Suggestions for Success
I recently took the deposition of an expert witness, at which the expert witness and all five attorneys in the room were women. Earlier in my career, I took a deposition at which I was not only the only woman in the room, but opposing counsel greeted me in the reception area of his office by asking me if I wanted to read Cosmopolitan magazine until the deposition started. I politely declined.
In thinking about lessons learned in the decades between those two depositions, here is some advice I would give any young professional:
- Use What You Have. As a young litigator, I sometimes found myself in situations in which opposing counsel or witnesses underestimated me because of my youth (and perhaps, gender). Rather than taking offense, I used it to my advantage. The plaintiffs’ attorney, who offered me Cosmopolitan magazine, let his guard down because he was not expecting an attorney 30 years his junior to be deposing the plaintiffs. He also communicated to his clients that he did not take me seriously. As a result, I was able to obtain key concessions from his clients and, ultimately, win at the lengthy trial of the case in federal court.
- Identify What’s Not Working. Early in my career, I took on a leadership role within a bar association. The position entailed substantial, non-client work, as well as frequent meetings out of state. While my firm was very supportive of the role (and covered the cost of meeting attendance), once my daughter was born, I needed to prioritize my time and work-related travel for client matters. I did not renew my role with the bar association, which was the right decision at that time.
- Cultivate Multiple Mentors. I have been fortunate to have multiple mentors serving in various roles. One mentor is my go-to on substantive issues, another is a brilliant client-management resource, and another helped me navigate my work schedule when our first childcare provider left to take a job out of state. Most of my mentors are men, and they have provided invaluable advice for taking on leadership roles. My focus now is paying that forward by serving as a resource and mentor for more junior attorneys.