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Ask the Women of White and Williams

We asked women lawyers to share significant moments in their careers and advice for young women lawyers.

What Advice Do You Offer Young Women Lawyers?

Nancy Conrad, Chair, Labor and Employment

When I walk into a court room, a board room, or a mediation, my goal, when appropriate for the context, is to take control of the environment. Control does not mean talking in a loud manner, acting in an aggressive way or sitting at the head of the table. It means waiting for the right moment, to seize it and to speak with absolute confidence and authority. You are able to gain that confidence and authority when you are so prepared that you do not have to look at your notes, pick up a file or push paper. Engage the audience with your clear, articulate and persuasive argument, presentation and position. Preparation is an essential key to success.

Melissa Davis, Counsel, General Commercial Litigation

Talk to lots of practicing attorneys in different areas of law (i.e. private practice, government, legal services, and academia). Make sure you understand what attorneys do on a day-to-day basis and what different types of law practice are available. Once you have the information on what it is like to be a practicing attorney, think about how your strengths map to the job. If you enjoy public speaking and are good on your feet – think about trial work. If you love to strategize how a business relationship could work and how to structure it to maximum mutual benefit – corporate work may be for you. There are many, many different types of practice, if you decide to be an attorney, be sure you find a practice that maximizes your strengths.

Fabianna Pergolizzi, Associate, Subrogation

Partner up with other experienced female lawyers. Women helping women succeed is a very powerful tool. Be inspired by those around you and take that energy into your own practice. 

Patti Santelle, Managing Partner

I would tell a young woman attorney the same thing I would tell a young male attorney, which are the same traits that I attribute to my own success: Work hard to develop strong, important client relationships; work hard to gain the respect of colleagues; and always be prepared and responsive. Some advice specifically for women attorneys is to not ever change your personality or feel that you have to be something different to succeed. I generally have a smile on my face, and maintain as positive an attitude as possible in the office — when I was an associate at another firm, a partner went to the trouble of submitting a written evaluation form on me solely for the purpose of saying that he/she appreciated that I always had a smile on my face. There is nothing wrong with being friendly as well as feminine and no need to act like someone you are not in order to succeed.

Franca Tavella, Associate, Tax and Estates

Network. It is often not what you know, but who you know, that can lead to some of the greatest introductions and opportunities. Also, do not be afraid to veer off course and create your own path.

Sara Tilitz, Associate, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith 

I think any young woman considering a career in the legal profession should know that she may have to work hard to make her own path for herself, which is completely okay. There may be pressure to fit into a certain mold or timeline that has defined what it means to be a lawyer for decades (or even centuries), but as more and more talented young women enter the profession, that standard is constantly changing to evolve with the realities of modern life. You should not feel scared or intimidated by any “this is the way things have always been done” mentality you may encounter; have the courage to stand up for yourself while being yourself, and always bring your best efforts to the table.

Read more from our women lawyers about their careers and advice for young women.
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