21 Aug 2012

Here comes Goldilocks

Women lawyers mentoring women lawyers is a no-brainer. But it rarely happens, says Debra Forman


Welcome to the inaugural posting of XXLAW, the legal blog for women lawyers. We are delighted to provide a thought-provoking platform for women who practise and work in the legal industry.



Women lawyers would develop their practice and client development skills more effectively if they were mentored and championed by other women lawyers. Intuitively, this is a no-brainer: women lawyers helping other women lawyers succeed. Women lawyers as role models, teachers, and champions of women lawyers is a relatively new phenomenon. It has only been in the last 25 or so years that women lawyers have visibly gained seats at law firm tables. They are invited to join their male counterparts because they have established valuable and sustainable client relationships, which in turn have earned them firm clout. Women lawyers' recognition as firm leaders is developing momentum, but there still is a long way to go.


But what about bringing up other women through the ranks? Young, mid-level and even senior women who have yet to taste "on the chart" success would greatly benefit from the support of women leaders who "get it" and have achieved success. When I raise these sentiments with some women leaders, I receive a wide range of responses, some more irritating than others. I can best describe the conversations as if they were uttered by the bears in the popular fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears.


The surprised and humble woman partner's response is reminiscent of Mama Bear: "Oh, I don't think I have anything of note to offer other women." The indignant woman partner sounds like Papa Bear: "I didn't have a woman mentor or champion assist me when I was building my practice. Why should I help anyone else build theirs?" And, like Baby Bear, the willing but guileless female partner whines, "I guess I should help but I have no idea how or where to start."
Why can't more women partners be like Goldilocks? Goldilocks partners would not make excuses. They would seek out opportunities to mentor and champion other female colleagues. It might take our Goldilocks partners a few tries until the "right" tactics are found or the "right" results are seen, but they would share their smarts and professional experience to guide other women lawyers.


Sure, having more partners like Goldilocks would greatly benefit firms and develop other women lawyers. But mentoring and championing other women lawyers will also benefit the women leaders who assume this essential role within the firm. It will assert their leadership qualities, acknowledge their influence, demonstrate their competence, and nurture their relationships with smart and ambitious colleagues.


The legal world needs more women lawyers like Goldilocks. What about you?

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