September 15, 2010 by Legal Tease
Hey, you. Yes, YOU there, the one with the boobs. You’re a lawyer, right? Or some sort of Big Law type, at least? I figured. I could tell by the bewildered look on your face. I know, sweetie, I know: It’s confusing being a woman in and around Big Law these days. First, unless you have a time machine and a magic wand, it looks like you’re not making partner any time soon. Sorry. Then, of course, there’s the finding-a-long-term-sex-partner-who-doesn’t-require-batteries problem. And then, there’s the latest slap: Laminated scraps of “advice” from Citibank your employer about the stupid things that you do to sabotage your career, you (apparently) soft-spoken, smile-happy, invisible moron cow.
And the advice doesn’t stop there. You can’t even find a good glass ceiling to smack your head up against anymore without tripping over a stack of advice for women lawyers on everything from how to dress for success (Avoid nudity!), to how to toughen up (Sass those boys right back when they act rapey at the office!), to how not to look like a drowned clown corpse at work (Forget it, lost cause!).
At this point, I’m so bored with the heaps of so-called advice from other lawyers and professional counsel-givers that I had to turn to the one person I could think of whose advice never fails. The one person who knows what it’s like to carve out a niche for yourself in an often cruel, mystifying profession overwrought with over-educated lunatics: My friend, Alanna. I think you could learn a lot from her. Why? Because she’s never wrong.
And she’s a hooker.
First, let’s be clear, Alanna’s not your dime-store variety street whore. She’s a licensed prostitute working out of the Nevada brothels. In the slower seasons, she skips around the country, dancing in strip clubs and yes, performing in a porn or two. She’s not a drunk or a junkie and, whether or not you believe her, she claims to like the work—at least as much as any of you like your jobs, i.e. there are good days and bad days. (Granted, your bad days involve getting slammed with back-to-back closings, whereas hers involved getting slammed with…well, use your imagination.) Bottom line: Like it or not, she has a marketable set of skills, she’s proud of them, and she exploits them every chance she gets. In other words, she’s a businesswoman. A good one.
So, when I was telling her recently over Pinkberry about the latest litany of nonsense at my firm and how I—and every other associate I know, especially the female ones—feel trapped by our jobs, she shook her head and waved me off.
“Look, here’s how it is,” she said, “The hookers in Nevada are the business women, you know?”
“Sure.” No idea where she was going.
“Dancers, they’ve got a lifestyle,” she continued. “And porn stars, they’re just stupid.”
“Don’t you get it?” She looked at me like I’d just arrived on the short bus.
“Jeeesus,” she laughed, throwing down her Pinkberry spoon. “I’m saying don’t be a porn star, right? Or don’t be just a porn star, you know?” She picked her spoon back up and pointed it at me, grinning. ”Horizontal integration is the best.”
As usual, Alanna nailed it. Horizontal integration indeed. If you take the hooker’s advice at face value—and you should—when you boil it down to basics, whether you’re selling sex or legal advice, the key to pervasive success is the same: Diversify—though not in the way you probably think.
I’m not talking about the usual prattle rattled off by your firm’s development committee or your assigned partner-mentor or the county bar association—you know: Network with other lawyers! Learn about your clients’ interests! Take a CLE class! Ask a partner you never met about his practice!
I’m talking about summoning some balls (and yes, ladies, you’ve got ’em) and branching out beyond not just your own office, but beyond your firm, your job, beyond the traditional legal profession itself. What are your real skills? Sure, you’re smart and you know the ins and outs of certain legal fields, but so do a lot of people. What are you truly better at than most lawyers? Than most people? Discovering and expanding that set of skills is what’s going to set you on the path to career bliss—and most likely out of a law firm. See, despite what the well-meaning folks in your firm’s various associate development committees might think, the main thing that women lawyers—hell, any lawyers—do to sabotage their careers while working in big law firms is…working in big law firms. For any great stretch, at least.
Not convinced? Think for a minute about the most admired, most successful lawyer you know. I don’t mean at your firm; I mean period. I’d bet you a two-girl party with Alanna that the lawyer you’re picturing not only hasn’t worked at a law firm for the past 30 years, but probably never worked in a law firm for more than a few years, if at all. Big Law pedigree or not, the best lawyers think like entrepreneurs, not like law firm partners—even if they are law firm partners. They are, indeed, more than just porn stars. Male or female, they figured out how to “horizontally integrate;” they figured out how to mine their true, innate skills and exploit them to their advantage. (And while I hate to break it to your local bar association’s women’s committee or your company’s H.R. department, it has nothing to do with what color shoes they wore or whether they smiled too much during group presentations.)
So, while I certainly hope that you won’t take any of what you’ve read here as “advice”—you’ve got enough of that unsolicited nonsense to deal with already—I do hope that you’ll take it as a wake-up call. And at the very least, the next time you find yourself fantasizing about quitting the firm during your latest 3 a.m. bond deal marathon, or fuming in your office after being passed over for first chair on a plum case, or wondering why the hell you went to law school in the first place, take a deep breath, think of Alanna the horizontally integrated hooker and remember the basics: If you really want to get ahead in Big Law and beyond, you can’t be just a porn star.
Now, that’s one you might stick on a card and laminate. Hell, you might even want to frame it.
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