Cinderella was an Anomaly

Sheila Murphy
February 26, 2021

Many of us, especially women, were taught if we kept our heads down and did our work-- all of our dreams would come true. Hey, it worked for Cinderella- she cleaned and washed the dishes--all the time, singing happily with birds and mice. Then some nice fairy godmother waved her wand, and all of her dreams came true. But let's be honest, the stepsisters would have networked their way into happiness in the real world. After all, not only were they getting out there, they had a strong sponsor in their mother. So be like the stepsisters. Push away from your desk, invest in yourself, and get out there.

I have heard many fellow lawyers say I just want to practice law and be a good lawyer. Then they would lament when a colleague (who in their opinion was usually not as good a lawyer as they were) brought in a big case, was chosen for a hot project or got promoted. These legal scholars complained that being a good lawyer should be enough- it was not fair. As my mother would say, life is not fair, and that is the case here.

Just as important as your legal work is your ability to build a brand and authentic relationships to help your career. Why is this the case?

Law firms want to see if you have the ability to develop business.

Yes, legal work is what they are selling, but there is no legal work without clients.

Believe it or not, clients are people - and as a former client - I can attest to this. We like to work with people who are interested in us, our company, and our industry.

Now, liking you won't excuse inferior work product. But if you can authentically connect to us and do outstanding work-- you are in a much better position than someone who doesn't. So take the time to build genuine relationships and connections.

You not only want to build relationships with clients, but you also need to do it within your organizations. Building relationships may lead to mentors, and if you are excellent- perhaps a sponsorship. A sponsor will speak for you when you are not in the room and position you for opportunities to strengthen your career or business development trajectories.

Like firms, companies want to make sure that you have the non-legal skills to be a success. They want to see that their legal or other technical experts-- can communicate clearly and crisply to senior business partners without using legalese. Technical experts who understand the business and strategy and discuss how their opinion will impact that business are much more valuable than pure legal experts. Corporations are in business-- and it is not a legal business- so they want their attorneys to understand their objectives and find solutions and not just be naysayers. In-house attorneys also need to identify risk and recommend processes to mitigate that risk.

Again, to move up, you need to demonstrate the ability to connect with, manage and motivate individuals. That won't happen if your head is down on your desk.  

So how do you do this? There are many ways to develop your non-technical skills that will enhance your career...

  • Watch how successful attorneys behave and communicate.
  • Ask for mentors, attend networking events.
  • Strengthen internal and external relationships.
  • Join a professional organization.
  • Attend developmental programs focusing on "soft" skills.
  • Become a thought leader about your industry.
  • Volunteer for a non-legal project.

As the sneaker company says, "Just do it." You cannot afford not to do it because no one coming to wave a wand over you.

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