Looking Back: 4 Female Lawyers Reflect on Lessons Learned

Hindsight is 20/20, and this couldn’t be more evident than in “Great Expectations for Female Lawyers”, Florence Martin-Kessler’s Op-Doc for the New York Times. Twelve years ago, Martin-Kessler was inspired by a Sunday Times piece that interviewed 21 female law school graduates after they were recruited to corporate firm Debevoise and Plimpton. She followed up with the women this year: as they read quotes from their younger selves, most smiled and shook their heads at their naivete, but they all followed up with brand new words of wisdom.

“If I had seen more women of color as partners would that have changed my perspective? I think if you had asked me that question then in 2001, I would have said no; but I think now hindsight, the answer would be yes, that it absolutely impacted [it].” – Melanie Vele

Vele’s perspective may have been enhanced by a role model in her field. Identify someone in your industry that shares your background, whether culturally, ethnically, educationally – whatever makes you connect with their success. Better yet, ask them to serve as your mentor. Knowing that someone blazed the trail can give you the confidence boost you never even knew you needed.

“I will continuously reflect” – Nicola Port

Port lives life at a breakneck pace: her position leads to long hours and international business trips, and she loves it. Yet she also cites this skill of reflection, a particular strength of working women that allows us to see the big picture. Port does not know if she will still love her lifestyle in 5 years, but instead of letting that freak her out, she acknowledges it. Write out your own quarterly performance review: rate your success on the job, your happiness at home, your health. Whether you like your reflection or not, you’ll get a picture of where you’re at.

“Forget about the ‘getting there’ part of it.” – Maggie Spillane

Don’t let your goal of getting the job cloud the view of your life with the job. Spillane describes the dedication required to make partner at a firm – not just long hours and becoming one of the boys but also the effort required to stay at the top. Pause on the corporate ladder and imagine how the promotion will change your life. What changes will be your new day-to-day? If it sounds manageable, keep climbing.

“Until we get to parity we cannot let down our resolve. That’s for our daughters and for their daughters.” – Mary Beth Hogan

As a partner at Debevoise, Hogan has reached the top of the food chain in a male-dominated profession – but knows she can’t stop there. As a voice of successful professional women, she doesn’t want to let her example always be so exceptional. Remember that progress is slow but satisfying. Ask for the raise, speak up in the meaning, and remember that wisdom comes from experience – as learned from these ladies of the law.

By Alison Loughman

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