Global Elite Thought Leader Nadja Alexander speaks to WWL about current challenges facing women in the legal profession and what the next generation of female disputes lawyers should look out for.
Every industry has its own culture and its own challenges for women. Law is no different. Clients expect their legal advisers to be available 24/7 and this can be challenging for women trying to achieve a work-life balance. I don’t know that such a balance is ever possible; rather, different aspects of your life take priority at different times. Young women entering the legal profession may find themselves being mistaken for secretaries or paralegals, or being underestimated. And then there is the money. Empirical research, for example by the ABA, confirms a significant gender-salary gap in private law firms.
The good news is that the need for diversity in the legal profession is a live topic in many parts of the world.
Mediators have different attributes applied to them, reflecting different approaches and personalities – and no doubt reflecting gender. In my experience successful mediators have in common an open mind, patience and respect, as well as a good balance of interpersonal and analytical skills.
Dispute resolution work can offer more flexibility than other areas of law, and this can be an advantage for women. The field is growing – it’s multidisciplinary and benefits from a diversity of dispute resolution professionals. Competencies and skill-sets beyond traditional legal practice are required.
There are many access points to enter the field of dispute resolution, so don’t limit yourself by knocking on the same door again and again. Opportunities are emerging through the increasing use of hybrid procedures combining mediation, arbitration and other mechanisms, as well as online dispute resolution (ODR). An appreciation of the significant differences – as well as the similarities – between mediation and arbitration is essential for lawyers with the art of mediation advocacy developing as a new legal specialisation. In another illustration, the capacity to design dispute resolution systems is critical for newcomers serious to make their mark in this fast-developing field.
It is vital to be abreast of the breadth of shifts and developments in the dispute resolution field. At the same time, it’s important to identify the value add that you bring to dispute resolution work and lean in to opportunities which highlight your particular qualities – whether they relate to negotiation and interpersonal skills, legal and risk analysis, process design, technology or any number of other qualities and competencies.
Be yourself. Always.
Looking back, it is easy to connect the dots of one’s professional past and generate a narrative of success. On paper it can seem as if it was a dream run – logically planned and impeccably executed. For most of us, however, the reality is a meandering path characterised by ups and downs, good choices and not-so-good choices, acceptance and rejection. Movement is not always forwards or upwards. It’s often diagonal or sideways and sometimes you might feel as if you have fallen off the radar completely, albeit only temporarily.
So, how to navigate the vicissitudes of professional life? Here are three ideas that have served me well. First, when one door closes, trust that another will open. Go through it. Second, make a plan but don’t feel you need to stick to it. Be prepared to make choices that take you in a different direction. And third, remember, to always keep connecting and reconnecting the dots. Weave together the diverse threads of your life into a powerful professional narrative.