Women Law Firm Associates – 5 Ways to Chart Your Path to Success!
The legal profession has grown more diverse over the years. In fact, according to the Annual Review of Law and Social Science, “Women in the Legal Profession,” this change has been occurring rapidly over the past 250 years and some scholars consider it to be “revolutionary.” Even so, generational social barriers present challenges for women. These barriers can include anything from casual workplace bias to a significant pay cap compared to their male counterparts (Kay and Gorman). Women in the legal profession should continue to push for more successful and personally satisfying careers. This article will provide several ways that woman law firm associates, in particular, can chart the most optimal career paths according to their credentials, experience, and achievements.
#1 – Be an advocate for yourself.
As a person with extensive legal training, you surely know how effectively defend clients and how to treat every one of them with dignity and respect. You speak on their behalf and attempt to make every case fair and reasonable—regardless of your specialty. Try approaching the development of your career similarly. Stand up for yourself and make your strengths evident. You deserve to shine as brilliantly as your skills permit, regardless of gender, race, or general background. After all, do you not employ such fairness when dealing with clients?
#2 – Transcend stereotypes. Do not let them define you.
In “Women in the Legal Profession,” Kay and Gorman state that gender stereotypes are still rampant in the legal industry. Employers, whether they intend to, continue to perpetuate such stereotypes. Firms and corporate legal departments may create male versus female dichotomies and assign qualities to either side with no gray area in between — perhaps subtly assuming that women to do not have the intelligence, strength, or willpower to commit to long-term, highly complicated projects, their emotions get in the way of work, they would rather socialize than get down to business, they are not aggressive enough, they are too “cold,” and so on (Kay and Gorman). To transcend such stereotypes, simply do not acknowledge their existence. Do not fear falling into them. Stereotypes after all are social constructs, people much more complex. Do not feel as though you have to prove anything by working against them. Rather, work around them. Create your own standards for excellence and achievement rather than rely on others to determine them for you.
#3 – Create your own standards for excellence and achievement.
This step cannot be stressed enough, most likely because it can apply to just about everyone. While the concept may give off a campy “self-help” vibe, consider this: the criteria for excellence may vary from person to person. In any case, the bar tends to be set high. Your employer will always expect quality work from you—but what do you do when the standards measure factors outside of your control, or when the standards are affected by factors beyond your control? These factors could be health, family, work-related stresses, and beyond. The inevitable truth is that you cannot change everyone’s views. Some people will approve. Others will not. That is where your own standards for excellence play a critical role. Set goals and make them manageable, but always plan to exceed your own expectations. That is, after all, the essence of true excellence.
#4 – “Sit at the Table”: Take charge and aim to be in a place of authority.
In providing advice to women just starting out in their careers, most women who achieve professional success advise other women to demand to be included. In other words, take on challenges and do not be reluctant to be a leader, especially if you have the skills and experience to be an effective one. Further, all of those women emphasize that people—men and women alike—should not be afraid to take on opportunities that could potentially change their careers for the better. Often such fear emerges from other fears: fear of failure, of judgment from colleagues and bosses, fear of not measuring up to some perceived standard. As a woman lawyer, do not allow the fear of failure to cripple your chance at success. While you should be consistently creating your own standards for excellence, you should also be preparing coping mechanisms for failure. Such coping mechanisms should not be those that condemn or punish for “messing up”; instead, they should be designed to help you move yourself to the next level, to rethink the steps that led to the failure and re-chart your path toward success.
#5 – Come to terms with your own success; accept that you are no fraud.
Kay and Gorman state that some verbal acts may “draw attention to women’s gender and lower women’s esteem or standing.” They define such acts as gender disparagement, and they can include anything from demeaning comments about “demeanor or dress” to degrading jokes that undermine a woman’s professional competence. Gender disparagement, like any form of negativity, can lead to a “Why me?” complex—that is, a questioning of why you are successful and not someone else who you may perceive to be more worthy. Maybe you fear “being found out” for the impostor that you feel you are. But fear not. Such feelings are more common than you may imagine. You can overcome your own by acknowledging every achievement as it happens. Perhaps you finished a particularly daunting project, or you handled a difficult case in a smart and ethical way. Applaud yourself for such feats. Take note of them if you have to. Whatever you do, do not let the so-called impostor take victory over you.
Kay, Fiona, and Elizabeth Gorman. “Women in the Legal Profession.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 4 (2008): 299-332. Web.