Dear LiL: I am a young female about to begin my summer articles. I’ve often heard that there are many obstacles for women in law in terms of promotions, clients favouring male lawyers, and making partner. Do you have any advice for how a young female can overcome these obstacles and succeed in law? Signed ~ Just Beginning
Dear Just Beginning:
Thanks for sending in your question – I think it is a great question.
I truly believe that the answer to your question is dependent on the culture at the firm you will be working for. Having said that, if the culture is not quite there yet, that is not to say it cannot or will not change.
For example, you queried how to overcome the obstacle in law in terms of promotions or making partner. The firm’s culture is relevant – does your firm have a policy for “parental leave” and not just for “maternity leave”? If they do, you are working with people that appreciate that female promotions can be delayed because of child rearing etc, and that having a parental policy helps to even out the playing field career wise amongst men and women. Does your firm permit flexible work arrangements? Because if they do then they are acknowledging that the studies show it is typically the female lawyer that requires this.
As mentioned above, even if your firm does not have these liberal policies in place yet, that does not mean you cannot overcome obstacles. Law firms historically have been and held conservative views. It takes time to make changes, but I assure you that collectively we are making progress. According to widely published data women represent 51.3 percent of those currently enrolled in law. The more representation we have, the more we will achieve in changing the old ways of thinking.
At the end of the day, being a good lawyer is not based on one’s gender, race, sexual orientation etc. It is truly based on merit. And first rate people surround themselves with first rate people. What I mean by this is that if you are a hard worker and put in the time, then the “higher ups” and clients will notice and want to work with you. And if a client doesn’t want to work with you because you are a female, use this to motivate you. Make it your Julia Roberts “Pretty Women” moment to let them know – “Big Mistake; Huge Mistake”.