As a co-lead for the Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law initiative, I have heard countless stories of women lawyers thinking that their excellent work product was enough to stand out. If they earn good performance evaluations and produce high-quality work products that successfully achieved positive outcomes for clients’ matters again and again, they assume that those managers evaluating their performance will recognize their work and promote them.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. And the ongoing lack of representation among women in power and influential roles across the legal industry demonstrates this, although the situation is improving, albeit at a much slower pace than most would like. Indeed, there is a need for enthusiastic action for women lawyers to own their career advocacy to advance.
Communicating value proactively is an essential element of a career advancement strategy. Whether you are an early career lawyer or a seasoned lawyer, it is neither too early nor too late to start. The first step is to reframe your psychology on self-promotion and learn to communicate your value with authenticity focused on outcomes and results from your professional efforts.
Flip the Script on Your Self-Promotion Mind-Set
Traditional cultural and social norms for women over the decades have not served working women lawyers well, leaving them to choose between likeability and leadership. A recent Forbes article summarized the challenge perfectly. “This is a problem of ‘likeability,’ where women who are not assertive and fit the gender stereotype of a woman as being gentle and caring are liked more but not considered as leadership material. On the other hand, women who display traditional ‘masculine’ qualities such as assertiveness, forcefulness, and ambition are labeled . . . as unfeminine and aggressive, and hence generally disliked.”
For career advancement, women lawyers must choose leadership and deal with the gender bias. Likewise, to communicate value effectively, being proactive is essential because we live in a world where multiple people and things are competing for our attention, including your superiors who have a role in promotions. As a result, you must be thoughtful and deliberate in how you communicate your value to those you are trying to influence in order to gain visibility through self-advocacy. Check out the tips below for better ways for women lawyers to communicate their value and pay special attention to the first two tips about reframing self-promotion.
1. Reframe Self-Promotion
Change your psychology that self-promotion is bad. It is critical for career advancement. Research indicates that self-promotion helps potential career champions know why they should take on the champion role. It is not egotistical. Self-promotion demonstrates your confidence because it is focused on actions, outcomes, and your performance.
2. Focus on Outcomes and Results
Self-promotion has negative connotations because it is viewed as bragging. However, by focusing on outcomes and results, it is performance-based, avoiding any perception of it being driven by ego.
3. Track Your Accomplishments Weekly
Record your accomplishments for self-promotion for use during meetings with career stakeholders. Create a table of three columns from left to right: (1) Log your actions or tasks. (2) Record the result of that action. (3) Describe the impact on or value for the client. (See the sample Accomplishment Record Table below.)
4. Use the 3 Up, 3 Down Tool During Informal Feedback Chats
(1) Highlight your top three accomplishments in the table you created. (2) Then, identify three areas of development and summarize your ideas for initiatives or projects in which you could participate to work on these areas. (3) Ask your manager for feedback on your ideas and for his/her thoughts on additional projects on which you could lend a hand.
5. Use a “Posting Without Boasting” Template
Every two weeks, draft an e-mail to inform the person who evaluates your performance of progress on two key projects the person cares about. For each project, use bullet point lists. (1) Provide the status of the project since the last update. (2) Highlight the key outcomes. (3) Summarize what you did to help bring about the outcome and highlight other individuals who assisted in producing the outcome with details about their involvement. (See the e-mail template below.)
Guilt-Free Self-Promotion Tools
Self-promotion is effective when framed in a way that is focused on your work product and the outcomes resulting from your work. To start, you have to track your accomplishments and record the results from your efforts. Writing down the result and impact of your work will enable you to communicate your value without feeling like a fraud because it is framed in terms of value. See the examples below to illustrate how to use the tool:
|What action did you take?||What is the result of that action?||What value does it bring to the client or the firm?|
|Researched novel procedural application of argument under existing law||Counsel added argument to a motion to dismiss and court granted motion to dismiss that claim||Narrowed the scope of the litigation, resulting in significant cost-savings during discovery phase|
|Reviewed a client's records retention policies and created data map||Client followed recommendations to update policies to comply with new regulations and ensure defensible disposition of appropriate data||Enabled client to better understand enterprise data and to limit amount of stored data, resulting in reduced associated costs and improved privacy and data security information governance|
|Created a process map for a matter||Legal team followed predictable roadmap with set benchmarks and deadlines||Provided client predictable by-phase resource allocation and cost estimates for budgeting and reporting|
Accomplishment Record Table
Courtesy of Thomson Reuters
3 Up, 3 Down
When you have sit-downs with those who evaluate your performance and discuss your career development plan (usually held quarterly), use the 3 Up, 3 Down tool. To utilize the tool effectively in preparation for your meeting, pull your top three most impactful achievements from your accomplishment record. Then, identify the three areas for development that are important for your career in the next quarter and propose initiatives or projects that can help you advance your experience and learning to address that goal.
Post Without Boasting
Use written messages every two weeks to update those who are involved in evaluating your performance. By proactively updating those individuals on the progress of the matter or task they care about, you are communicating your value and highlighting your efforts under the guise of an update and offering information. See a quick and easy e-mail template below:
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 9, Number 8, March 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.