A Minority Woman Attorney’s Perspective
Tricia Duthiers is an associate practicing civil litigation and appellate law at Reid and Zobel, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being successful in a small firm environment often involves more than “lawyering.” Yet most law schools focus solely on teaching the law and not necessarily the practice of it. The following tips helped me turn the challenges I faced in small firm life as a minority woman into opportunities for empowerment and tremendous professional growth.
Recognize your own value. One of the most important aspects of a successful legal practice is bringing in business to your firm. Especially at a small firm, clients hardly come knocking on their own. One of the most important things you can do is to recognize your own value, assets, and talents. Determine what you bring to the firm and what sets you apart.
Find a niche. Take that knowledge and think practically about whether you have any skills to help an underserved or unrepresented population. Then use your diversity to make contacts.
Network, network, network! Get out there, get involved in your community, and get acquainted with your community leaders. This is especially important for small firm attorneys. Get involved in your national and local bar associations, which host networking receptions and provide numerous opportunities to meet people. Although having to walk up to strangers or colleagues following a long day at the office may seem daunting, one of best client sources is other lawyers. If you have points in common, they are more likely to remember you when they have a referral. Networking also forces you to develop or improve your communication skills, which will help you better represent your clients and speak effectively in court.
Take advantage of CLEs and other educational opportunities. Keep learning all you can about your field and areas of interest. Congratulate yourself for being on the way already as a member of the ABA YLD. Your membership offers year-round access to many seminars, CLEs, networking events, and The 101 Practice Series: Breaking Down the Basics (www.abanet.org/yld/101practiceseries), which provides tips on so many of the issues facing young lawyers, minorities, and women entering the profession.
Manage the balancing act. Often at a small firm, you may be asked to take on administrative tasks or projects that you would not traditionally associate with a lawyer position. You may be asked to supervise staff, coordinate events, or manage projects for the firm. At first, it could leave you feeling like you are being assigned these tasks because you are a minority and a woman. Instead of taking that perspective, think about the learning opportunities they afford.
Having to focus on other tasks in addition to your legal work forces you to develop a number of management skills, including balancing the business with the practice of law. After a couple of years, not only will you have developed legal skills, you will also have gained the skills necessary to make a smooth transition into a partnership position or to open your own firm.