You cannot overemphasize the importance of positive role models to a person’s career. Good role models can make all the difference in the world—especially in the early stages of your career.
I would never have made partner at my law firm without strong female role models who showed me firsthand how to be a good lawyer. These women were passionate about their cases and clients, always exercised keen judgment, and could keep their cool even when dealing with difficult, stressful situations. But, as important as these role models were to me, another group of lawyers was even more important to my career development: my “no-models.” These were the lawyers I aimed to not become.
My first no-model was a lawyer who could not complete an assignment without pulling at least one all-nighter. On the day a brief was due, she would frantically spill into the office around 11 A.M., draft in hand, her hair wet and unkempt and her clothes disheveled. It did not matter that she was brilliant and loved the law—every time she produced a brief, it seemed like she had engaged in an extraordinarily difficult process. She made the practice of law look hard, unsustainable, and even miserable. Despite her dedication to each assignment, this no-model was someone I definitely did not want to be, further instilling in me the importance of always doing my best to manage my time and to appear on top of things.
Another lawyer I came across in my early years as an attorney was often referred to as “a crier”—a demeaning stereotype for women that was unfortunately fed by this attorney’s own behavior in the office. This lawyer cried frequently and in front of other co-workers, and many triggers to her crying had nothing to do with actual pain. She cried when she was stressed. She cried when she was tired. She cried when she was angry. She even cried when she uncovered seemingly unfavorable facts about one of her cases. This meant that, in essence, you had to be a tear-whisperer to know what was wrong with her until she could finally get the words out. While certainly emotions run high at times at work, this no-model attorney crystallized for me the importance of learning how to stay cool at the office.
Another no-model lawyer I observed constantly revisited and questioned her own decisions. Even worse, she complained about the pressure of having to make decisions on cases—which I had always thought was the cornerstone of what lawyers do. To my amazement, she was so afraid to make a mistake, she actively ducked responsibility and had no desire to call the shots in any of her cases. Not surprisingly, she did not last long at my firm. She was definitely not a model of how I wanted to conduct myself in front of clients and colleagues and reinforced the need for me to be decisive and project confidence in my judgment.
Finally, though it was long before I had my own children, I will never forget the no-model who specifically scheduled a C-section delivery to accommodate a conference call that easily could have been handled by any number of other lawyers at the firm. Apparently worried about the impact of having a child on her career, this person was clearly sending a message to her colleagues that she simply would not miss a beat. But that was truly unnecessary: not a single attorney or client I knew would have expected her to take a call during that time. While I would not presume to judge any working parent’s decisions based on their values and priorities, it was apparent as the years went by that this attorney was afraid, for whatever reason, to take any real time away from the office to be with her daughter. She was definitely no model for me of how to navigate the path of a fulfilling and successful career while also being an involved parent and community member.
The truth is, it is hard to figure out what we want to achieve in our lives, and who we really want to be when we grow up. Taking the time to carefully observe the people we don’t want to be, however, can aim us down the right path and help us tremendously in our quest to build successful and satisfying professional and personal lives. The takeaway: always value your role models, mentors, and sponsors, but never forget to pay careful attention to the no-models in your life.
About the Author
Lori L. Pines is a litigation partner in Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP’s New York office and is the head of the firm’s False Claims Act/Qui Tam group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.