As female attorneys who have worked in-house and in various firm environments, we have seen firsthand the challenges that women and marginalized communities face in the legal profession.
While there has been progress in recent years, there are still far too few female partners and other underrepresented leaders in the field, such that we can’t rely on structural and institutional change alone. More progress cannot occur without lawyers across the spectrum investing in the next generation of lawyers from underrepresented communities.
How Can You Help?
One of the most important things that more experienced lawyers can do, especially female lawyers and lawyers from underrepresented communities, is to personally invest in the next generation of lawyers. This can be done in a number of ways, such as:
- Mentoring less experienced lawyers: Mentoring is one of the most valuable things that a more experienced lawyer can do for a less experienced one. Mentors can provide guidance, support and advice, and they can help their mentees navigate the challenges of the legal profession. At a minimum, share your story: (1) the challenges you confronted, (2) your ways of relationship building, and (3) your motivations for investing in them. Don’t just share the wins; also share the hard-earned lessons.
- Sponsoring less experienced lawyers: Sponsorship is another important way to help less experienced lawyers succeed. Sponsors can advocate for their mentees in the workplace when their mentees are not in the room, and they can help them get the opportunities they need to grow and develop.
- Advocating for diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging: Experienced lawyers can also play a role in advocating for diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging in the legal profession. This can be done by speaking out against bias whether explicit or implicit — by supporting diversity initiatives and by creating a more inclusive workplace culture where every lawyer feels like they belong.
Personally investing in the next generation of female and underrepresented lawyers can help create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession for all. This is important for a number of reasons.
First, it is the right thing to do. Everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their gender, race, disability or sexual orientation.
Second, diversity and inclusion make for a stronger legal profession. A diverse workforce brings a wider range of perspectives and experiences to the table, which can lead to better decision-making, problem-solving and outcomes. Diversity of thought and experiences lead to more persuasive presentations and just results.
Finally, diversity and inclusion are good for business. Studies have shown that companies with more diverse workforces, including leadership and board members, are more profitable.
We’ve all heard the time-honored call to mentor those coming behind us — to lift as we climb. But why? We know mentors can provide guidance, support, and advice. They can also help younger lawyers make connections, expand their network and find more and better opportunities. It’s important to show the next generation of lawyers what can be done, what is possible. How many times have we heard phrases like “Can’t be what I can’t see” or “Seeing is believing”? How many stories have we heard of someone’s trajectory changing simply because someone showed them that their success is possible?
Every barrier you break helps the next generation see what can be done. Be a role model. Show them that it is possible to succeed in the legal profession as a woman or minority. Drive this message home to the next generation of lawyers.
Be Present and Proactive.
- Provide guidance and support. Be their cheerleader. Help them to navigate the challenges of the legal profession.
- Offer advice or simply experience share. Knowing that they are not alone or that someone has been through it before may be all a young lawyer needs to keep pushing.
- Be a sounding board. Listen to their concerns and help them to find solutions or connect them to others who can.
- Offer to shadow or co-counsel with less experienced lawyers on cases or projects. This is a great way to get to know them, to give them hands-on experience and to help hone their soft skills.
- Set up regular one-on-one meetings to discuss their career goals and to offer advice. This is a great way to stay connected with them and to provide them with guidance. Resist the urge to place the burden on them to ask for help. Remember that law firms or legal departments may not be the most psychologically safe spaces for authenticity and vulnerability.
- Be a sponsor. Sponsors are people who are willing to use their social or political capital to advocate for others. You can help younger lawyers get assigned to important projects, get the recognition they deserve and get promoted.
- Be a champion. Champions are people who fight for the rights of all lawyers, but especially for women and those who are underrepresented. They can speak out against bias — intentional or unconscious — and help to create a more inclusive and equitable legal profession.
- Nominate them for awards and promotions. This is a great way to show your support and to help them to advance their careers. If you are in-house, consider recognizing them on social media or emailing their managing partner with positive feedback.
- Speak up on their behalf when they are being forgotten or unfairly judged. This is a great way to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for all lawyers.
About the Authors
Meyling Ly-Ortiz is managing counsel of labor and employment at Toyota Motor North America. She is a former vice president of mentoring for the Dallas Women Lawyers Association.
Britta Stanton is a trial partner at Lynn Pinker Hurst Schwegmann.