One of the most important decisions I have made in my career occurred in 1990, when I moved from the east coast and joined Graham & James in San Francisco (predecessor to my current firm). Inspired by the political and social ethos of the city, and some close friends who were making a similar choice, I decided that I would be “out” at work as a gay person.
Looking back, it hardly seems possible that I would have contemplated another choice. However, taking that step allowed me to have fascinating conversations and points of connection with colleagues and clients from around the world, even if there was sometimes some fear and discomfort. The biggest positive result of the choice, and one I did not anticipate, was that by being truly myself, I was a better, more confident practitioner.
I also have observed first-hand when professionals, both male and female, are willing to be open about child care or other issues, they can establish a good rapport with clients and colleagues who face the same issues. Professionals who find ways to be authentic and make personal connections are able to better serve their clients, their firms, and their own success.
On Getting People to Know Who You Are and What You Can Do
Working at a large global law firm provides tremendous opportunities to work with people in different disciplines and from all over the world. As internal and external business development pressures increase, it is important to find your niche. Externally, I have always felt more comfortable with public speaking and leading workshops as a way to connect with potential clients, as opposed to the “cold sell” at a cocktail party or conference. It is all about finding what fits for you. It is also helpful to do as much internal networking as you can—mainly by being someone your colleagues trust to do the right thing.
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
I have found that in order to provide value to companies in the rapidly evolving life sciences field, it is important to establish a profile as a thought leader, and remain attentive to changes in the legal framework affecting those companies. Equally important is being cognizant of delivering legal services in a cost-effective, user-friendly manner.
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
In my first couple years of practicing law, I had a mentor who was a woman about 10 years my senior. She influenced me in many ways, especially by being very blunt with me about my strengths and weaknesses. At a time when I did not yet feel confident enough to “give advice” without clearing it with a more senior person, she pushed me off the cliff professionally and assured me that I was ready. She understood the importance of making sure that clients view female attorneys as confident and self-assured.
I like to think that this is one of my strengths, and I have made a point of offering similar advice to other junior women lawyers over the years.