Barry McTiernan & Moore’s top female lawyers conducted a roundtable discussion as part of recognizing women’s history month and share their advice to young women.
The progression of female lawyers through the ranks continuously remains a topic among law firms across the country as a vast majority of the top firms still lag behind on gender balance within their partnerships.
At Barry McTiernan & Moore, our distinguished female trailblazers joined a Zoom conference and shared their journey as well as advice they wished to give to the junior women making their way in the legal industry.
“I went to law school because I didn’t want to be a secretary. I grew up in a small town where there was this conception that women were to be either a teacher, nurse, or homemaker and I didn’t want to do that. I was literally told that because I wanted to be a lawyer something was wrong with me. I acknowledge that some female lawyers, may not want to progress through to partner ranks and may self-select out, but I hope there is no longer any doubt about a woman’s ability to progress, but uplift the women who want to.”
“In the beginning of my career – I was questioned – I had clients that didn’t want to work with me because they thought I wasn’t able to handle depositions or the male Judges and lawyers in the room would try to undermine me. Therefore, we have to work ten times harder because we have to anticipate every scenario. I find it astounding that there could still be any misconceptions about a woman’s ability to progress in the legal industry.”
“It means a great deal to me to be counted in the number of female attorneys especially as a partner at Barry McTiernan & Moore. I hope that it shows other young women that they too can achieve their goals. I did not come from a wealthy family. I am proud of my achievements and if I can inspire even one young woman then I consider myself truly successful. We as woman, first must contend with those that think that we are not as intelligent as our male counterparts. Then we must contend with stereotypes of being too sensitive or emotional. Men are paid more in this industry and are often recognized more for their work. If you add being a woman of color, that adds yet another layer that women have to get through to be successful.”
“I started working in the legal field as a legal secretary as I was finishing my college degree. I worked at a firm with all male partners and associates with the exception of one female attorney who was the wife of a male partner. The dynamic of that office made it seem as if that were the norm and at that time, I was young and didn’t know any better. The men had nice big offices, went to fancy lunches, and went to court while the women typed and wrote letters. There were no women in leadership roles of any type. For the first time, I saw some equality in the staffing at the prosecutor’s office which was largely female. While the bench at that time was overwhelmingly male, watching those female prosecutors handle their cases and win, it became clear to me that the practice of law didn’t have to be an all-boys club. I worked for a criminal defense firm as an associate at the time it was very challenging as I often dealt with violent criminals, persons accused of violence against women, and crimes against children. Going to prisons to speak with clients and going into the cells in the various courthouses was also difficult and challenging as a female. The sexual harassment was rampant, the inmates showed no respect for any females, attorney and corrections officers included and it was often frightening. I don’t regret any of my prior experiences as it only made me stronger and forced me out of my comfort zone. It gave me confidence and a voice, and made me unafraid to use it. When I started at Barry McTiernan in 2013, I had no experience in civil litigation. However, with the support and guidance of the more senior female attorneys at the firm who I can now call friends, I learned and persevered. I worked hard and often handled matters outside of my comfort zone which only made me stronger and more confident. I was honest and played fair and after seven years, the firm asked me to join as a partner. It has been a high point of my career and I could not be more honored or proud to join the ranks. I only hope that I can offer the same support and guidance to younger/newer female attorneys that helped me to get where I am today.”
Don’t be cutthroat, but be confident
“What works is relationships. Also having respect for everyone you interact with. But when you’re in a deposition, for example, and there’s an objection, there may be some back and forth over the base for the objection. If it’s a male attorney making the objection, they’re, free to speak their piece – and maybe it’s more of a microaggression I just feel as a woman, you have to walk that line when you’re aggressive, but you’re not too aggressive. There is no issue with being clear about what you want to achieve and having convictions. Cutthroat is a dying approach. Being true to the right values will beat cutthroat every day.”
“You need to have the confidence to back yourself and feel secure enough in your own abilities to open yourself up and learn from others. If someone does something that really impresses you, tell them and ask how they did it. It’s the best form of feedback for that person and you learn from it too.”
“I want to encourage aspiring female lawyers to talk about their successes as this is an important part of winning work. I’ve joked from time to time saying that I suffer from imposter syndrome, I say this because I don’t celebrate successes as often as I should. By acknowledging our accolades, we are essentially helping them (other women) overcome the concern that, to do so, is unacceptable ‘bragging’.”
“I have always been one to believe that my work should speak for me. I am always willing to prove myself through my work and dedication. I believe that while we always hope that our efforts are appreciated, we have to be committed to doing the job and while there may not be immediate gratification sometimes, I believe that in the long run recognition will be given.”
