For Women in Law By Women in Law

Dear LiL: I am a young female lawyer and feel disrespected by assistants who treat the male lawyers differently. What can I do? Signed ~ Disrespected

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Dear Disrespected:

I raised a similar issue with male colleagues early on in my career and was told it was “in my head” and that “everyone knows that women are harder to work with.” This response, to put it colloquially, SUCKED! It both suggested that my judgment was poor and was not constructive. Instead, consider the following:

1. Delegation is a crucial skill for lawyers but it not often taught to those in the early stages of practice. Failing to understand how to do it can make working with others difficult. Talk to other lawyers and/or HR to get a clear sense about what is done by the lawyer and what is done by the assistant in your firm. Have a meeting with the assistant to make sure you have a clear understanding of who will do what and ask for the assistant’s input about how you can work efficiently as a team. This applies equally to female and male lawyers.

2. Even though I try to avoid generalizing, the female lawyers I know and work with seem to have stronger opinions about how files should be organized than my male colleagues. The assistant may view the lawyer’s involvement in this area to be an interference with their domain. You may need to adjust your expectations or both compromise to find a workable solution.

3. The assistant may simply be disrespectful. If you have addressed the first two points and things are still problematic, or if it is clear that the issue is simply a matter of attitude, don’t suffer in silence. Raise the issue with HR and/or the lawyer in charge of staffing. All people who work together deserve to be treated with courtesy and professionalism. If this is not happening, it needs to change.

We all have our way of doing things and it can take time to sync up and become an effective team. I certainly would not be as productive as I am without the excellent support of my crew. Hopefully you can create the same environment for yourself.

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