they say, but you need to adopt language that’s comfortable for your clients.
In practice, learning the language of an industry very different from law can be daunting, but it’s a valuable skill. For example, personal injury lawyer Hilda Sibrian handles refinery accident cases, a field that is made up primarily of men with limited education for those in non-managerial roles. These workers may be just as intimidated by working with a lawyer as you are in crossing the social divide, but it’s your job to make them comfortable. Find common ground. Moments of mutuality, when you can express deep understanding of your client’s plight, can change the entire tenor of your relationship and can also help clients’ open up about their story and recognize your legal skill.
Participate In Professionalization
Most legal specialties have their own professional organizations, and these groups can play a significant role in building your network and demonstrating your own leadership. The Construction Lawyers Society of America (CLSA), for example, runs women’s and diversity initiatives designed to address the historic exclusion of women and minorities in this field. Taking on a leadership role in such initiatives, whether by leading a working group or participating in conferences, can help you build a reputation that will proceed you when meeting clients.
Being a woman in male-dominated legal fields is intimidating, and it can be marked by the types of sexism and harassment in the workplace and by clients that we’ve committed ourselves to working against. But when we step outside of the legal “Pink Ghetto” of feminized legal niches, we challenge the status quo. That’s how the world changes – a brave woman takes that first step.