Advice for the Next Generation of Women Lawyers: Forging Your Path To Success

Last week, Linda Chanow, Director of the Women in Law Center, opened the Women in Law Institute with advice for forging success in law.  The Institute, a program for young women law students and early career lawyers, is sponsored by the Center and was held in conjunction with the Ms. JD annual conferece. Ms. Chanow comes by her knowledge honestly, having worked towards women's advancement in law for the past 15 years. Chanow opened with these key ideas:

  1.  Successful women lawyers, such as those who founded the Center want to support younger women on their career path.  Women like founderLinda Addison, who heard from many potential employers that "women can't be litigators," before Fulbright and Jaworski offered her a shot, are committed to changing the odds.  Addison now serves as the firm's U.S. Managing Partner.  
  2. Know that you will grow, change and develop throughout your whole career.
  3. Find the role models that work for you. You don’t have to turn into a guy.
  4. Embrace feedback to learn and to grow.  Don't ask your mentors to go easy on you. 
  5. If you want to succeed as a lawyer, you have to fight for it.
  6. Success is a function of some combination of work that is fulfilling, your employer valuing your contributions and manageable work-life balance. For example, a great part-time schedule without fulfilling work and contributions that are valued is unsatisfying according to the Center’s survey of 100 part-time partners.  Chanow advises that if you are not valued, consider whether it is because you are not doing valuable work or because others perceive it that way.  Either way, take action.

According to Chanow:

Women comprise 20% of state court judges, 11% of federal judges, 20% of law firm partners, 15% of equity partners, 4% law firm managing parters and 22% of corporate general counsel. And she challeged the group: You are the generation that can change these numbers. How?

Chanow's answer:

  1. Understand the myth of meritocracy-the myth that you will be promoted on good work alone.  Good work is the entry to success but it will not get you to the next level.
  2. Gain access to strategic tools:  High quality career-building assignments, business development opportunities (watch and learn from the top rainmakers, help them, volunteer to help them) and mentoring. Within the organization look for multilple people, men and women, with whom to build relationships and to find advice, skill building, and champions for promotion.
  3. Understand where the money flows to understand better your value to the organization.
  4. Be strategic about skill building.
  5. Work smart, don’t just work hard.  When do your partners and supervisors need you there for them? Take care of the things that are important to you when they do not need you. Think about what keeps your partner or supervisor up at night and alleviate their stressors so you are the associate or employee of choice. How do you know what matters to them?  Ask them. Talk with them about it. Get the good, energetic work.
  6. Find and maintain your balance.

And then Linda Chanow closed with wisdom from another woman lawyer leader named Linda, Colonial Linda Strite Murnane:

There is no such thing as "can’t."
There is such a thing as "won’t,"
"don’t want to,"
"don’t choose to,"
"don’t adopt this as my priority,"
but there is no such thing as "can’t."
"Can’t" represents a lack of choice.

And when we resign ourselves to a reality that does not include individual choice, we accept barriers others would impose upon us.

—Colonel Linda Strite Murnane, Esq.

Will this be the generation that changes the numbers, overcomes the barriers and refuses to resign? Based on my experience last week, I would say yes.