Law Practice

Female Partner: Learn How to Beat the Boys

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Updated: Forget part-time hours, flexible schedules and work-life balance. Mercedes Meyer wants women lawyers to aim for the top and learn how to beat the boys at their own game. And a big part of that, she says, is learning the behavior patterns that male colleagues recognize as authoritative.

Meyer, who is an intellectual property partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Drinker Biddle & Reath, had an “aha moment” a few years ago when she ran across a book by Lois Frankel: Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers. From it, Meyer says, she learned not to smile too much and to make statements rather than ask questions. That way, she avoids playing into stereotyped “female mannerisms that men misread as hesitancy or uncertainty,” explains New York Lawyer (reg. req.), in a story that is reprinted from Legal Times.

Since then, she has expanded on the concept by taking courses with a company that teaches lawyers acting techniques to use in the courtroom and elsewhere. Now, Meyer says, when “I’ve got the biggest management part, but I’m the only chick here, I’m going to lower my vocal tone, because guys respect women who speak in a lower tone. And if I have to use a little bit of potty mouth, fine.” For example, she might make a pitch by saying “Look, I’ve worked with the guy—he’s not an asshole.”

Such self-packaging helps women brand themselves as successful professionals, and compete on a level playing field with male lawyers, rather than accepting a secondary role, Meyer says. “We’re all speaking in different dialects, and we don’t know it.”

Responding to critical comments about this post in an interview with late Friday afternoon, Meyer says some major aspects of her message have been missed in the brief synopsis of a much lengthier Legal Times article.

Her statements to Legal Times were made concerning a group she founded, the Professional Book Club for Mentoring and Networking of the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s Women in IP Law Committee, she notes. And, rather than pitting women lawyers against male colleagues or creating “a bashing session,” the club–which has men as well as women members–is intended to educate lawyers of both sexes about effective ways to communicate and pursue their careers.

“I’m not saying go be a man,” Meyer says of what she hopes women lawyers will derive from her work. But, she says, when creating a personal brand and and a business plan, a lawyer of either sex benefits by understanding the unwritten rules of the game and “making very conscious decisions about what you want to do.”

(Updated Oct.19 at 7:49 p.m., CDT.)

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