By Noha Sidhom • March 01, 2010•Superwomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them
Tanya L. Jachimiak received her Juris Doctor in 1998 from DePaul University College of Law. She practiced employment law, including class action litigation, for over ten years. Tanya left the private sector for the public, currently holding the position of Associate Director of the Office for Access and Equity, University of Illinois at Chicago.
1. How has being a woman affected your career or legal education?
Because it is such a male dominated field, I often find myself trying harder and doing more to outperform my male counterparts. On many occasions, male firm partners have excluded me from outings with my male peers (e.g., golfing events, basketball).
2.What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started practicing law?
Understand and follow the Doctrine of Completed Staff Work (http://www.dolan-heitlinger.com/Quote/StafWork.htm) . Also, I would have benefited greatly from advice on how to navigate the often conflicting demands of multiple partners. It took some time to figure out that when accepting an assignment, I needed to be very clear about when I would be able to complete the new assignment in light of a deadline set by another partner. Just saying “yes” doesn’t work in the long run. Quality is more important than quantity.
3. What do you think the legal profession can do to increase the number of senior level females?
Current senior level females should reach out to younger associates more frequently and be willing to mentor female associates. In my experience, senior level females did not reach out to junior level female attorneys. Until I became involved with NAWL, I knew very few senior level females who were willing to mentor and show junior level females the ropes, so to speak.
After the jump, the best reading for new attorneys, the truth about finding mentors in a male-dominated environment, and some thoughtful advice about how to prioritize work opportunities ...
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?
Read current case law everyday for substance, writing style, legal procedures, etc… Avoid reading summaries, which are of very little use. And always follow the Doctrine of Completed Staff Work.
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.?
If you find the answer to this, I would love to know! What I have learned, however, is the importance of being myself regardless of societal perceptions.
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 know if this sentiment is true. It’s unclear to me as to why senior female attorneys appear unavailable. That said, I don’t think there is value in figuring things out on your own if you don’t have to. Seek out mentors, whether male or female.
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?
Prior to working for my current boss, I never had a female mentor. I have done work for senior female attorneys but have not considered any of them to be my mentor. Because of this, I don’t know if there is added value in finding a female mentor. My mentors have been the attorneys I most respect and most want to be like.
8. We all have to make sacrifices for our careers, what sacrifices have you made and which would you make again?
At times, I sacrificed my relationship with my partner. At other times, I sacrificed my well-being. I can’t even count the number of vacations I have cancelled (or had to come home from). I will not make such sacrifices again. Life is short.
9. 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?
My favorite thing about being a lawyer is analyzing problems and then solving them.
10. What are your interests/hobbies outside of the legal practice? How important do you think those interests/hobbies have been in maintaining some work life balance?
I am an avid cyclist. Earlier in my career, I studied the martial arts. Both cycling and the martial arts have been important in maintaining some work life balance. I have come up with my best legal arguments while riding down to my office.
11. If you could go back, what would you have done differently in how you approached your legal education and career?
If I could go back, I would not change my legal education but I would change the approach to my career. I would be less focused on “making it” in a large firm and always looking for better opportunities.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.