Mentoring Is Critical For Young Female Lawyers - Sara Williams ESQ

Mentoring Is Critical For Young Female Lawyers

July 14, 2021

Choosing the legal profession is rewarding from several points of view. You can enjoy career success in a challenging field. You feel that you make a contribution to society, by ensuring that justice is served and truth prevails. And you can earn a decent living, enabling you to pursue your dreams and hobbies. However, for female attorneys fresh out of law school, the future does not look so bright from the start. What every young female lawyer needs is a good mentor who will guide her through the treacherous paths of her first years as a professional in her field of choice.

Many women attorneys have already thrown in the towel and left the legal career, due to the obstacles they have encountered during their junior years. This is not an easy decision, after all the hard work and efforts to graduate. Who knows what great talents we have lost, because none of these women managed to become senior attorneys and enjoy the professional development that their male counterparts do.

What Are the Challenges Faced by Female Lawyers?

In one word, discrimination is the biggest challenge for any young women lawyers. Although there is talk of this topic on all possible channels, I will back it up with facts and data, not just talk-show fluff. Here is a major and worrisome instance. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 65.9% of all interruptions in the US Supreme Court in the past few years were directed at the three female justices: the late and great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Discrimination is also rife in various law firms (including the big ones). A recent report prepared by the New York State Bar Association includes a survey indicating that:

  • 82% of women lawyers were mistaken for a lower-level employee, compared to 0% male lawyers
  • 75% of female attorneys were subjected to demeaning comments and jokes, compared to 8% male attorneys
  • 50% of women lawyers experienced sexual harassment at work, compared to 6% male lawyers.

As for the women who have the strength to survive the phase of junior lawyers, their career paths and their professional life are dotted with difficult choices. A separate survey, conducted by the DRI organization found that pursuing a legal career:

  • greatly influenced the timing of motherhood for 32.4% of respondents
  • greatly influenced child care options for 44.6% of respondents
  • caused their career path to stagnate for 65.3% of respondents.

Also, a staggering 70.4% of women attorneys who participated in the DRI survey stated that they experienced gender bias in the courtroom.

Mentorship Makes the Difference for Female Junior Attorneys

First of all, what is a mentor in the legal profession, and what role do they play? Mentorship involves experienced lawyers who are willing to support a junior lawyer, endorse them and teach them what they have learned during decades of practice. In exchange, the mentee is willing to be of assistance to the mentor, give them credit for their helpful advice and grow into a confidence and successful attorney.

Mentors are, thus, role models for young female attorneys, who also take the time to share their experience – something you cannot learn in the law school. A mentee will not only turn to their mentor attorney for advice, but emulate the way they work, relate to others and take an interest in the business side of the law firm they work for. In time, mentors can encourage their young mentees to:

  • become confident and masterful in the courtroom
  • grow from inexperienced attorneys to principal lawyers and even partners in a law firm
  • gain access to career development and advancement opportunities through endorsement
  • find a balance between their professional and personal lives.

Mentorship Is Valuable for Mentors, As Well

So far, you may have understood that a mentor is doing the mentee a favor. And this is the wrong way of approaching a mentor-mentee relationship. You are not asking for a favor, you are acknowledging someone you respect for their professionalism, personal integrity and experience. Many mentors say they feel rewarded by nurturing young female lawyers and helping them progress on their career path from associate to partner or even deciding to open their own law firm.

Also, the global COVID pandemic has made mentorship even more important for both parties. The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association President Natoya McGhie affirmed in an interview that mentoring helped her expand her network, make new friends and navigate the difficulties of practicing law in these unexpected circumstances.

Finding the Right Mentor Is Essential

Not all mentors are equal and can provide the kind of guidance you need. You need to think long and hard before approaching a potential mentor. They must be the kind of lawyer you see yourself becoming in time. And you should not focus only female partners or senior lawyers. Male lawyers can be great mentors for young female lawyers and inspire them with the confidence they are lacking in their junior years.

Once you’ve made your choice, you must work on a daily basis to build the relationship with your mentor. And you will know if you made the right choice soon enough. The right mentor empowers you and gives you a sense of direction. It is unfortunate to realize that you do not get this kind of support, or you do not like the direction you are steered in. However, you must speak up ahead of time, with tact and respect. After all, mentorship is time and effort invested by both parties. So you do not want to prolong it if you do not feel you made the right choice.

But Where Do You Find a Mentor?

Some law firms have formal mentoring programs for the advancement of women lawyers, with different levels of success. A good program can nurture amazing women lawyers, who will add value to any law firm.

Attending social events organized by various bar organizations is also a great way of meeting potential mentors. With the COVID restrictions in place, many such events now take place virtually, via Zoom meetings. But do not be discouraged – senior partners are no more experienced in virtual meetings than you are. Just remember the incident of the lawyer who got stuck with a cat filter during an online court hearing!

Also, even if your law firm does not have an official mentoring program, you can still find a good mentor there. Just make sure that you approach them in a natural manner, during a lunch break or a networking event, when they can give you their undivided attention and good will.

I Am Here to Help You Grow into the Successful Lawyer You Want to Be!

I am Sara Williams, ESQ, a trial lawyer and a strong supporter of young female attorneys. I was once where are you now – young and desire to leave my mark in the legal profession. I have stood firmly by the principles that made me choose a legal career: confidence, commitment, community, communication, and consistency.

And I can teach you how to live up to these principles and become an unstoppable force in the courtroom. You will not let sexism and discrimination hold you back, because I am by your side to teach you how to prevail. The world of law needs more strong and successful female lawyers and you can be one of them, so get in touch with me!

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