By Michelle Banks • March 09, 2015•Law School, Pre-Law
If I went to law school today, with the benefit of over 25 years of experience in the legal profession, including 20 years in the business world, I would change one important thing: networking or, stated more positively, relationship building, specifically with other professional women.
Before going to law school, I would join Ms. JD. Once on campus, I would join an organization such as UCLA Law Women at my alma mater and, upon graduation, I would join various professional organizations and informal groups. For example, I currently serve as a commissioner on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession and as a member of the Board of Directors of Minority Corporate Counsel Association. Today, I am also a member of California Women Lawyers and Dinner Among Friends (an informal group of women general counsel in the San Francisco Bay Area). But, I only made time for these organizations once I was established in a General Counsel role and I took on many of these roles primarily in the interest of helping others. In hindsight, women helping women is hugely powerful and I should have taken advantage of associations like these earlier in my career when I was trying to learn and develop in the legal profession and in business, and, later, as an inexperienced leader facing the challenges of career and life transitions.
I now believe that I did not make the most out of my law school experience. Studying for classes and participating in Moot Court did not prepare me optimally to join the world outside of school. Once in a law firm, working long hours on projects and focusing solely on doing good work may not have been enough to obtain partner status had I chosen to remain on that path. I did not build connections or even look up from my desk enough I now realize. Once in a corporate legal department, I was at times isolated and I was unaware that I should be building my personal professional brand. I’m not writing as if it didn’t all work out. I have the best job for me and I am thankful for it, but I could have made it easier on myself if I had taken advantage of the incredible networks I’m a part of today back when I could have used more advice, support and perspectives from others outside my workplace. I still find these external points of view helpful and important. In my opinion, women who are the best at developing their personal professional influence understand that establishing strong connections and building good relationships are critical to their success. It’s also fun to surround yourself with people who cheer and inspire you.
I am currently co-founding and co-chairing UCLA Law Women LEAD (Leadership, Empowerment, Advancement and Distinction). LEAD was the vision of UCLA Law School Dean Rachel Moran and it’s a great example of what I wish I had leveraged earlier in my career. Our goals for LEAD are to provide a 24/7 virtual communications platform, a virtual network of the more than 6,000 women who are attending or have graduated from UCLA Law School, and to host women’s summits, networking events and mentoring circles. We just launched in January 2015, so its early days, but if we do this right, it will be a competitive advantage for the law school and a valuable intangible asset for the women who attend throughout their lives. As I stated earlier, women helping women can be powerful, especially when those women are law firm partners and students looking for a first job, general counsels and women associates in law firms, etc. If you are affiliated with UCLA, I hope that you will join us at uclalawwomenlead.com. If you end up at another school, I hope that you will prioritize any method of making connections and building relationships with other women.