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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Work work work work work

That Rihanna song is so catchy isn’t it?

Warm weather has finally arrived and it’s difficult to focus at work from time to time, but I find it much easier to work longer hours when it’s not dark at 4 or 5PM. That just makes me sleepy. And grumpy.

I wanted to share some good advice that I got a few years back about succeeding in private practice: You always need to have a little more work than you’re actually capable of getting done in the time you’ve got. Clearly, that doesn’t mean that you should take on so much work that you’re doing a disservice to your clients, but it’s something that I remind myself every once in a while when I start to feel like I’m actually getting to the end of things.

Be busier than you think you should (or want to) be.

I like crossing things off my list as much as the next person, but what I’ve learned is that you really are never done with legal work. As with any good business, the successful lawyer is always a little too busy. Think about it – you probably wouldn’t be that interested in a restaurant with no one in it, so who wants to go to a lawyer who is only ever working on one file at a time? First, as a young lawyer, if you don’t have a decent number of files, you’re probably not getting the breadth of experience that you need to keep advancing. Second, if you’re twiddling your thumbs on someone else’s dime, you should probably start looking for a new position because that isn’t likely to last too long.

Also, I just don’t think you can really have any work/life balance if you aren’t working. I suppose it’s a variation on “you can’t have the good without the bad”. Not that work is bad, per se. Just that, if all of your time was free time then you might not appreciate the time that you get to spend with your friends and family as much because, you know, you can see them any time you want. When you have work that you enjoy and that keeps you busy, you feel that much better about taking a break from it and coming back to it later.

It’s possible to be busy and enjoy your time off. In fact, having other interests can actually make you better at your job. I’ve taken up no fewer than six hobbies over the past few years (it may seem excessive, but I think my real hobby is learning to be a jack-of-all-trades). Recently, I’ve taken up golf, which has allowed me more time with my husband and is a nice change of pace.

What kinds of things do you do to unwind? Let me know in the comments!

New Lawyer Series: Mentors, development and job searching

In their very first podcast, the crew over at Lawyerist.com interviewed Alan Dershowitz about his book “Letters to a Young Lawyer“. To be fair, I haven’t read the book, but it was an interesting interview and I thought there were some especially great points about mentors, including two red flags:

  1. Lawyers who advise you to do the same things they have done in their career.
  2. Lawyers who do things just because they have always done things, despite the lack of any evidence those things actually work.

These made me think of some especially important points for people who are either a) new lawyers currently looking for work and b) those who just completed the OCI process.

I cannot stress enough the importance of working for someone who believes in lawyer development. You will hear time and time again that, before you can think about honing your business development skills or becoming an expert in some field, you must first DO GOOD WORK. People have to be able to trust your judgment and know that when you give advice, you have done the due diligence and that the advice is based on sound legal principles.

You want to work for someone who will watch you fail (because you will), give you constructive feedback, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, let you try again.

What people don’t often talk about is how, as a new lawyer, you’re supposed to know whether you’re doing good work or not. In the case of trial lawyers, civil or otherwise, bad advocacy is a lot easier to spot than good advocacy. Good advocacy appears effortless and, well, it just makes sense: the logic of the argument is clear and advocate is persuasive. Even if you don’t agree with their position, you will understand their arguments and the facts that are important to the case. The important thing to take away from this is that this is a skill that can be taught and you should be looking to work for lawyers who are willing and able to teach you these things.

You can call them mentors or sponsors or whatever you like, but they serve the same purpose: they’re going to make sure that you’re getting the opportunities you need to develop your skills. Whether it’s drafting particular types of agreements or getting on your feet, you want to work for someone who will watch you fail (because you will), give you constructive feedback, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, let you try again. There are stories in every firm of partners or senior associates who ask for some vague thing, get back work product that they don’t like and then just assume that the junior lawyer is an idiot and vow never to work with them again. If you’re in a large firm, luckily there will likely be plenty of other people to work with, but if you’re in a small firm or working for a solo – you’re going to SOL real quick. Unfortunately, how to manage people, although perfectly teachable, is not something that is currently taught to lawyers.

At the end of the day, the partners are running a business and they can make whatever business decisions they want, including determining that you’re not a good fit for WHATEVER REASON and the best way to make sure you don’t end up in that position is to ask the right questions during the interview process (it really is true that the best defense is a good offense).

I’ll go into further details about what questions you should ask in my next post, but I’m sure there are some that I haven’t thought of, so tell me: what questions have you found to be effective at determining whether you’ll get the guidance and support you’ll need as a young lawyer? Do you worry that asking too many questions might take you out of the running?

Leave your answers and thoughts in the comments!