For at least 20 years, women have accounted for half or nearly half of all law students. However, those numbers have not translated into equal representation in the higher ranks within the legal profession, according to the American Bar Association. But that doesn’t mean women entering the legal profession should stop trying to break that glass ceiling. Here are five strategies for success in the legal field:
1. Show Confidence
Men seem to have too much confidence. Women, on the other hand, exude too little. Talk to successful lawyers or senior partners and they’ll tell you that the male confidence meter can be over the top while equally smart and accomplished women seem unsure, hesitant, or timid.
To get through law school, obtain a law degree, and pass the bar, you’ve obviously worked hard and accomplished much in a very short time. Recognize and own your gifts, talents and hard work; then confidently believe that those same skills will carry you on to continued excellence and achievement – because it’s true.
2. Don’t Agonize Over Mistakes
The lawyer who tells you he’s never lost a case has never tried one, so the saying goes. The same holds true for mistakes. An attorney who hasn’t made a mistake has never worked in the legal profession.
If you make a mistake, own it, learn from it, and move forward. The way we handle setbacks opens up a window to character, perseverance, and problem-solving skills.
3. Seize Leadership Opportunities
Don’t just be a lawyer, be a leader. Starting out in your legal career, there are many opportunities to bury yourself in research and agonize over tiny details.
To set yourself apart and showcase your organizational, time-management, and people skills, seek out leadership positions in the firm and in the community. Volunteer to help organize a firm event or look for opportunities in the bar. The effort will not only get you noticed in your firm, it is also an investment in your professional brand that can pay dividends in unexpected ways in the future, such as by leading to new and better job opportunities and advancement.
4. Project a Professional Image
In the movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis, gives career advice to the young, talented pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh that goes like this:
“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”
The same applies to young lawyers. Once you’ve achieved legendary status, the legal profession may tolerate casual dress and flamboyant outfits. Until then, err on the side of projecting a professional image.
5. Enjoy Yourself
Lawyers spend a lot of time at work — probably too much time. Make no mistake; if work is no fun, you will be miserable. While not every assignment is going to make you click your heels with delight, there are many that can impart joy and satisfaction.
Helping a client solve a problem, fighting to protect a person’s rights or simply knowing that you’ve done a job well can go a long way towards enjoying yourself and feeling as though you’ve spent your time in a worthwhile and meaningful endeavor.
This article was written by Melissa Woodson, the community manager for @WashULaw on behalf of CAREEREALISM-Approved Partner, 2tor – an education technology company that partners with Washington University in St. Louis to offer a premier LLM degree. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking and making half-baked attempts at training her dog.
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