Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Leaning In" as a Woman Lawyer

The June 2013 issue of the ABA Magazine features women who have ascended to the heights of law firm management.  It profiles seven women who currently operate as the managing partner in medium to ubber-large law firms.  Most of the women are in their late 40’s or early 50s, and they talk about the choices they made to get these positions in their firms.  I want to share some of their comments:


  • Most importantly: Ask to take on the management responsibilities as your skills and credibility expand.  Don’t wait to be asked! 
  • “Lean in.”  Do it consistently over a long period of time. 
  • Actively create the future you want for yourself.
  • Avoid any distractions from your top priorities.  Develop laser focus on your goals.
  • Establish your credibility by being a very good lawyer who works hard.  Have a “dogged” work ethic.
  • Build a lucrative book of business that gives you economic power within the firm.
    • Show you have a “business mind” as well as a “practical legal mind.”
  • Advance the agenda of the firm.  Consistently add value.
  • Gravitate toward the most complex legal matters or cases in the firm.  Ask to work on those tough cases where partners will notice you.  Make sure you stay in the spotlight.
  • Be “a master at relationships.”
  • Educate yourself about the psychology of “people, relationships, and the impact of fear on their choices and actions.”
  • Be a good firm citizen, by working well with others and by acknowledging the rules of the firm. But, do not be afraid to help change the rules that may keep women from finding the work-life balance they need to succeed.  
  • Accept that a work-life balance will still require you to work towards your professional goals with commitment, but that at different times in your life you may have different priorities.
    • One managing partner is quoted saying:  “When we talk about work-life balance, it’s all life.  It’s doing what you do at certain points in your life because those are your priorities.  And that’s where you figure out your balance.” 
  • Be brave.   Ask for what you need to excel.   
  • If your firm won’t give you what you need to thrive, you may need to move to a new firm. 
  • Take risks!
  • Ask your male colleagues for help.  “[T]ake the team concept to heart.”
  • Turn a deaf ear to social pressures.  If you need to feed your family every night at 9:30 p.m., then do so.  Who says dinner has to be at 6 p.m.?
  • Do not succumb to self-inflicted guilt about not spending enough time with your family.  Ask for help, either by hiring a good nanny, by using a great housekeeper, or by marrying a man who truly takes on 50 percent of the responsibilities at home. 
  • Marry a man who supports your career aspirations.  If your spouse does not support those aspirations, it may be time for a new spouse or the single life.
  • Assume the role of legal technologist.  Push the firm to update software, web platforms, and client communication systems. 
  • Help the firm get on top of the sea changes happening in the profession.
  • Be a good listener and a good communicator.
  • Be more present in meetings with partners by listening, focusing on their concerns, understanding their motivations, and participating more actively.  Take a seat at the conference table and engage.
  • See business possibilities in those conversations with partners.  Lead the efforts to capitalize on those possibilities. 
  • Understand that leadership is about integrity “and the willingness of others to follow because they think you’re interested and will listen to them and represent their interests and needs best.” 
Gee.  Sounds like the subjects I teach in our dispute resolution program prepare our students well –  whether men or women – for lofty positions in law firms.  So grads, trust yourself and your training.  Lean in. 

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