The Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) launched its first event last week to talk about female ambition in the legal world, gathering some of the top female partners from US firms in the City to share their thoughts on how ambition can unlock opportunities (when used in the right way).
The panellists were Kirkland & Ellis international litigation and arbitration partner Rajinder Bassi, Sidley Austin partner and head of London-based dispute resolution practice Dorothy Cory-Wright, Shearman & Sterling tax partner Sarah Priestley, K&L Gates corporate crime partner Elizabeth Robertson and Latham & Watkins London managing partner Jay Sadanandan.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Don’t be afraid to speak out. “It’s assumed with male lawyers that they all want to be partners”, Bassi says. “I found myself having to say: ‘I’m ambitious, I want this’ to people.”
2. It’s good to have a big goal, but to also have little ones along the way. As Priestley says: “You need to tell the people above what you want. You are putting yourself at risk, so you’ve got to be brave.”
Cory-Wright says: “Going into a meeting and saying ‘I want to be a partner’ might not go so well. If you go in and say ‘I’m very ambitious and want to get to partnership. Give me some specific steps or advice about what I should do’ it will be better.”
3. Be careful about who you speak to about your ambitions and look elsewhere if partners don’t support your progress. “You have to be strategic about that dynamic,” Robertson says. “There are some partners out there that don’t want to lose their right-hand girl or boy.”
4. If you don’t take the chance, who will? Success can look different to different people, says Robertson. “I would implore that you stay working. There are no more equity partners now than in 1973. Until we get over that, things won’t change.”
5. Don’t wait until your life is perfect to take a step forward in your career. Sadanandan says that all of the doors that opened for her were at the worst time of her life. When firms take on partners or associates, she explains, they aren’t expected to forgo their personal life. “If you don’t talk to people and instead leave yourself out you are doing a disservice to yourself,” she says.
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