“Humor is always based on a modicum of truth. Have you ever
heard a joke about a father-in-law?” - Dick Clark
If you were not able to attend the recent WLALA/LACBA Joint
Task Force event featuring the witty and brash legal journalist Vivia Chen,
then you really missed out. I’d
ordinarily leave it at that, except what fun would that be?
If you are not familiar with Vivia Chen, she is an
ex-corporate lawyer who now, among other things, blogs for “The Careerist.” Her blogs are typically sarcastic and ironic,
as well as interesting and insightful, and often use humor to raise issues
pertaining to women and minorities in the legal profession. Her sense of humor was certainly in display
at her May 6, 2014 Joint Task Force presentation, “Rules for Success: Ten
Things Women Shouldn’t Do.”
The “Rules” that she shared with the Joint Task Force
audience are certainly meant as playful, tongue-in-cheek, humorous observations,
and not as a serious condemnation of our esteemed profession. But like all good humor, the reason it’s
funny is because it hits a grain of truth. Perhaps this is why the conversations I was
privy to in the post-event socializing included serious and weighty discussions
of the challenges women can face, not just shared laughter at Vivia’s “Rules.” This was good to hear, since the Joint Task
Force’s focus is a serious one – the retention and promotion of women in the
profession. Its stated purpose is “to
explore real, practical solutions to the ongoing phenomenon of women leaving
the profession, most notably from large, prestigious firms.” The May 6, 2014 event was an excellent
display of how laughing at ourselves can sometimes assist that purpose.
Now without further ado, and with 100% credit given to Vivia
Chen for everything funny in the below, and taking credit only for what I’ve
written that falls flat because I cannot do her justice, here are the “Rules.”
Rule #1: Don’t Be A
Good Girl. As Vivia says, there is a
trap women can fall into in thinking that if they are a “good girl,” they will
be rewarded. In other words, if you work
really, really hard, Prince Charming will come along and propose partnership to
you and you will live happily ever after in profit. This doesn’t work. So don’t be a good girl.
Instead, Tap Into Your Inner Newt (Gingrich). Have a grandiose vision of yourself and
believe that anything is possible. Believe
that you can run for President based on a platform that includes family values,
when your own marital conduct is hardly a model. If you think you’re hot stuff, other people
will believe it, even while smart, substantive people get left in the
dust. But you need to believe it in your
Rule #2: Don’t Ask
For Permission. Think this one
doesn’t apply to you? How many times a
day do you use phrases like: “I’m sorry
to disturb you.” “I was wondering if . .
. .” Stop apologizing!
Instead, Be A Royal Pain.
Don’t apologize even when you’re wrong.
Rule #3: Don’t Be So
Loyal. It’s the first wife syndrome
– we tend to stick with our master and law firm out of fear that we won’t find
anything better. We are too grateful for
any accommodations our firm might make for us.
Instead, Be Greedy.
Be the younger trophy wife. Focus
more on the money. Did you know that
there is a study that says that men initiate negotiations about four times as
often as women? Another study found that
15% of all new women partners cannot even describe the compensation system at
their own firm.
Rule #4: Don’t Talk Like A Valley Girl. In your mind’s eye, conjure up the high
pitched, lilting voice of a valley girl.
You know this is hard to take seriously.
Instead, Be The Voice Of God. Close your eyes and think: what voice do you
hear when you imagine the voice of authority?
Did you know that Margaret Thatcher had voice lessons to lower her
voice! Talk deeply and loudly.
Rule #5: Don’t Get
Sloppy About Your ‘Do. Hair is super
important. As Hillary Rodham Clinton once said in a
commencement speech to Yale graduates: “The most important thing I have to say
to you today is that hair matters. This is a life lesson my family did not
teach me, Wellesley and Yale Law School failed to instill: Your hair will
send significant messages to those around you. What hopes and dreams you have
for the world, but more, what hopes and dreams you have for your hair. Pay attention to your hair, because everyone
Instead, get a snazzy ‘do and color those roots. Follow Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in
Netflix’s “House of Cards.” Sloppy
grooming leads to sloppy professionalism.
Rule #6: Don’t Be
Dowdy. As women, if we are at one
extreme we are criticized as too frumpy, and if we are at the other extreme, we
are criticized as too sexy.
Instead, Be Strategically Sexy. Cleavage is the new power tie. As a private equity guy once shared, if a
woman is at a meeting and wants to command attention, she should show some
cleavage. Deploy a tasteful amount at
the right occasion.
Rule #7: Don’t Get
Stuck With The Dishes. Focus on the
quality of your work and don’t get stuck doing the meaningless, grunt work that
never leads anywhere.
Instead, Be A Nag.
Demand Attention. Ask to know the
criteria for promotion. Keep track of
your achievements on a quarterly basis.
Keep track of what your peers are doing.
Keep reminding people of what you want.
Rule #8: Don’t Get Bullied. Maybe it will surprise you, maybe it won’t,
but women report that there is a lot of bullying at the partner level about
Instead, Strike Back!
Nice girls get screwed. Don’t be
shy to say “This is Mine and I brought it in!”
Rule #9: Don’t Just
Mope With The Girls. Sure there are
lots of affinity groups and ways to find other girls like you. But beware.
This alone is not likely to get us where we want to go.
Instead, Enlist The Boys.
Get a male perspective on how women can succeed. You might be surprised at how willing they
are to help.
Rule #10: Don’t Try
To Be Perfect. Women don’t go after
promotions unless they meet 100% of the requirements, while men push the limits
and are able to get the promotion with less.
Women also need to resist being an Übermom.
Instead, Go Easy On Yourself! Get yourself a House Hubby, or embrace the
Any of the above make you laugh, cry, or get angry? Good. You're paying attention. If you'd like to join us in the meaningful work of the Joint Task Force, don't ask for permission, just do it.
Heather E. Stern is the WLALA Communications Officer. Ms. Stern is Partner at Kralik and Jacobs LLP.