Top Lawyer Says Likability Is A Key To Success

1218 likableWomen now make up a third of the lawyers in America, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article documenting what it called “a major shift from a generation ago.” But according to the National Association of Women Lawyers, only 25% of law firm non-equity partners are women, and women make up just 15% of equity partners. Can women in law close the gap by being more likable?

Forbes contributor Bonnie Marcus recently interviewed lawyer Timi Hallem, a partner at the firm Manatt Phelps and Phillips and a woman who has a long history of tackling these issues. (You can listen to a podcast of their full interview here.) Hallem has some smart advice.

1. Self-promote. “Men might never think on their own to promote a woman, but they have a hard time ignoring the woman when they’re directly asked for an opportunity,” Hallem says.

2. Beware underground sexism. Hallem describes underground sexism as “describing a young male lawyer as hard-driving and a young female lawyer as strident or too aggressive, and seeing the man as being thoughtful and the woman as being too passive to be successful, or criticizing women for not being collegial because women are not comfortable with some of the kind of frat-boy humor that sometimes gets passed around.”

Finally, a piece of advice that may sound counter-intuitive at first:

3. Be likable. Hallem says that the ability to sell yourself is a major part of success in law, especially for those in private practice who depend on attracting and retaining clients. Law schools don’t offer classes in likability, but it’s a key trait to develop. “Most people pick lawyers because they like them,” she says. “They are not necessarily looking at the quality of the contract or brief. They must, however, have confidence in their abilities. Therefore, it’s up to lawyers, especially women, to present themselves as competent and confident and learn to advocate for themselves.”

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    • Person

      “Likable” is too vague. And, as this advice mentions early on, employers and coworkers don’t see an assertive, competent female as likable, no matter how you spin your accomplishments and personality. We’re caught in a catch-22: be competent and assertive and everyone hates you, or smile and put on an acquiescent personality and everyone loves you but thinks of you as nothing more than a stupid secretary.

    • Ivy Leaguer

      Person, get over yourself. Everyone of us–male or female–needs to be likable to be successful. People do business with those they know, like, and trust. End of story. Whatever one person likes, another despises. We men are the same whims of other people’s preferences and biases (against lawyer, against people of a certain race, class or gender, whatever). You can bemoan your sad state as a woman and all the sexism in the world, but to dismiss sound advice, such as “be likable,” is a world-class mistake.