Kate McGuinness joins us to answer a question from a young female lawyer who needs some help navigating the waters of her law firm. Kate is an attorney-turned certified executive and life transition coach, and the founder of Counselor Coaching You can read more about Kate in her 7 Questions … interview. Welcome back, Kate!
Young Attorney: I’m a youngish female lawyer in a very male-dominated firm. I feel like no one I work with takes me seriously. How can I get the respect I deserve and show people I’m competent, even though most partners treat me like a kid?
Kate McGuinness: You have a terrific start on achieving your goal: you realize you deserve respect. Here are a few suggestions to help you get it.
1. Seek out responsibilities that demonstrate your commitment.
Perhaps the local court is adopting an e-filing system. Volunteer to learn it and help others in the office with it. Maybe there’s a routine assignment that anyone on the team could do, but it has a short time frame. Offer to take it on even if it means losing sleep.
2. Present a professional image.
Your posture and body language can enhance your image as a competent attorney. Here’s a critical bit of homework for you: watch Amy Cuddy’s brilliant Ted Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”
To avoid being “treated like a kid,” dress like a serious professional. Even if it’s casual Friday, pop a blazer over your jeans. Women with bangs drooping over their eyes and high ponytails look young. Don’t want to change your style? That’s entirely your call – just be aware of the impression you create.
3. Speak in a professional manner.
The words you choose and how you deliver them can have a lasting impact. Here are a few recommendations, but to implement them you’ll need to become aware of your present speech patterns.
- Present your ideas confidently in declarative statements
- Cut to the chase
- Speak slowly
- Lower the pitch of your voice if it’s especially high
- Make and maintain eye contact
- Hedge your position by using phrases such as “What if” or “Maybe this will work”
- End your sentences with an up or rising tone as if you were asking a question
- Clutter your speech with fillers such as “um,” “I think” or “you know”
- Use self-deprecating humor
- Apologize unless you truly made a mistake. When something, even a minor something, goes amiss many women respond almost automatically with “I’m sorry.” Unless you know that you blew it, don’t apologize.
How does your speech compare? Record yourself to get the most accurate answer. (Feedback from friends and relatives can help but it may be biased.) Identify one habit you want to change and practice for a week.
Record yourself again. Note the improvements and identify another target.
Repeat as necessary.
4. Identify one or two goals from this “session” and go for it.
Because this is our only time to “meet,” I’ve offered lots of suggestions. Consider them a menu. Pick a couple of behaviors you’d like to change and start with those. Tackling too many goals at once could leave you frustrated. When you’re comfortable with your first round of changes, you can take on a few more.
As you grow and navigate these changes hold firmly onto your belief that you deserve their respect — because you do!
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Kate McGuinness joined O’Melveny & Myers on graduating from law school and after seven years in the trenches became a partner. She left to become the Vice President and General Counsel of The Times Mirror Corporation, then a Fortune 250 company.
After her stint in the C Suite, she studied creative writing. Her legal thriller Terminal Ambition, A Maggie Mahoney Novel is set in a BigLaw firm and explores power plays sparked by one partner’s attempt to stop widespread sexual harassment. Kate’s essays about women’s issues are carried by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Women’s Media Center, Role/Reboot and other publications. Her advice column “Kate’s Counsel” appears in The Girl’s Guide to Law School.
Kate’s latest career is coaching, and she graduated from The Hudson Institute as a certified executive and life transition coach. Read more about Kate on her website.
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Want more great career info?
And check out these helpful posts:
- Getting an Offer: Being a Professional in a Generation Gap Workplace
- When I Hit Rock Bottom as a Young Lawyer
- I Told the Truth and It Turned Out Fine
- Lawyers Can’t Find Their Bliss… Can They?
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