It’s no secret that the legal profession overflows with advice to young lawyers, and much of it comes from male leaders. The viewpoint of successful women in law, and their thoughts on how young lawyers should build their careers, is too often overlooked.
Author, speaker, trainer, and leadership consultant Lauren Stiller Rikleen is trying to right that. In her new book, Ladder Down: Success Strategies for Lawyers From Women Who Will Be Hiring, Reviewing And Promoting You, she describes how women in the legal profession have a valuable perspective and offer career advice that is worth hearing.
Rikleen sat down with the Legal Executive Institute to discuss her book, women in law, and how young and mid-career lawyers can build the best career for themselves.
Legal Executive Institute: The book says it’s intended for men and women who want to seek or invigorate their career in law; but the success strategies quoted come from women. How did that come about?
Lauren Rikleen: I thought it was a nice opportunity to showcase the many women who have been successful around the world in leadership roles in our profession, and have their voice offered to men and women who are looking to be successful lawyers. I wanted to keep this theme of using women’s voices because we so seldom see women’s voices dominate in any kind of publication of this nature.
Legal Executive Institute: What categories does the advice fall in as far as areas of lawyers’ careers?
Lauren Rikleen: The book is structured to look at the arc of one’s career, starting with the first chapter, which essentially talks about the notion that career-building is a lifelong task. We don’t ever stop. I’ve been working from a young age, and I feel like I’m constantly building my career. Everyone I speak to feels that same way.
Then stepping back, we next examine how to best build your career as you go. For example, think about the questions to ask yourself early on in your career. What does it mean to develop a niche practice? Why is it important to do that? What’s the benefit? How do you go about doing that?
It’s step-by-step from there, thinking about early career to mid-career in a way that develops leadership skills and helps you find mentors and champions in the workplace.
Legal Executive Institute: Since you mentioned that — Is developing and finding good mentors a key to advancement in the law?
Lauren Rikleen: I would say this, it’s a wonderful thing if you have mentors and champions in your workplace. You’ll survive if you don’t. I’m the first one to advocate finding mentors and champions at work. I had none (laughing). And overall, I think I’ve had a fairly decent career.
Mentors are the people that give you that quiet, valuable advice; but a champion is a person who puts their political capitol on the line. Visibly and actively, they make it known that you are a person they trust with important assignments and visible opportunities. That’s the relationship that moves careers the most effectively.
Legal Executive Institute: You also talk about rethinking networking. What about networking needs to change?
Lauren Rikleen: We should be long past the notion that networking is showing up at a cocktail party and wandering around with a drink in your hand. When I talk about networking in the book, I mean building relationships over time by helping other people, not by meeting other people so they can help you.
I think we just have to completely throw out all these old-fashioned notions of what networking is, and understand it as relationship-building throughout your life, where you need to invest your time and effort as well. Hopefully by doing that, when you need assistance from other people, they will give it to you.
Legal Executive Institute: What would you hope readers would take away from Ladder Down?
Lauren Rikleen: I think there’s a lot of timeless wisdom that exists, and it is useful to step back for a minute and take a little time to understand the insights and perspectives that others can bring to help somebody develop their career.