As young lawyers, we exit the bar exam facing another uphill battle: law practice comes with a deeply ingrained age stratification. This age or experience disparity is based on logic and reason; we are less seasoned and, thus, have less value to offer. Unfortunately, a young female lawyer in the tech industry has no guarantee that putting in 5,000 hours allows her a seat at any mahogany table.
Fortunately, the keys to success in law as a woman are comparable to those necessary to succeed in tech or generally and are, therefore, easy to learn and apply.
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Be a Duck
If there is a lesson to be learned, learn it on the fly. Be a duck; let it roll off your back and paddle like hell underwater. At a conference, a law school professor wowed the majority-woman audience with data that reinforced what we females already knew: We like to prepare. By and large, we prepare more than our male counterparts and beat ourselves up more severely after delivering a superior product.
Find a Mentor
You’ve heard it before, and it’s particularly germane to conversations addressing inclusion in the tech industry. If you are new or trying to break into the industry, you may not be surrounded by candidates. There are many organizations that offer mentorship programs, such as Women in Technology. When I first started practicing, I was under the mistaken impression that a mentor should be a glimpse into your future—an exact version of who you wanted to be, benefitting from the same path you wanted to travel to get there. I was way off. It will serve you well to branch out.
Remain Vigilant and Stay Professional
You are still an officer of the law, you have duties, and you need to keep your guard up. Before confessing that you thought SaaS was a funky way of spelling sass, gauge your audience. Remain truthful, but follow the sage adage: fake it ‘til you make it. You may end up on the other side of the negotiating table from someone you went martini for martini with at a networking event.
Don’t Get Hung Up on “Failures”
You are here. You have worked hard and deserve accolades. You have been zealous in your advocacy thus far but will likely say something stupid at some point. You will falter. You will forget to hit the mute button. (Hopefully, you use fewer expletives than I do when stressed.) These transgressions are minor. No matter how hard the other side tries to highlight them, do not let them see you sweat. Illegitimi non carborundum, ladies. Like any performing artist, continue the routine without skipping a beat. Continue like your delivery was seamless, and your audience will follow your lead. Redirect and remain unflappable. In the interest of an expeditious closing, I once shared that I would seek perspective on a particular issue from an interested colleague. Seeking vengeance, my adversary was quick to volunteer, “[i]f not you, is there someone else I should speak with?”
Let Them Underestimate You
My mentor calls it “playing Colombo.” If you’re not familiar with the show, the long and short of it is, act as though you need a guide to get through the lightest of intellectual mire. Whatever disadvantage they may think you suffer, use that misconception to your advantage. I know how some gentlemen (some who have practiced as long as I’ve been alive) may view me at first blush. I look young, I’m 5’2” if I’m standing tall, and I laugh easily. Adversaries don’t cower in my presence—but ask my husband if I can chill a room with my silence. Hopefully, you will have the pleasure of knowing when adversaries and colleagues alike may underestimate you.
Remind yourself as often as you must that you are outnumbered (be it because you are a different age bracket or gender) not because you are unworthy or undeserving but because you are ascending to greatness, and the climb can be lonely.