By Anna Johansson • January 31, 2019•Careers
If applying for work at a prestigious law firm is anxiety-provoking, actually getting the gig can be even more frightening. Now you’re the new face in the office, surrounded by established lawyers, and that’s enough to trigger a serious case of imposter syndrome, especially as a woman. Do you really belong here? Will you succeed? The fact is, though finding your footing can be a challenge, doubting yourself won’t help. No, now is the time to fake it til you make it and even take some risks. As a new member of the team, you have little to lose and a lot to gain.
Find A Mentor
Ask any experienced lawyer how they got settled in Big Law and they’ll all tell you the same thing: you need a mentor. Not only can a mentor help you navigate the internal politics of your firm, but mentors can also offer important advice about your field. They know who else is practicing in your area, who the judges are, and settlement tricks that can hurt your clients, and they don’t want you to repeat their mistakes. While some lawyers can create an adversarial environment even within their own firm, a good mentor is someone who you can talk to about procedural questions and your anxiety about being new in a high-pressure firm.
Know Your Firm
You’ve probably read your firm’s website many times, especially while you were interviewing, but returning to the site after you’ve been hired can also help you reorient yourself and find your focus. Though small firms may have rather bare-bones sites, among big law firms, websites are often quite informative. For example, a quick look at the website for the New York-based Lipsig Law Firm reveals information on settlement amounts, partner biographies, practice areas, and media links. Reviewing this kind of information can help you engage in conversations with other lawyers in the firm, choose cases that fit well into your firm’s scope, and generally feel oriented at an overwhelming time.
Raise Your Voice
During your early days in practice, you may be expected to shut up and listen – a lot – but don’t fall prey to the trap. Particularly if you’re working as a trial lawyer, being a woman in Big Law can be marginalizing, both in the office and in the courtroom. That means you have to find strategic ways to make yourself heard. As reported by The Atlantic, studies show that when female lawyers express strong emotions in the courtroom, judges characterize them as unpleasant or irrational. Men, on the other hand, are viewed as aggressive or protective of their client.
If you want to be heard as a new, and female, lawyer, you’re going to need to raise your voice and hone a communication strategy that earns respect. No matter how valuable what you have to say is, the double standard means your male coworkers, judges, and even clients may push back. And don’t forget – you were hired because you have outstanding communication and analytical skills. You earned your place. Now you need to remind those around you of what you have to offer.
It’s Okay To Fail
Finally, it’s important to recognize that you won’t start to feel comfortable in your practice until you’re actively trying cases, and a good firm will provide you with plenty of low-risk opportunities, scenarios in which it’s okay to fail. This is part of mentorship, and it helps to remember that it’s not just okay to fail, but that you’re expected to fail sometimes. This is why you’ll also receive tasks of different levels of importance as you gain more experience. Those first assignments are opportunities, first and foremost. Show what you know, but don’t be afraid to take risks or make a mistake. Those at the top once stood in your shoes, and they’re confident now because someone gave them a chance. Now it’s your turn.