As a female and a soon-to-be lawyer, you will receive many invitations to “women in law” events during your first few years of practice. Most of them tend to feature female powerhouse lawyers talking about how to manage the elusive “work-life” balance — how to get all your work done and still make it home on time for family meals and dance recitals.
I still remember one event I attended, where a lawyer said she would meditate forty-five minutes every morning before her kids woke up, to help her become more productive at work. I would scribble down pages of notes, and marvel at these women who seemed to have mastered everything in life. Now, four years into private practice and one kid later, I laugh at the ridiculousness of it all when I barely have time to eat breakfast, let alone meditate.
While there’s nothing wrong with events that focus on lifestyle topics, I believe what’s more valuable for young women in law is to learn how to promote themselves at work and build a book of business. To get anywhere in the legal world, we need to overcome our social conditioning and get comfortable with being assertive and bold. Life after law school is just around the corner, so start working on these skills now.
Lawyers are business people. Learning how to market yourself and sell your expertise to clients early on in your career will make you an asset to any firm. Doors will always open for you if you can do good work and keep bringing in clients.
Once you start working, get your name out there by finding ways to publish your work and by signing up to speak on panels. Get out in the legal community and volunteer. Don’t just hide away in your office.
Other things to keep in mind are your relationships. The legal world is a small one and you will encounter the same people again and again. Get to know other lawyers, your clients and the various people in your industry. While you’re still in school, build a strong relationship with your peers. Because in five years, you may be working with some of them on a file, or calling a former classmate for help on a case.
Lastly, get yourself a mentor to guide you through major career decisions and smaller things like salary negotiation and work arrangements after you have a child. Mentorship is especially valuable for women, since you’ll probably find yourself at a firm where most, if not all of the partners are men.
Finding a mentor who’s good for you is sort of like dating. It may take some time, but once you meet the right person, it will click. There’s a strong mentorship culture in law, which is one of the best things about our chosen profession. Make the most of it.