Nine Qualities of Successful Female Attorneys

By Lyndsay A. Markley 

I’m frequently asked to speak about women in law and often, I speak on the issue that only a small percentage of female
attorneys are given management and shareholder status, despite the fact that about 50% of all working attorneys are women.

Unfortunately, there are many other frightening statistics – women are paid less than men across the board and seem to fall off the grid five years into the profession, while our male counterparts rise up the career ladder.

These statistics are troubling, however, I also see another reality where many female attorneys are successful entrepreneurs building great businesses. This leads me to believe that there are two parts to the issue – how society approaches the monetary value of females in the workforce and how we, as women, approach our financial value.

I confess that in my past, I have received and accepted ‘gender shaming’ from managing partners when I asked for an increase in compensation (i.e. I was not acting ‘ladylike’) and that I did not know my own worth in my own company. When I finally figured out my worth and asked for it, the consequences were career changing. After watching female colleagues I admire overcome this issue and now having found my own power in my career, here are my thoughts on the nine qualities of a female attorney who gets beyond the glass ceiling:

1. We are entrepreneurial.  We want and need to have our own book of business and we hustle to get it. We are hunters- out looking for business so no one can doubt our worth. We also will fight to keep control of our business even if it means a change of our business’s address.

2. We know what we are worth. Ask most men how much business or money he made for his company last year and he will proudly tell you. Now ask a woman. Most do not know. Until 2013, I was one of these woman. I blindly assumed that I was compensated fairly and I lived in a peaceful, blissful ignorance. Then it came time to re-negotiate my compensation and a quick look at the books showed that I was responsible for a much more significant portion of our revenue that I thought. Knowledge is power. Now that you know what you are worth…

3.We ask for it. Statistically speaking, women in all professions are much less inclined to ask to be compensated in accordance with their value. The women I know who are rocketing to success have asked for what they want and if they have not gotten it from their employer – they went out and got it on their own. Asking for what you want is scary. Your boss/partner/colleague can say no or get angry. Or you could get what you asked for (even begrudgingly). If the answer to your request is ‘no’ you have been given an amazing gift – the truth. Your business does not value you. Unless there is a legitimate economic explanation involving complete financial transparency as to why you cannot be compensated fairly, you have to go. Many businesses have started for this very reason.

4. We know what we want. When I started my first associate position at a defense firm I knew what I wanted: trial experience. I told my new bosses that I wanted every case in the office with an arbitration or a trial date within the year. I got them and I tried them all. This turned into three job offers in less than one year. When I made my next career move to the plaintiff’s side, my goal was even clearer: shareholder status with my name on the door. I made this absolutely clear. If I was going to work for this law firm I was going to be on the fast track. You cannot get what you want, if you do not know what you want. Do you want to work on appellate cases? Ask. Want to sit along for depositions? Ask. Once again, if you keep being told “no” you know where you stand with your business: nowhere good.

5. We hustle. As an associate and partner at a small firm, I worked long hours to be an attorney but I never forgot that being the ‘best’ attorney was not going to bring me in business. I dedicated time each day to maintaining relationships, searching for opportunities to expand my business, and making new relationships. Being an attorney is hard work and many of us do not want to socialize a lot at the end of the day, but women who succeed make time to do this just like they make time to get their nails done.

6. We don’t make excuses. We fail. We get fired. We lose cases. We win. We get promoted. We win cases. That is the way of life. When you try – when you put yourself out there – you WILL fail sometimes. It is part of life. It is easy to win and succeed. If you want to know someone truly watch them get back up after a fall.

7. We are innovative. I have never had a problem that I could not solve because I usually find issues to be the perfect time for change. When I’m stumped, I call my mentors, attend seminars and Google random search terms until I find my answer or at least a lead. This has led me to solutions that were much better than what I did before I had the “problem.”

8. We are authentic. The women – and men – I know who are the most successful are completely true to themselves. They are quirky, interesting, unique individuals who can be off-putting, tough, cranky, funny and inappropriate. They are not perfect. They don’t always say the right thing but they know who they are and people love it.

9. We help others. All the women I know who are truly successful promote and support other qualified women so we can be the change we seek. Even if you are new to the profession you can and should help others.

This article originally appeared in the WBAI Spring 2015 Newsletter.