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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New Lawyer Series: Set goals to succeed

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where —’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Many of us begin our legal careers like Alice – asking someone else to give us the directions to our legal career. Unfortunately, for new lawyers who don’t know what they want to get out of their legal career, the Cheshire Cat’s answer is all too familiar.

Developing long-term career goals is an iterative process and one that requires much thought and deliberate action.

That’s not to say that you need to have everything figured out on day 1. Au contraire, mon ami. There are some lucky few who have a clear plan in place and are able to begin executing it as soon as they’re called to the bar, but for most people, the road to success (however you define) is rarely linear. Long-term career goals are developed with the benefit of time and experience. For instance, you may begin at a large law firm doing commercial work and realize that you need more client contact to continue developing as a lawyer, so you move to a smaller firm or even in-house to develop those skills. Then maybe you find that you’re not wild about the industry you’re in so you find a position in another industry that is aligned with your interests. Developing long-term career goals is an iterative process and one that requires much thought and deliberate action to ensure that you become a well-rounded lawyer (and person).

For new lawyers, the more important goal-setting task you need to undertake is to determine what you’re going to accomplish in your current position or the position that you hope to secure after your call to the bar. Naturally, your first question may be – how do I do that if I don’t know what is expected of me? Let me put your mind somewhat at ease: you’re expected to become a good lawyer, preferably a great one. Of course, that begs the question of what does being a good or great lawyer mean? What would that look like?

Well, I can’t tell you exactly what that might mean for you, but the number one thing that new lawyers need to do is develop. Develop their skills, develop their judgment, develop their professional persona. And, I’m going to suggest that the best way to do that is to create a professional development plan. If you’re not sure what areas you need to develop, start with your local bar association. The Law Society of Upper Canada publishes the Entry-Level Barrister and Solicitor Competencies as part of the licensing process. This is the bare minimum of what you should know/be able to demonstrate as a new lawyer. Take a look at those lists and see what areas are unfamiliar to you. Undoubtedly, there are some things on that list that you forgot about as soon as you took the licensing exams, so start creating your development plan with those headings.

Now, if you’ve already been in your job for some time and have received feedback about what areas you need to develop: great! Lawyers are notorious for not providing feedback in a timely or productive manner, so be happy that you have a starting point. Start your development plan with those issues. If you’ve been at your job for awhile and haven’t received any feedback – ASK! What are you waiting for? The BIGGEST MISTAKE you can make as a new lawyer if to not ask for what you need, be it feedback or any other kind of support. However, don’t feel that you are entitled to these things. With the exception of feedback, there are many reasons why you may not get what you want and they may or may not be good reasons for you to consider other employment options, but the key here is to make sure you feel comfortable asking for what you need to continue to develop your legal skills. As for feedback, there are limits: don’t ask for feedback every time you send an email. Also recognize that in a busy practice, it may take some time to get the feedback you need. Figure out the best way to ask for it and be reasonable in how/when you ask.

As a side note, if you don’t feel comfortable asking or you’re actually scared to ask, think long and hard about why that might be the case and make it your goal to either a) overcome the fear/anxiety of asking for what you want or b) find a firm or company to work for where you feel comfortable and secure (as much as possible) in your employment.

I will go into more detail about development plans in a future post, but for now, just know that developing your skills and judgment are the key goals for every new lawyer and the development plan is the best way to track your progress toward those goals.

What goals do you think young lawyers should try to develop? What are the key skills that a lawyer should be working on in the first 2 to 3 years of practice? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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?

Success

Success is a difficult thing to measure.

I suppose that statement seems beyond obvious, but it’s clear that we’re all still chasing some dream, wishing on some star, hoping against hope that we will, one day, some way, somehow, become successful. Which begs the question: How will you know when you get there? I can’t say that I have an answer for that at the moment, but I am trying really hard to figure out what that means for me and I will share what I learn with you.

If nothing else, change has been a constant in my life.I attended 4 different elementary schools and have lived in eight cities, two countries, and moved 14 times in the last 13 years. I have had a new job every year since I graduated from law school, and I have uprooted my life more times than I care to count. Although, clearly, I have already counted. While change, in the right circumstances, can be exhilarating, it is also exhausting. I have also found that it makes me more reactive rather than proactive. It’s difficult to plan for the future when you feel like, literally, anything might happen in the next year. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about success, it’s that it requires time. It requires patience. It requires some stability in order to take hold and develop.

A number of things have happened over the past year that have allowed me to create more stability in my personal life, but now it’s time to create the same thing in my professional life. It will require a lot of self-determination and intentionality, but I feel that I’m finally ready. It’s taken too long and I’ve gotten in my own way too many times, but I am declaring, right here, right now:

I AM READY.

Are you?