Make It Legal

11/08/2017 12:34

Lawyers never like to admit they are surprised by anything. We are supposed to anticipate every twist and turn on a case and know exactly how a situation will play out.

That's not always my experience although work would be a lot easier - and less interesting - if it was.

One revelation I found unsurprising was the recent news that female staff at the BBC are generally paid less than their male colleagues. Sir Philip Hampton, asked by the Government to look at how to raise the number of women in senior business roles, was branded out of touch for suggesting that women are less assertive when it comes to negotiating their salaries. But I'm sure he's spot on.

If working in the media is anything like working in the law, I bet many women do hold themselves back. It's nothing to do with our abilities but all about confidence.

I remember before I took the leap into law, worrying that I may not be bright or serious enough for it. Evidence in chief: Tuesday used to be my favourite day as it was when Heat! magazine came out. Even now, I'd rather watch Love Island than Question Time.

But I've come to realise that the law needs all type of personalities. Clients know I'm shallow; they also know I'm good (most of the time).

As a partner in a multi-disciplinary firm that helps the world's most successful people protect their privacy and reputations, I need a whole range of tools to do my job. The ability to think on my feet and a forensic attention to detail are key; but after 15 years in the profession, I think the most important quality for this role is confidence.

There are numerous studies that back this up. You may not be as intelligent as a colleague, but you can go further than them if you have confidence.

This is often where women struggle and if you feel you don't have the confidence to take the legal or any other professional career route, I encourage you to think again. Visiting schools and colleges, I have become increasingly aware of the internal self talk that can stop women 'making it' (or even attempting to try for a legal career).

I've often noticed Imposter syndrome at work amongst the women I meet. As you may know, this is the feeling that you're a fraud and that any day you will be caught out and exposed. Men may have it too, but overwhelmingly it's women who admit to it and who I recognise it in.

In the working environment, this does not serve us well. Once, working with a female and a male trainee lawyer, I noticed how the woman poured over every detail, took too long to finish the job and when she handed it over was then quick to point out her mistakes. The man did the opposite. He got the work done quickly, gave it to the partners, and moved on. He was quick to promote himself and his work. She found it hard to accept compliments and would flag up where she thought she'd 'failed'. He was quick to point out any extra effort or time he'd put in and accepted compliments with ease! Frustrating, isn't it?! They were both up for one job. He got it.

I know confidence doesn't always come easily. Progress does not have to mean perfection. Believe me, I've had days when I've felt like the dumbest person on a conference call. But I have learned from my less than stellar performances. Most of us are more than 'good enough'. Just making some small behavioural changes, can help us turn a flat lining career path into one that begins to tilt upwards.

I'll leave you with some suggestions that I've found useful along the way:

• Take calculated risks. These may not pay off every time, but we're better people when we 'Feel the Fear and do it Anyway', (phrase immortalised by author, Susan Jeffers) . Obviously, don't base jump off your building if you're a sofa surfer, but you get my gist.
• Think about what you wear. I don't mean to send you into a fashionista fury, or prompt you to overstretch an already tight budget; but the advice: 'dress for the job you want, not for the one you've got', is worth considering. Colleagues laugh when I prepare for court by getting a good blow dry but it makes a big psychological difference (plus I do my best thinking in the salon!)
• Remember, it really is 'progress, not perfection'. Apart from the fact that the pursuit of perfection sets us all up for early heart attacks; too much effort is counter productive.
• Be a good self publicist, not a self saboteur. When your project works out, make sure you talk up your success. By all means praise your colleagues, but don't forget to include your own achievements in the mix.
• Finally: accept that compliment with good grace. It is well meant, so receive it well too.

We are all a work in progress too. So these tips from the Afia toolkit are not meant to be tyrannical or add more pressure. Remember, Alicia Florrick (the perfectly groomed Good Wife Lawyer), has a string of wardrobe, make up artists and script writers just out of shot. Good luck!