A Lawyer’s Voice

When a woman working in a field where positions of power skew male is told to find her “voice,” her snap reaction might be to question herself, to feel pressure to speak before she is ready, to presume she needs to speak over others in order to appear more forceful, or to try and code switch and speak in a manner that is more, in a word, masculine. The truth is, however, this question of developing a “voice” is not just about aping the style of men.

I have found that my own voice has grown considerably over my career; a process that has taken some unexpected turns along the way. While I have had to learn to assert my positions directly, with confidence and authority, I have also cultivated a distinct tone and style in dealing with colleagues and clients that is true to my experience. This includes how I approach professional matters, but also the language I employ in addressing the everyday issues that are part and parcel of practicing law at the highest level. I cannot imagine what my career would be had I not been encouraged to speak out and develop this voice. I have been fortunate to live and work in environments where this has been possible.

For years, I have volunteered as an attorney for the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, an organization devoted to giving a voice to some of the most vulnerable members of our society—foster children. These children are regularly required to appear in court, ostensibly to advocate for their own best interests within a system that can be intimidating even for accomplished professionals, and many of them feel voiceless. The small part I am able to play in rectifying this is very meaningful for me.

However, the work of cultivating the voices of others—particularly women, and particularly women in law—is a constant commitment. This commitment has undeniably paid off for me, and I have full faith that it has paid off as well for my colleagues and clients. A lawyer’s voice is the client’s voice, after all, and a lawyer who knows her voice inside and out is invaluable.