Step One for Women in Law Aspiring to Lead? Avoiding the Trap of Bad Advice

There is a clear set of strategies women in law should be aware of and implementing to drive their own success.

“Just keep your head down. Work hard. Do the right things.”

I was a young lawyer with the usual angst about how I could be the architect of my career path, which I had been mapping out for over a dozen years. Riddled with concern about my future and focused on gathering data to sooth my fears of some unnamed failure, I solicited advice from those who had made it to the top of the mountain.

“What is the secret? What does it take to get where you are?” I would ask.  And that was the response, time and again. Hard work and doing the “right things.” And voila, success. So back I would go to my work, trying to be all things to all people and seeking perfection in my practice.

What I would not learn until years later is that the mantra I had long been following is the worst piece of advice women in law receive. Although hard work and having the right technical chops are certainly the cost of entry for success in the law, it is by no means the sole ingredients in the recipe that get you to a leadership role and position of influence in your organization.

What’s more, a cocktail of increasingly harder work and striving to achieve some mythically Zen state of an infallible practitioner is nothing but a path to burnout. This applies particularly to lawyers that seek to make the shift to becoming a leader of teams.

As I spend time talking to women across the country, agnostic of their practice venue, I hear this same tale time and time again. It turns out I was not alone for all those years in trying to unlock the secret to success. They work so hard. They continue to hone their technical expertise.

They take care of their clients. They are the quintessential team players. And they all ponder why they have reached a mid-point in their career out of which they cannot ascend. They want to climb along their own, authentic path to leadership, but cannot unlock the secret sauce to make that leap to the next level, despite diligently following the advice they have received throughout their career.

That is because that advice is a myth. It is a trap that women in the law often fall into, especially without the right sponsor or mentor who can demystify what it actually takes to ascend along the path to leadership in law. There are a lot of “right things” women in law must be building into their development plans to climb along their path to leadership. Unfortunately, they are not often talked about or clearly articulated, which exacerbates the other hurdles women in law face as they seek to lead in the profession.

Over an upcoming series of six articles based on interviews with women leaders in law, we will demystify what those “right things” are. Whether it is a deliberate decision to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to drive developmental growth, or leveraging a strategically built personal board of directors, there is a clear set of strategies women in law should be aware of and implementing to drive their own success. We will share those strategies with you as you being in consider your development plans for 2017, and the resources you need to enable that plan.

Spoiler alert: keeping your head down isn’t on the list. 

Contributing Author

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Megan M. Belcher

Megan M. Belcher, former vice president and chief counsel, employment law and compliance at Conagra Brands, is the founder and CEO of Drinks Among Friends...

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