5 Career-Saving Tips for Female Attorneys
As if being an attorney was not hard enough, working in a career that is predominantly male adds to the struggle for success. Law school taught you how to successfully navigate the law; now you need to learn how to navigate the business world.
Women in law continuously hear how they fall short in the legal field, but little advice is offered to guide these professionals through a successful career.
According to the American Bar Association, in the legal field, only 36% are female. The same study also showed that female attorneys’ salaries are only 89.7% of what their male counterparts make.
So what does it take? Ruthlessness? A giant ego? While these characteristics are used to describe numerous successful attorneys, most lawyers would agree that those are not actually the keys to being successful in the legal field.
This uphill battle is one that women all around the world are fighting to change, and these 5 tips can help you on your path to success.
Be Willing to Pay your Dues
You’ve already paid the monetary dues for law school, but now it is time to pay your dues as the new kid on the block. Be willing to put in the work to prove you are an asset to the team. Too often young attorneys assume that because they landed a big fancy legal job, that they are deserving of all the perks the partners have…think again. Those partners have worked for years to earn those perks of only working 40 hours per week and coming in at 10am, but you are not there, YET. This is a difficult yet rewarding career if you are willing to work at it.
Don’t think that just because you are a woman that they are going to go easy on you. Know you’re worth and prove your capabilities.
Understand the Rules of the Game
Hopefully law school was able to open up your eyes to the legal world you are entering. The truth is, not all firms are run in the same manner. Top criminal defense lawyers at a local firm will likely have different practices than private practice divorce attorneys. So the area of law may determine how clients and employees will act and respond to you as a female attorney.
Some law firms are run by men that do not actively seek to hire female attorneys, be that on purpose or out of habit, while others hire attorneys of all genders without blinking an eye. However, just because you were hired does not mean that you are inherently equal. Many attorneys will have preconceived notions about you as an attorney solely based on your gender.
Understand that their prejudgment is no direct reflection on you or your work. However, be careful to not become just like them and judge others in the same way. Many female attorneys overcompensate for the fact that they think others view them as weaker because they are female. This behavior drives them to be overly-aggressive attorneys and put themselves on the other spectrum of those stereotypes as having the “Queen Bee” syndrome.
The question is, how much can you put up with? Not everyone is willing to put in the time and energy to prove themselves to overcome these stereotypes, and that is where women in the law fall short. Find a place that allows you to grow as an attorney and still be yourself. Although not every situation is perfect, don’t go in thinking you will change them. Follow the rules of the game and realize that once your make partner you will have the power and authority to make those changes.
Select a Mentor that will Challenge You
Stepping out of your comfort zone will be a major key to your success. If you aren’t willing to be led by someone who challenges you, then you will never grow. Keep in mind, you don’t need to limit yourself to only one mentor. Surrounding yourself with multiple professionals will give you numerous life experiences and opinions to help build yourself upon. Having a solid network will provide contacts for any legal needs you may face.
It is common for female attorneys to pick another female attorney as their mentor, but that is not always the best choice. Although they may understand your personal and emotional issues better, they are not always best suited to mentor you. A mentor is there to guide you through work, not personal problems.
Having a mentor that does not work at the same firm as you can also be beneficial. This outside perspective will be objective to your case work but mindful of your professional needs.
Find Balance in your Life
One major downfall for female attorneys is the inability to balance their home and work life. Although you must be willing to pay your dues, there needs to be a balance or you will burn out quickly. A benefit of having a J.D. is that you will eventually get to set your own hours. Drafting documents, client meetings, and even court appearance can be based around your personal schedule. So while there is always a rush for billable hours, realize that you are allowed to have a life outside the office.
If you seem to be stuck in your current job, are not being treated well, or just need a change, entrepreneurship could be your answer. When you graduated law school you may not have considered private practice, but it holds many benefits, particularly for women. First and foremost, you are your own boss (there is no wage gap when you’re the one paying the salaries). It also allows you to set your own hours, take the cases you want, and freedom to act according to your own opinions. While private practice can seem daunting at first, it can realize many benefits in your life in the long run.
No matter what stage of your career you are in, find the situation that best suits your strengths and fight to prove yourself. You’re as talented as you are willing to be.