Lady Lawyer, Can You Soar in a Man’s World?

I recently spent a weekend by the beach with some friends, absorbing the sunshine and enjoying the beginning of summer.  A friend of mine invited one of his friends, who happens to be a ninth-year associate at a law firm.  We chatted a great deal over the weekend, and one thing was prevalent in her words: she is unhappy being a lawyer, as she believes it is a man’s world, and she’s having a hard time soaring.

It made me start thinking: is it really a man’s world, and is it really difficult for women to be successful in this world?  Oh.  Perhaps it is.

Let’s take a look at the big picture.  While more and more law school graduates are women, according to statistics provided by the American Bar Association’s Market Research Department, women in the law profession show that women account for only 36% of the profession.  There are many theories about why this is the case.  Do women, after graduating, simply decide not to practice?  Do they leave the profession after only a short period of time after realizing it’s not for them?  Or is their growth being stifled, causing them to seek other career paths?  I’m sure all of the different theories have some degree of validity, but let’s take a look at what women can do to shine in the profession, the things that I’ve done, and the things that I’ve been encouraged to do by my mentor, who happens to be a man in the legal profession.

While every woman’s personality is different, they are generally more timid than their male counterparts, a weight that sags their wings.  While it may be easier said than done, women need to break out of their shells and prove their worth.  Take baby steps.  One at a time.  And be persistent.  Here are some things for a woman to keep in mind as she attempts to grow her wings.

  • Take your career seriously; otherwise, no one else will. Be dedicated and do good work.  If others are slacking off and are getting away with it, do not use that as a free pass to slack off yourself.
  • Know your stuff. Take the time to learn what you are supposed to be doing – the area of law that you are practicing, the court procedures, office policies, your clients, your adversaries.  Knowledge will attract respect.  I remember when I first started practicing, my adversary, an older gentleman, said to me prior to oral arguments, “I’m surprised your firm is sending you to do this, as this is a very complex case.”  Words that burned.  But, boy did I enjoy seeing the look on his face after I nailed the oral arguments with all of the pertinent facts and intricacies of the law, and prevailed.  A few weeks later in court, he admitted that he didn’t think I’d be able to make such a good argument.  How did I do it?  I knew my stuff.
  • Have reasons to support your decisions. You will be questioned, and you will be challenged. Having a reason to support your decision will show that you know what you’re doing, and that your decision was based on rational thoughts.
  • Ask for more responsibilities. Show them what you can do, and what your worth is. But, before doing so, make sure you are able to handle what’s currently on your plate.  You don’t want your current responsibilities to suffer as a result of the new responsibilities.
  • Inspire confidence in, and motivate those around you, whether they are other women, or men. At the end of the day, it’s team work that makes individuals rise.  Jealousy and competition won’t get you anywhere.
  • Be confident, even when you aren’t feeling so.

Give these a try, and you’ll notice changes.  And if you don’t, then maybe you’re just working for the wrong person, and it’s time to move on…

Tashia Rasul
Tashia Rasul, Esq.
LOIS LLC