SuperWomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them: Featuring Katherine B. Edwards of Alexandria, Virginia
By Noha Sidhom • May 03, 2009•Superwomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them
Bio for this week's Superwoman JD:
Katherine B. Edwards has been practicing law for over twenty-five years and is known as one of the best energy attorneys in Washington D.C. Kathie earned her J.D. in 1981 from the University of Texas and also earned a Masters degree from Memphis State University. She has authored several law review articles and has chaired and co-chaired several Energy Bar committees. Currently, Kathie runs her own practice, Edwards and Associates, where she primarily focuses on work with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
1. How has being a woman affected your career or legal education?
I graduated from college in 1969 and from law school in 1980, so I was a little older when I started law school than most women today. This was during the time that male-dominated professions were opening up for women. This was especially true in Washington DC, because the government was more willing to hire women than private firms or companies. I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and being a woman did not occur to me as a disadvantage or advantage. By the time I got to law school, my class was about 30% women. It is my understanding that in most law schooIs today, the percentages are even or there are slightly more women than men. I have always enjoyed the challenges of working in a male-dominated environment, but I also think being a woman has helped my career. I believe, for the most part, that women tend not to get so hung up on ego, and are more focused on a bottom-line, practical solution to a client’s problem.
2. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started practicing law?
I wish I had been told that if you have small children, a government or corporate job is preferable to a job in a large private law firm. The most difficult part of my career was in the early years balancing motherhood (as a single mother) with private practice. I remember racing to get to the day care center before it closed at 6 pm, and then working at home late at night or early in the morning, in order to be as productive as my colleagues.
3. What do you think the legal profession can do to increase the number of senior level females?
I believe this will come over time, as women continue to demonstrate their competence and managerial skills, but initially it takes a few “break-through” promotion decisions by committed senior male management, which should be encouraged. I also think as younger men and women mature in the work-place environment, because they are used to working together in law schools, the environment will continue to evolve so that being a woman is not a consideration one way or the other in promotion decisions.
4. Being a first year attorney anywhere is tough. How do you think young attorneys can really hone their skills in their first few years?
It is essential to get hands-on experience and to prepare as thoroughly as possible. You learn by doing, not by watching. Volunteer to participate in every type of legal activity available (e.g., research, draft the first draft or part of a brief, do some limited cross-examination on minor issues in a case, sign up for pro bono work, etc.)
5. Our profession is male dominated. How can young women balance being feminine and professional at the same time? I meet many women that simply act like one of the boys; I do not think that is the solution. Do you have any advice for handling social situations, outings with clients, etc.?
This is a cliché, but I think you have to be yourself and not emulate someone else’s style, male or female. It never works. It is a person’s uniqueness that makes that person interesting and effective. On the social side, I have done a lot of client entertaining over the years, and the best advice I know is to avoid situations ahead of time that might lead to awkwardness or misunderstanding. For example, when leaving a restaurant, get the first taxi, or when in a hotel on a business trip, plan to meet in the lobby.
6. There is a perception that senior female attorneys think that they had it tough and so should you. Do you think that this sentiment is true? If so, do you think there is value in figuring things out on your own like women before you had to?
I don’t share that perception. I had it tough, but I think all young attorneys have it tough and all have to figure things out on their own and what works for them. This takes time and experience.
7. What advice do you have for young female attorneys looking for a mentor? Do you feel that there is added value in finding a female mentor? What should they be looking for in a mentor, and what can they do to make themselves someone you would want to mentor?
The qualities of a good mentor apply to both men and women and include (i) a willingness to delegate, (ii) the ability to provide encouragement and constructive criticism, and (iii) giving credit where credit is due. One of my biggest peeves is when a senior attorney takes all of the credit for work done by a junior attorney. Volunteering to help and asking for advice from someone you respect (whether male or female) is probably the best way to find a good mentor.
8. What is your favorite thing about being a lawyer? I am sure you have a moment of achievement that made the sacrifices seem worth it. Can you tell us about a highlight in your career?
All lawyers love to win, or else they should choose a different profession, and I am no exception. Each case won makes the sacrifices worthwhile. One of my more memorable achievements was a case we won in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, after I had practiced the oral argument with my then 90-year old mother (who is now 99). The judges asked some of the same questions she had asked me in our practice session. That victory was sweet for both of us. But practicing law is like a roller coaster, and often you win the cases you should have lost and lose the cases you should have won. Or you win the initial decision, and then lose the appeal. So you have to get over the losses, stop self-flagellating and move on. I primarily enjoy the analytical side of developing arguments in written pleadings, e.g., finding logical flaws in arguments, distinguishing bad precedent, etc. Federal court appellate work is the most challenging to me and Supreme Court jurisprudence is the most interesting.
9. Men still get paid more and get promoted faster. What advice do you have for young women to help them accelerate their careers?
Work hard, pay attention to detail, double-check and proof everything you write, stay connected with superiors and your peers, show initiative, volunteer for projects, and be patient. It takes time to develop expertise. A rule of thumb is that it takes about 5 years to get good enough in a subject area to add value.
10. If you could give one piece of advice to new female lawyers, what would it be?
Do not assume that you are being treated differently because you are a woman, ignore anything you might perceive as sexist, don’t let your feelings get hurt, and get on with the challenge of being the best lawyer you can be. Of course, if you are the subject of any sort of sexual harassment, it should not be tolerated and should be reported immediately to a supervisor.
Bio for the author of the column:
Noha Sidhom is a proud graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law. Before attending law school, Noha interned on Capitol Hill for the Honorable Charles Timothy Hagel and went on to campaign for Senate candidate Peter Ricketts. During law school, she clerked at Husch Blackwell Sanders, formerly Blackwell Sanders. She also did an internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Enforcement and an internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where she is now an attorney in the Office of General Counsel. Noha is licensed in New York and New Jersey, and currently resides with her husband in Washington, D.C.
A Message from the Author:
This column is a Q&A with senior level female attorneys offering advice and mentorship to young female lawyers. The questions below were sent to the interviewees and responses have not been edited for content. The advice, experiences, personalities, and approaches of these women are extremely diverse and more importantly very useful to future generations of female attorneys. I hope this column will offer helpful advice, and inspire healthy discussions. I have an exciting lineup of female leaders in the profession, but if you have someone you would like to nominate, or you yourself would like to be interviewed, feel free to email me at email@example.com.