“Early on, I found one of the biggest obstacles was being judged by my appearance and not my abilities. This has extended into the way older male colleagues spoke to me and called me names like sweetheart or honey as opposed to counsel, Cara or Ms. Manz. I’ve always found being a female attorney to be a bit of a balancing act as well. You want to be aggressive, but not too aggressive for fear of being labeled a “b*****, when you take the same actions as a male colleague being viewed as assertive, expressing justified anger, etc.,”
Start Networking Early
“I left the firm and came back – why? Because of the people. They really encouraged and mentored me on the ins and outs of being a lawyer. But this isn’t something that will be handed to you, you have to make an effort to network, both professionally and socially. Let people see your personality, it will make you happier and help you to build closer relationships.”
“Mentoring is invaluable in preparing the next generation of female attorneys for leadership roles.”
“Get a mentor as soon as possible. Preferably an experienced female attorney who can help to guide you. Resources are invaluable. As women see more examples of female leadership, it will have the needed effect. The leaders themselves must also reach back and be encouraging to those that are watching.”
“Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Don’t be afraid to raise your voice, object or interrupt. Believe in yourself, be confident and don’t be timid. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, seek them out and make them for yourself. Women supporting and mentoring each other can be a great catalyst for change. It’s crucial not just in the practice of law, but in all aspects of life. I think more women in leadership roles, more women’s networking events and more women owned law firms will go a long way in encouraging and mobilizing more women to step up and that these successful women can serve as role models for other women and future generations of female lawyers.”
“Keep an ongoing list of professional contacts from the outset, now with LinkedIn and social media it is far easier than when I started my career, but also it is a great idea to note details about the individuals so you can continue to relate on a personal level. Keep an ongoing file of work product to not re-invent the wheel.
Develop a “thick skin,” the ability to just shake things off rather than take them to heart and be kind to yourself, accept that no one is perfect, set more reasonable goals/priorities – you cannot do it all.”
Does the pandemic balance the gender playing field?
“One way the pandemic may create a more balanced playing field is that Zoom (teleconferencing) offers fewer options for women to be ogled. I have been at many in-person professional mediations or conferences when I have seen the scanning of a female attorney’s appearance and heard the demeaning comments begin from the moment a young attractive female attorney walks into the room. Things may go her way, but at what expense? Appearing remotely takes away the opportunities for that kind of sexism.”
“There are opportunities now, for those who would like to start down a leadership path. All legal societies and committees need volunteers. If you have the time, pick one of interest and join up. Especially, when we are facing less court time in which to meet other similarly-situated young females (or males) attorneys, joining an organization will help create those connections for the leadership path later on, as well as to provide a support system, and perhaps some unexpected friendships among like-minded people, often making a difference in the world in some fashion.”
“I think that the pandemic might level the playing field if only because women have historically borne the brunt of the responsibility for child care and the pandemic has made working from home much more common. Normally, being an attorney is not really a job that can be done from home but that has changed now that the courts are closed.”
Taking some time for yourself
“Reflecting on my younger self, all I did was work, but when I take a look at some of our younger associates and partners – there is no longer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ mold. If you want to take your hand at experiencing another firm, I say, go for it because you will garner a new depth of knowledge, and if you want to come back, you’re always welcome to.”
“Take the time for yourself to sleep, to go to the dentist, keep your medical appointments, exercise, take lunch… whatever you need to be your best You. Do not let others make you feel you should not do so. Realize that you are very likely in this business, in some form, for the long haul and that both your office and family can deal with missing you for time spent on keeping yourself up. Do not let yourself be defined by being an attorney; it is something you do, not who you are. Recall that there are ups and downs in everything – some days you are hungrier than others, some days you feel better than others, and similarly, some days you will be more productive than on other days. If you accept that there are natural ebb and flow, and look at the long-term picture, there is less pressure and that’s the name of the game in this journey.”
“Create times when working and times when dealing with other life issues. Take breaks to stretch, relax. Wake up at the normal time, take a shower and dress up like going to work to set the mood for the workday. Change clothes at the end of the workday.”
Female attorneys are still under-estimated until they establish that they know what they are doing. Women lawyers need to continuously work to uplift, empower and mobilize working with each other to grow. It’s good to ask questions, especially as young attorneys – it builds relationships and a strong rapport about your desire to move up in your career. At Barry McTiernan & Moore, our partners and associate lawyers continuously work to provide mentorship and are team advocates for all those a part of the firm. As a firm, Barry McTiernan & Moore achieves to respect and empower individuals at each stage of their careers.