This article originally appeared in Impulse Law360 April 14, 2022. It is republished here with permission.

Women leading a law firm add tremendous value to their clients, colleagues and the firm as a whole.

According to a recent Business Insider study, female leaders are more effective at taking initiative, demonstrating integrity, building motivating relationships, and driving meaningful results and change.1

Having women in leadership positions in law firms increases representation, encouraging women to apply for jobs and seek leadership opportunities in a field that was previously dominated by men. As such, it is important to recognize the special contributions of women in leadership roles within the law and to create a pathway that continually promotes women to these leadership positions.

For example, I became the managing partner in the Austin office of Foley & Lardner LLP – formerly Gardere Wynne Sewell prior to the 2018 combination – in 2002. Prior to that, I was the first female partner in the Austin office of Foley & Lardner LLP. ‘Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

Throughout my 42-year legal career, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to pave the way for women leaders. My advice for those aspiring to leadership roles is simple: Prioritize collaboration, inclusiveness, and integrity in everything you do.

Collaboration is the key to success.

Growing up, I was told, “You’re only as good as the people around you. This mantra has driven me to foster a collaborative environment in each of my workplaces.

Practicing law requires considering multiple perspectives and working with diverse stakeholders, both internally and externally, to achieve an outcome that provides our clients with excellent representation and leads to the greater good in all.

As a female leader, I firmly believe that I would not have succeeded without a collaborative mindset.

When I started practicing law, I was one of the few women in the profession. I had to go above and beyond to demonstrate my experience to customers. I focused first on proving to myself that I was a quality lawyer, as well as a trusted advisor to my clients and a mentor to others. This attitude has greatly contributed to my success. You must first have confidence in yourself and your own abilities before any of your clients or colleagues will trust you.

Collaboration between different areas of a law firm provides valuable learning experiences and enhances the value of the services we provide to our clients. If you’re not an expert in something, talk to someone who is. If you’re in hiring capacity, intentionally recruiting experts in unique fields is a great way to make room for collaboration within your organization.

The more people you have around you, the more knowledge you have to acquire.

Businesses need to be inclusive to retain people from diverse backgrounds.

While progress has been made in bringing women and minority lawyers into leadership positions, there is undoubtedly still room for improvement to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to move up the ranks and be supported. . It is up to all of us, men and women, to make this possible.

It is not enough to hire lawyers who belong to underrepresented groups. Firm management must be committed to creating a work environment where people feel included, seen, heard and respected. It’s also important that women and people of color see career paths to advancement.

Representation matters. The more we see women and racial minorities in leadership positions, the more these people will believe they can accomplish the same. It is essential to ensure that we give women and people of color within our own company a strong voice in leadership.

Managing work-life balance is essential.

Younger female lawyers think they can achieve a comfortable work-life balance, but I have to be honest, it’s hard. Finding that balance will be a lifelong pursuit, and it’s a constant battle of reprioritization and reassessment.

Technology has given us more options to be available to our customers, even outside of the office. However, my clients appreciated and appreciated the fact that I wanted to attend the school performance or the sporting event of my child, for example. They were not only flexible, but it made me seem more authentic and real to them. They themselves experienced the same difficulties with work-life balance.

I adopted my daughter from Moscow when she was 11 months old. As a single mom, I had to juggle my job while raising it. I was lucky enough to be able to hire great help, which kept me engaged in my legal career, but there were always times when I felt I had to rebalance my priorities.

I learned that it is possible to have a successful career and a fulfilling family life. Today my daughter is a young professional woman thriving in her new job. She is driven and dedicated to success in her personal life and career, and I believe she learned the importance of perseverance, clear communication skills and achieving excellence in her job at a young age because that I modeled for her.

Children gain so much insight watching their parents navigate their careers, especially mothers who show their children that business and family success can be achieved. Yet, like anything else important, it requires continuous work to find the right balance.

Integrity is essential in leadership.

Early in your career, it’s important to listen and seek to understand your company culture and your team members. Only by listening can you build trust and lead with integrity and authenticity.

Being transparent in your decisions is also important. Even if a decision isn’t popular, it’s important to be honest with your reasoning. To be a successful leader, you must always strive for an authentic expression of your values ​​in everything you do, and clients and young lawyers will look to that.

I often had to deliver bad news to customers and employees. Whether it’s telling hard truths about the ability to meet client goals or communicating with an employee about their performance, being upfront is essential.

In my experience, the majority of people appreciate and trust clear messages.

Becoming a leader in your field is a journey, and you can’t do it alone.

Finding a mentor is a great way to learn. My mentors, who at the time were mostly men, taught me the value of creating a collaborative environment and a place where women could take on leadership roles. They encouraged me to ask questions, even though I thought the answer was obvious to others, because that’s the only way to learn from those around you and develop your own leadership skills.

You will find your own leadership style from your experiences with other people. One day a light bulb will go out and you will realize that you are ready to lead. It’s also helpful to rely on your female friends to act as a sounding board and give you a glimpse of reality when you need help managing your career.

My final piece of advice is to just lean over. Let people know that you are interested in a leadership role. Volunteer for non-billable projects when the opportunity arises. Demonstrate to others that you are authentic and committed to the organization’s culture and strategy.

Women and men will face obstacles on their journey to becoming a leader, but if you have confidence in yourself, aren’t afraid to ask questions, and are always ready to learn, you will succeed.


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