How to Own and Steer Your Career

Female litigators still often have to work much harder than their male counterparts to succeed. Gender bias can be frustrating and demoralizing, particularly for younger lawyers, but I have come to find a hidden upside of being underestimated and overlooked due to my gender. I have faced down unfair assumptions about my capabilities and strengths when at a table full of men, and it taught me several important things:

Put in the work. While it is frustrating to see “grunt work” left to female team members, this presents opportunities to show their skills and become indispensable. Often the attorney who knows the documents becomes the most important person on the team. The work nobody else wants to do is where opportunity lies and how you force your seat at the table. This extends to firm leadership, marketing, speaking, publishing, and other tasks that can seem thankless. But honing your presentation style by speaking at conferences is great preparation for oral argument, and writing a pitch is an excellent way to impress future clients. Turning the work nobody else wanted into your opportunity to shine helps build your public profile and establish yourself as a future rainmaker and leader.

Use gender bias to your advantage. It may sound counterintuitive, but being underestimated presents real advantages. When I was a young associate taking depositions of experts in male-dominated fields, I frequently obtained great concessions by letting them presume I was out of my depth and making them let their guard down for the “dumb girl.” It both fueled my drive and showed that being underestimated can be powerful. There are few things sweeter than surprising the men in the courtroom by being the one to get the best result.

Pay it forward. I never forget that I was fortunate to learn from some tremendous women, and I am committed to giving back to those I work with. I want every associate on our team to be a better lawyer and to help them succeed with encouragement and support. I know from experience that it makes a difference to have someone in your corner. I try to check in with those I mentor, both formally and informally, to make sure they are getting the opportunities they want. But I also encourage them to dream big and work for their lofty goals. Too often, women let their careers develop and come along for the journey, rather than deciding where they want the journey to go. Owning and steering your career trajectory is so important and something I try to teach to younger lawyers. Every generation of women can improve the profession for the next, and I consider that an important personal responsibility.