The pandemic has left women lawyers hurting more than ever these days. Women lawyers are experiencing the strongest headwinds they’ve experienced in decades—impacting their substantive practice, their personal brands, and their ability to market themselves and harmonize their personal life and time.
On May 12, 2021, the DC Bar and California Lawyer’s Association released the results of a research project regarding the mental health and attrition of lawyers due to the pandemic. Most alarming were the findings regarding the stress on women lawyers, and heavy alcohol use.
More than ever, women lawyers need tools to support them in being able to harmonize being a successful lawyer with a fulfilling personal life.
Women lawyers often feel like we can do it all by ourselves- be amazing lawyers, wives, moms, daughters, sisters, and friends. No one can burn the candle on both ends as we can. This used to be my life until I was buried under the stress and guilt of it all. The idea that we can’t take it all on our shoulders bothers most of us to the point of paralysis and exhaustion. The good news is we don’t have to do it all by ourselves. We never have had to do so. Support is real, effective, and not a sign of weakness.
Allyship is a strong tool that all women lawyers can use to succeed, thrive in a diverse work environment, and have a healthy home life.
Allyship is the idea that members of a group can help each other succeed. Trends and trendy terminology may come and go. One notion that remains constant, though, is support. Call it allyship or something else. The bottom line is that in life, both personal and professional, we all need support.
Support comes from various people and places. We have to be discerning to know that we need support and how to ask for it. Otherwise, destructive behaviors may dominate.
As the term allyship suggests, one of the best places to gain support is within a group of like-minded people who share common characteristics and challenges, such as women lawyers.
Implementation Strategies and Tools
- As women lawyers, the first step to asking for support is knowing what we need. Stop and ask yourself, “What do I need to be at my very best today”? Setting up a regular, weekly calendar reminder that reminds you to take a minute for yourself to make this inquiry is a good first step. Whatever the reply you get, honor it by taking it seriously. Don’t ignore what your gut response may be. For instance, you may find out you need to take a nap. See if you can honor yourself with a 10-minute nap that day. Starting small is fine, just so long as you don’t ignore your needs.
- Change your focus. Often, seeing things from another person’s vantage point is key in supporting the greater community. The challenge is that the rigors of daily life plus the practice of law do not leave women lawyers in a place where we can naturally step into another’s shoes with compassion and empathy. The trick is developing self-awareness to constantly police your thoughts and mindset to catch whether you are in judgment of another woman lawyer, or seeing a situation differently where your support is critical. This requires discipline, and a willingness to look outside of yourself at the greater good that could come from supporting another women lawyer when you may not stand to benefit individually at all.
- Enlist men. Allyship is not only about women supporting each other. Allyship can involve engaging our male colleagues. As stated above, the first step to asking our male colleagues for support is knowing what we need as women lawyers. Next, it involves approaching the right men—men we think will be our true allies. Ideally, these are men who can see our point of view and are invested in our success as equally talented human beings, thus promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
- Create a “wins” journal. For most of us women lawyers, the idea of self-marketing is very painful, because it feels like bragging. Believing that we are worthy of support requires us to own our greatness first. No one wants to take time and energy to invest in us if they don’t sense we will appreciate it nor value ourselves first. The easiest way I’ve found to do so is by keeping a log of all the “wins” we have throughout our day. I ask all my clients to keep a “wins” journal. Here you note everything that you did in one day that you could categorize as a win for yourself. Note, this does not involve what we would traditionally categorize as a win, such as winning a big verdict or booking a huge client. Wins can be anything that allow you to really see the value you bring to the table. I’ve logged wins including passing on a second cookie and turning off my email to spend an extra hour with my family. Anything counts as long as you can stop and see the value for yourself. Sharing these wins with other women lawyers helps solidify them for yourself and allows others to learn from you, while at the same time supporting you.
- Spend time figuring out who you are (i.e., your actual brand). Spending quality time in groups of other women lawyers unearthing who you are and your brand will allow you to feel supported in the optimal Allyship structure.
In an effort to stem the attrition of women lawyers, law firms often seek external coaching or programs such as mentorship. When I’m approached by such a firm’s inquiry, I quickly note that no one can effectively mentor another if they do not feel like they can serve as a fit mentor. When women lawyers are stressed, the last thing we need is to have to mentor another woman lawyer. How would we know if we are a fit mentor? Only if we feel supported and feel good about who we are as women, can we then mentor others.
Nothing is more grounding or supportive than having safe, structured time devoted just to you and your process of knowing yourself with others who are alike and have the same goal.
The legal profession is facing a real crisis regarding women lawyers, our stress, and the multiple hats we are faced with wearing in our very busy lives these days. Support or Allyship provides a cure. Finding an outlet of support among other women and male lawyers can be a lifeline in terms of alleviating the struggle and confusion. Implementing tools and strategies, some alone and some in partnership with others, are proactive means of changing the tide, and ensuring that women can harmonize being a successful lawyer with a fulfilling personal life, where we each have freedom and control over our time, practice and personal lives.
About the Author
Katy Goshtasbi is a securities lawyer, branding expert, coach and founder of Puris Consulting. She works with law firms, lawyers, and organizations on growing, in size and profits, by mastering change and developing brands that get their message out effectively. She is chair of the ABA Law Practice Diversity Committee and former chair of the Law Practice Division.