As reported by Law360, Ms. JD recently held its eighth annual conference on women in the law wherein a panel of experts (Panel), comprised of both in-house counsel and attorneys in private practice, discussed four strategic moves that young female attorneys should make to successfully develop and advance their careers. The Panel’s advice can be summarized as follows.
1. Choose Mentors and Sponsors Wisely
While mentors are important and can play critical roles in young attorneys’ lives, many women do not understand how to find appropriate mentors, or that they can be found within or close to your peer group, e.g., law school classmates or attorneys with whom you started your career. The Panel suggests utilizing these peer mentors to bounce ideas off of and for general problem-solving, keeping in mind that you should avoid going to a higher level mentor—whose time is in higher demand—until you have first vetted the issue(s) and attempted to solve the problem with the help of a peer-level mentor on your own.
The Panel also notes the difference between mentors and sponsors, the latter being someone to whom you go for advice, and the former being someone who can help “pull you up the ranks.” With a sponsor, aim for someone who has the “pulling power,” and try to become their “go-to person,” ensuring that you can consistently perform well for that person. The Panel adds that if you are too junior to have access to that power person, try to form relationships with their “lieutenants” or the senior associates who work closely with your target sponsor.
2. Always Look to Add Value
Whether in-house counsel or at a law firm, the Panel cited the ability to add value to your team as a key factor to success as an attorney. The way to add value in this regard is to take on tasks, add new insights, and make sure that your superiors have all relevant information that will enable them to complete the task at hand.
To that end, the Panel suggests to first determine the structure of your team, then identify which team member with which you have the most interaction and what their needs are, and finally, anticipate and provide for those needs. The Panel further notes that no matter what level of your career, it is always important to add value, and this should remain a constant as you move up in the ranks.
3. Own Your Work … and Your Mistakes
Essentially, the Panel urges junior lawyers to approach each and every task, no matter how small, with vigor and enthusiasm, focusing on being as detailed as possible. Further, do more than just complete the task at hand. Rather, try to think outside the box by taking initiative and anticipating the needs of the senior lawyer. For example, if you’re given a task to review documents, go beyond a simple review and draft bullet points on what you found in those documents, demonstrating how you are “thinking about the big picture of the case.” Upon completion of the task, always inquire as to next steps, making sure supervisors are aware that you want to stay involved and assist in moving the matter along.
The Panel also warns against attempting to hide mistakes. Quite simply, mistakes are going to happen. When they do, the Panel advises to communicate, own up to, and apologize for these mistakes. Indeed, almost every mistake can be fixed. Prior to going to a superior, however, make sure you have looked into a potential solution to the problem so that you can “offer a fix to the issue.”
Finally, avoid over-apologizing, especially for minor errors, something many female attorneys have a tendency to do. Excessive apologizing can create the incorrect perception that you are more at fault for the mistake than you actually are.
4. Be Creative About Work-Life Balance
The Panel maintains that the key to a work-life balance is to prioritize and make continual adjustments to ensure those priorities are being met. There is no need to choose one over the other. In sustaining this balance, the Panel advises, keep in mind that everything is cyclical—there will be times in your life when the balance tips in favor of work over your personal life and vice versa. Accordingly, do not overstress during a busy work cycle, and likewise, take advantage of times when your work-life slows down by increasing social activities.
Regardless of which cycle you are in, the Panel recommends taking time off and scheduling vacations because if “you don’t schedule that vacation, it won’t happen.”
Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, female attorneys, career growth, tips