I’ve heard the women who paved the way in the legal industry talk about what it was like in ’60s and’70s, and I realize how blessed women are now that we don’t have to face those hurdles.
However, our challenge today is communication.
Historically, the practice of law has been dominated by men, so there is an existing business model based on how men communicate. Sometimes that model hinders women who may not be as direct in their communications or strong in stating their opinions. It’s important for women to speak up.
I was delighted when I returned to O’Melveny after working at the Department of Justice for more than two decades to see there is such a focus at bringing young women along. The younger female lawyers are excited to see a fellow woman who is successful and happy. We have to be there to support each other.
On Knowing When to Make a Career Leap
When you have mastered what you need to know and the key responsibilities of your current position, it’s time to think about how you can move to the next level and embrace new challenges. How do you know when you’ve reached that stage? Imagine that you are in charge, and ask yourself how you would handle a given situation. If the other guy can do it, so can you.
One of my strongest talents is efficiently handling a meeting. I always have an agenda. I pay attention to the time and keep to the schedule. I mirror individuals’ responses to make sure I’ve heard them correctly. I build consensus where I can. Finally, I recap what was accomplished at the meeting, identify any tasks that need to be completed, and bring the meeting to a prompt close. In my view, most meetings can be completed in 30 minutes.
Mary Pat’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
There are two things I know now that I wish I had known when I was starting my legal career. First, everyone in the room is NOT smarter than you (trust me on this one). Your insights are valuable. Second, stop apologizing. Don’t begin your remarks with an apology (“Sorry for interrupting, but …” or “I’m not sure this is right, but … ”). You will more likely earn the respect of others if you begin your remarks affirmatively.
Beyond that, work hard, keep your sense of humor, and act with integrity. You’ll never get in trouble doing the right thing.