Keep Striving for that Next Opportunity
I have been practicing law for more than 20 years now, and yet I still find it daunting when I realize I am the only woman, or one of only a few women, in a packed courtroom or a large board meeting for a client. While I embrace the challenge, it did take a lot of work for me to get more comfortable with the dynamic.
Happily, I think the legal field is more encouraging of junior attorneys, including female attorneys, than ever before. For example, starting in 2018, all lawyers in New York State are required to participate in diversity and inclusion training. As another example, a number of judges in the Southern District of New York recently established rules offering clients more opportunity for oral argument on their case if they put forward junior attorneys to handle the argument. This is particularly important for female lawyers, as they still tend to be among the more junior members on a team.
Additionally, many clients are specifically demanding diverse attorney teams to handle their legal matters. This leads to added value and even stronger representation for our clients, given that diverse teams offer unique talents, creativity, skill sets, and experiences in their varying approaches. I appreciate the emotional intelligence that female attorneys in particular can bring to the table, as I have found they are more likely to perceive a change in a client’s priorities or the fact that a client is sensitive to certain issues.
In terms of the advice that I offer to junior attorneys, I remind them to speak up thoughtfully and with confidence, and to participate meaningfully in discussions. While I’ve found that women are more likely to actively listen and think through ideas in their own time, it is important for them to be perceived as adding value on the spot and to take risks when contributing during meetings. I also encourage junior attorneys to volunteer for stand-up work. Even if the lead attorney cannot accommodate their request on a particular assignment, they will be seen as go-getters and are much more likely to be kept in mind for the next time. We all need to keep striving for that next opportunity.