Nature vs. Nurture: Women helping Women

I think all women reach a point where they realize that just because your boss is a woman doesn’t mean that she has any interest in seeing you succeed or that she has any interest in guiding your career path.

It’s always a difficult realization to come to, but also, part of growing up. We’ve all been excited at some point to work for some woman that we really admired only to learn that she is not similarly excited to have you underfoot.

According to this article in The Atlantic, it’s not really her fault that she’s that way. Apparently, women who strongly identify with being a woman respond to sexism by “closing ranks” so to speak. They rely on support from other woman and provide support to other women to make sure they we all have a chance at achieving our goals. But, for women who do not so closely relate to members of the same sex, they respond to sexism by pushing women away. The thought process is something like “if being a woman is so bad then I don’t want to associate with ANY women.”

That’s a really unfortunate situation for those ladies.

I have always believed that, whatever group you belong to, you should be able to rely on them for support and encouragement and provide that same support. That’s part of the reason that I write this blog. I am still a young lawyer, but, with five or so years under my belt, there are a lot of experiences that I’ve had that I think are helpful to share with other young lawyers.

As a visible minority, I have made connections with other visible minorities because we have similar experiences and as a woman, I have been a member of various groups that support, promote and champion women in the law. I can’t really imagine trying to go through this all alone by pushing these various support networks away in an attempt to be less “other”. No (wo)man is an island, right?

Anyway – I hope that we all feel comfortable enough in our own skin that we don’t need to deny some basic part of ourselves in order to get ahead in the world. I’m pretty sure that if you do feel that you have to pretend to be someone you’re not then it’s going to be a really long and lonely road and you may not really enjoy the destination once you get there.

I hope that this becomes a space where people can share information and learn something new about others who are in a similar phase of life and I hope you can all find spaces that provide you with a sense of belonging and help you be the best version of yourself. That’s really the best we can ever hope for, isn’t it?

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Just Do It

It’s easy, sometimes, to believe that other people are responsible for your career development and progression. When you’re at a big firm, especially, there are lots of people dedicated to providing you with training, meeting with you on a semi-annual basis to review where things stand and coaching you to set goals, etc. However, even in those environments, the responsibility for ensuring that you have the career that you want still comes down to just you.

You have to implement the plans and work toward the goals and make sure that you are heading in a direction that fits you rather than just coasting along on other people’s dreams.

This is advice for myself just as much as all of you.

I recently got the opportunity to work closely with a senior lawyer in my area of practice as as an arbitration ‘side-kick’. No, that’s not the technical name for it, but really, the position is to be the arbitrator’s clerk. I’m taking notes, synthesizing information and discussing the day’s events with a lawyer who is not only very well-respected in the practice area, but throughout the bar. It’s a great opportunity and I am really fortunate to have been given this opportunity.

However, when the opportunity first came up, I was hesitant. Why? Because I am also really busy at work and have a husband and dog and, you know, life. It was easy to think, well if I just keep doing what I’m doing, I can still get to where I want to go.

Luckily, that thought hung around for only a split second before I realized what a golden opportunity this was and I jumped at it. I cleared my schedule as much as I could (of course people who are lawyers or friends with lawyers understand the necessity of all plans being subject to change) and I hunkered down to do the work that needed to be done. Both parties in the arbitration are represented by great senior counsel so I’m getting a front-row seat to some excellent advocacy as well as the decision-making side of things. As a litigator – things couldn’t be much better.

But, still, the fact that I hesitated bothered me. I mean, why would I have ever thought to pass up on an opportunity like this? And I soon realized what it was: because I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to ‘take a seat at the table’ as Sheryl Sandberg would say. It felt like I was putting myself out there as someone who was too keen for their own good. But, of course, that’s nonsense. I was afraid to be ambitious for myself because of some amorphous fear of what that might look like to other people.

We no longer live in a legal world where you should feel good about keeping your head down and not making waves. There are too many lawyers and too few jobs to pretend that you can do anything other than be that annoying kid who always raises his/her hand when the teacher asks a question (I admit, I was totally that kid, but I prefer to say that I was just precocious).

Anyway – I’m really glad that I put my hand up and took this opportunity. I’m learning more every day here than I did in the past three months since I started this new job. I am remembering what it feels like to be really, genuinely interested in something.

So, my advice to you is just do it. Put yourself out there. Take control of your career. Don’t rely on other people to direct you to where you need to go and don’t coast on someone else’s dream just because you can’t think of anything else to do.

Set goals.

Go after what you want.

Be ambitious. Be amazing.

Be yourself.

New Lawyer Series: Think Like A Lawyer

“Think like a lawyer” is a common, if not commonly-explained, phrase that all law students and new lawyers are familiar with. It’s easy to believe that attending three years of school, participating in various hands-on clinics and working in law offices for a couple months of the year will prepare you for what it takes to be a good lawyer, but it takes more than just perfecting your drafting techniques and learning the office politics to succeed as an advocate.

