It’s hard enough to become a successful attorney in this day and age. There are such high expectations for attorneys and only so many positions available for new lawyers. Those competing for roles offered by highly selective employers will need to graduate from high-level law schools, with great GPAs and strong internship portfolios. Additionally, they will typically need recommendations from law professors and former employers. Of course, those who wish to become fully-fledged attorneys rather than simply law school graduates also need to pass their state’s bar exam. All of this presents years of challenges. But there are further issues presented to women interested in pursuing legal careers.
As with most fields across the nation – and particularly in male-dominated fields – the legal profession is riddled with sexism. Oftentimes, female lawyers are not taken as seriously as their male counterparts, both by their employees and their potential clients. Additionally, those who are obviously talented may be directed towards specialties that they aren’t interested in because those specialties are seen as more traditionally feminine. With that being said, we’re exploring some tips that are made for female attorneys. The more that women are ready to face the challenges presented to them as female lawyers, the easier it will be for them to succeed.
It’s incredibly important for all lawyers to be ready to network, and this begins quite early in a lawyer’s career. When young women first enter law school, they should begin establishing strong connections with not only their professors but their peers. Someone who starts out as your classmate could very well become a powerful professional within a matter of years. This is especially important for female lawyers, who are often isolated from their male peers due to sexism and need to make strong connections in order to succeed in the long term.
While female lawyers should not solely work with other female lawyers, it’s a good idea for female law school students and young attorneys just starting out to seek mentors. Many experienced female attorneys are willing to act as mentors for young female attorneys, ensuring that they have all that they need in terms of resources. If you’re in the beginning stages of your legal carer, you should take this into consideration when choosing a law school. Which law schools have female professors specializing in your field? Which law schools have a strong crop of female alums? Consider this when making your final decision.
2. Challenge Yourself
As a female lawyer, you will already be faced with external challenges on a regular basis. While a lot of external challenges are out of your control, you can control how you respond. With that being said, challenges for lawyers may be a bit different from challenges presented to those in other fields. For example, young lawyers may want to volunteer their services to be a part of challenging pro bono cases.
Additionally, if you’re trying to challenge yourself while you’re still in law school you may want to focus on the internships you’re signing on to. Some internships are definitely more challenging than others, and you need to make sure that your resume displays the fact that you aren’t afraid of a difficult case. Additionally, those who are still in law school should examine several different specialties before settling on the type of law they’re committing to practice.
3. Choose Your Specialty Wisely
As previously mentioned, a lot of female lawyers are pushed towards specializing in types of law that they aren’t actually interested in. This is often done because those types of law specialties may be more associated with female lawyers. But the reality is that female lawyers can practice any type of law, just as male lawyers would. The great thing about trying different specialties during law school is that you can feel more confident in your final decision.
Not all female lawyers are going to gravitate towards types of law specialties that are perhaps more “emotional” than other types of law. For that matter, the reasons why women may choose certain specialties over others may be varied. Some people believe in making a social difference as lawyers and become human rights attorneys. Others may be more interested in pursuing more lucrative specialties. Divorce law, for example, is highly lucrative; with between 40% and 50% of all marriages ending in divorce in the United States, there is a lot of opportunity for work among female lawyers in this particular field. It’s okay for lawyers, female or otherwise, to pursue more lucrative fields. Law school requires a lot of time, money, and education. You should make sure that you are doing what you can to benefit in every possible way from it.
4. Expect to Be Underestimated
There is a major advantage to practicing law as a woman, which also doubles as a disadvantage. Female lawyers are often underestimated by the competition. So much of law often revolves around debating and competing with others, whether the person on the other side of the aisle is a prosecutor or the representative for your client’s ex. While it may be difficult to accept being underestimated as a lawyer, you can take those who underestimate you and turn their personal flaws into your own strengths.
Many older attorneys, for example, don’t want to be seen as being unkind to women, or overly harsh to them. That means they may “go easy” on you as a female lawyer… at first. They may not make that mistake more than once after you beat them, but you should take advantage of the time that they do underestimate you.
It’s undeniable that there are challenges faced by female lawyers that not experienced by male lawyers. Female lawyers will almost definitely experience sexism, and for that matter, they may very well find themselves feeling frustrated and underestimated throughout their careers. But with these tips in mind, female attorneys can at least prepare for these challenges. With preparation, you can be ready for the worst of the challenges and ensure that you succeed.