Legal Practice

Happy Medium: Finding Your Voice as a New Attorney

I often joke that there are two settings as a new attorney—one that is hyper-confident in their nascent skills and the other that knows that there’s a lot they don’t know so they hold back for fear of being wrong. It’s tough to find a happy medium, but that’s basically the beauty of your long career—you’ll get taken down a few pegs and get built up in other areas until you feel comfortable in your skills and seek out other ways to improve.

But before you get there, one of the big hurdle as a new attorney is finding your voice in group settings. For new attorneys on both ends of the spectrum (overly confident or overly timid), it’s important to showcase yourself as well-informed and personable in meetings. That means that if you fear sharing your viewpoint because you’re worried you’ll look dumb—that’s something you have to get over. You have to start playing early and get comfortable voicing your thoughts to help advance the group’s goal.

A few months ago, I read an article about the women in the White House and how they banded together and started a process they called “amplification.” They would repeat a key point another woman made and made sure to credit her. The power of togetherness. It would be awesome if we had that type of sisterhood in our workplaces, but more often than not, there will be few and far of us attending those meetings together. So if you can’t find your supporters, then you need to find your voice.

The first step is getting over the fear that you’ll misspeak. When I first started, I feared saying anything that would reveal that I didn’t know anything. It was a silly fear because as a new attorney of course no one expected me to have all the answers. Instead, what was expected was that I bring my intelligence and strategizing to the table, i.e that I contribute. We may go into a meeting with more experienced attorneys and feel like we have nothing to add, but we need to recognize that we have worthwhile ideas to contribute to the team. Add your voice to the mix.

At the same time, those with know-it-all tendencies could benefit from being more strategic about what they share. Showing off that you know a lot also stems from fear of seeming like you don’t know anything. Contribute when you can, but don’t monopolize the conversation. My work life changed when I started using the WAIT method in meeting:  Why Am I Talking?  Am I offering this info because I think it will be of value and help move us along or am I doing this for some other reason?

If you are going to contribute, then you have to practice offering your suggestions without apology. No prefacing with apologies or immediately downgrading yourself. And it’s hard to do! We’re so trained to not take up space, to apologize for existing and taking up time, but trust me that communicating without apologies not only gives more credence to what you’re saying, but it makes you a better communicator and attorney.

Finding your voice is tough, but it’s a vital step in your career progression. As a new attorney, your goal should be to communicate in a thoughtful and intelligent manner so that they view you as a de facto thoughtful and intelligent person—a teammate they listen to and want to support.