Legal Practice,  Work Life Balance

50 Lessons for Women Lawyers, a Review

A few weeks ago I received a copy of 50 Lessons for Women Lawyers by Nora Riva Bergman. This book is a compilation of contribution from 50 successful, accomplished women lawyers in the U.S. and Canada. The attorneys are in different stages in their life, have had different careers, experiences—it is a really great group of people offering guidance.

What I appreciate is that many of the contributors share vulnerable moments in their personal life and careers that are experiences many of us can relate to—the attorney who opts to take a break to take care of children, the one who experienced domestic violence as a child, and the most common—the constant underestimating of our own abilities by peers and supervisors. It is a good read! I’d recommend it to for new attorneys and soon to be lawyers as a guide they can reach for when they need a few words of animo or guidance that is not always available to us.

There are 50 essays, but my five faves are:

  1. You Decide What it Means to Be Successful by Nicole Black. A great reminder that it’s easy to taken over by what this profession deems success and prestige but it is our decision as to what our careers will look like and we are the ones that determine success for our own personal circumstances. It also reminds me of how traditional tracks don’t always work out for people, so being innovative and daring in how you mold your career can lead to great results.
  2. Find a Mentor-Be a Mentor by Sandra Brown. This is actually a very practical how-to guide on seeking out mentors. The gist is that you have to be proactive about it—mentors don’t fall on your lap and for us, there are few that will be women of color. Seeking them out, being comfortable with having mentors that don’t look like you, and even getting guidance from non-attorneys can help light the path for you.
  3. Deciding by Darby Dickerson. This is another more straight-forward essay with steps on making big decisions. Which may seem silly at first, because I think lawyers over all are good at making decisions. But when you’re in the midst of making big decisions that impact your life (should I accept this job offer?, should I move?, should I stay?) it can be paralyzing to just make a choice and sometimes you may get bogged down by things that aren’t really as important. So this guide is actually great, straight-forward review and use to think about when you’re in the middle of making Big Life Choices.
  4. Gaslighting at Work by Anne Kevlin. Whew, child. This was ittttt. The law is a demanding profession, but it is also all-encompassing. It can overwhelm and take over all things in your life. You can be guilted by your firm to put in late hours, cancel vacation, defend bad actors. I mean, work in any industry, tends to be exploitative, and the law is no different. But it’s worse! The stress and burden can be a lot—that’s why we have such high rates of depression and addiction. So this essay really calls out ways that we can be gaslighted at work when we try to enforce our rights (particularly when it comes to how we get paid). Describing how we’re manipulated is such a helpful insight because often we fear that we’re not good enough or are too nervous to ask for a raise or better work conditions and understanding that how employers respond to our requests can help clarify that it’s not you that’s unworthy but rather an office, industry, system that is attempting to get you to back down.
  5. Make an Absolute Uncompromising Commitment of Taking Care Yourself by Mary E. Vandenack. Self-care is not a buzz word! Especially when things are mentally sad in this work. The main theme in these essays is how easy it is for the law to overwhelm all aspects of your life. I get that, I’ve been on vacation responding to work emails. I’ve taken work (that was not urgent) home to work on over the weekend. And those are things that I felt were pretty chill. It’s hard to find a “balance” when the work is important, or employers are demanding, or you have a big professional goal that you’re working hard to meet. But, your physical and mental health are way too important to dismiss. The essay gives it to you straight, it’s not about finding time, it’s about making it. Accept that health is a priority and make time for it. Take about a huge wake up call for me, for sure.

There are so many other great essays throughout the book and for those of us that don’t have access to a ton of mentors or are too shy to ask about specific things, this is a great little guide to remind you that this work is tough, you are resilient, and most importantly—how you grow your career and the path you take will be impacted by how proactive you decide to be.


I received a free copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own and based on my reading of the book.