In “The Sweet Science of Shifting Your Mental Venue” in the Summer 2015 edition of the ABA’s TYL magazine, Tracey Lesetar-Smith drills down on what it takes to think like a good lawyer. Here are her suggestions:

  1. Take Time to Think Even Under the Gun: “Pressure to have all the answers. . .at our fingertips can obscure a lawyer’s ability to retreat into thought, and the necessity of quality thinking time is rarely understood by clients.” So how do you take the tim you need to really think about the issues you’re being presented with? Tracey recommends getting rid of as many distractions as possible: cell phone, email, open door. Sit and think through the issue and, when you think you’re done, ask yourself what could be missing. And keep thinking about the issue.
  2. Don’t Go Through Life With a Red Pen In Your Hand: Not every potential legal issue is one that your client cares about. Know how to spot all of the issues, but learn which ones will actually matter to your client.
  3. Take Stock of Your Resources: Use your resources (time, relationships, etc) wisely.
  4. Don’t Forget the Narrative: You need to create a narrative for your client’s side of the story that makes sense to people. It’s great to be clever and come up with new legal arguments, but ultimately, if the other side’s story just makes more sense, then the time and energy you put into those clever arguments is worthless.
  5. Sweat the Details, then Don’t Sweat the Details: Do the best work you can – double and triple check everything – but don’t flip out if there’s an inconsequential typo on page 39. Young lawyers are often tasked with worrying about everything, and rightfully so. However, there is marginal utility to continuing to beat yourself up over some small errors that will ultimately change nothing.

Once you’ve mastered the fundamental skills of lawyering, you must begin to refine your thought processes so that you are able to provide the most value to your client.

The concept of providing value to clients is somewhat new to lawyers, but it is no less important than all of the things that you learn in law school. Any one could spend countless hours and dollars researching a minor point of law, but the truly great lawyers will identify the top issues that make a material difference to their clients and spend the time advocating for those things. It’s not enough to just think like a lawyer – you have to think like your client and act accordingly. That’s how you become a great lawyer.

Do you think this list is complete or is there something else you would have included?

Don’t Be Afraid of Ambition

Reese Witherspoon recently gave a speech at the Glamour Women of the Year awards where she asked “Why is female ambition a trait that people are so afraid of?” In this video, I give my answer to that question and take it back to basics: what exactly are we talking about when we talk about ambition? Enjoy!

The road to success is paved with good intentions

Many many people start out their careers thinking that they know everything that they need to know and, laid out before them is a clear straight path to “the top”. Of course, we know that that is never the case. There are the occasional stories of people who somehow tap into the zeitgeist and are catapulted above others, but I believe that anyone who is successful – in small ways and big – has these tools available to them and they learn how to use them to their highest ability:

PREPARATION: I won’t bore you with the 90/10 quote about preparation, but let’s all agree that it’s THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING that you can do to put yourself on the path to success. It can take many forms, but if you aren’t ready when opportunities come – not only will not be able to take advantage of them, it’s highly likely you won’t even recognize them as opportunities. PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE.

MOTIVATION: Everyone talks about how millenials are so special because they work purpose and not a paycheck. Let’s be very clear here: EVERYONE WORKS FOR A PURPOSE. Your purpose may be getting a check so that you can feed your family and keep a roof over their head, but that’s no less a purpose than is saving orphans. We are human. We need to know that things that we’re doing serve some sort of purpose. We don’t have to be motivated by the same things, but you need motivation to help you commit to the cause, to stay the course, to go where no man has ever gone before….or something like that.

DETERMINATION: Listen, you guys. Things aren’t always easy. More than likely, they’re going to seem infinitely more difficult when you are faced with options like A) picking up the slack for a team member who is not pulling their weight (for whatever reason) or B) dinner and a movie. This is not to say that there will always be such a stark contrast between what you want to do and what’s required, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that showing up and doing good work is enough. You need to want it. You have to want it. Whether it wants you back is a different story.

LUCK/CHANCE: There is, unfortunately, always some element of luck involved with success. You may have prepared for this from the day you were born and found your internal drive and powered through all the times you wanted to lay your head down on your desk and quit. But, sometimes, the universe just ain’t looking out for ya. It may be that there was some prodigy that’s eclipsed you in a short period of time, there may be a change in the market that makes your skills/knowledge obsolete, THERE ARE A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. It is not, however, an excuse to hang your head and go home with your tail between your legs. If you have the drive and you’re determined to get ‘er done then you know what you start doing? You start preparing for some new path to success. You take all of the skills and knowledge and work ethic that you’ve spent time cultivating and you channel it into a new venture. None of us have a right to be successful at the thing that we want to be successful at. For instance, I would love to be a pop star on the same level as Beyoncé, Britney (pre-crazy) or Rihanna, but I can’t sing. Like not even a little bit. That life is not available to me. But, I can still belt it out in the car, in the shower and around the house and imagine that life while I’m preparing for something that I might actually be good at.

No one owes you anything. Full stop. This is why motivation and determination are really the most important tools you can develop. If you want it badly enough and you’re prepared to make some sacrifices and, well, just prepared generally, the opportunities will come your way because other people will notice that you’re a person who has the tools to be successful at anything. They’ll say, “you know, Jane is always so on top of things and she’s such a great person to have on my team, I want to make sure that she is in the best position to grab hold of the next rung on the ladder.” So on and so forth.

Are there any other tools that you think are essential to staying on the path to success?