Lakeshia is a professional life coach who works full time with women lawyers to support them to create a work and personal life they love. She has thirty years of experience coaching women lawyers.
I first noticed Lakeshia Ekeigwe a few months ago when her posts on LinkedIn regarding the personal challenges faced by women lawyers due to their careers were gathering unprecedented attention and resonance from lawyers. Scrolling down the many comments, I cannot see any who disagree with her observations.
She picks out some pretty major things going on with women in the legal profession. Her extensive client experience means she is worth listening to.
I was fortunate to catch up with Lakeshia yesterday to ask her some questions on her role, and about her observations from working with many women lawyers at all levels of the legal profession.
Part 1 of this interview plunges us into the deep end with Lakeshia’s observations concerning law firms and their working culture. Part 2 describes how she works with individual lawyers to effect change.
What do your clients find most difficult about their jobs?
Many women lawyers feel their firms lack a clearly defined path for professional and personal growth and development beyond billable hour requirements or client development.
For example, many law firms expect associates at all levels to engage in some form of business development but fail to provide the training and/or tools to enable them to have the skills and confidence to make rain . . . or even make mist. 🙂
How do women describe the working culture at law firms?
Many women attorneys would describe their firm’s culture as “male-driven.”
Ideally, a firm would desire to be described as having a mission-driven culture with a proven track record and reputation for actually being exactly that.
What do they find most difficult about the working culture?
A male driven culture often results in women lawyers having to make very difficult choices. When women lawyers are in their childbearing years, they must carefully weigh decisions relative to family size and career advancement.
For example, I have personally known male partners who stated their resentment of women lawyers taking maternity leave more than once and how that impacted their desire to invest in those women being groomed for senior leadership and ultimately partnership. Women lawyers can feel that resentment and the struggle to manage that pressure.
What common issues do you find women lawyers find most difficult about working at a law firm/their jobs?
The women often don’t have the language to describe the problem per se, but I have found there are consistent descriptions for the emotional pain of the symptoms they are experiencing.
Many women lawyers have shared with me that their firm lacks a true sense of sisterhood. Most women lawyers expected their journey would include hard work and certain challenges but never expected they would feel isolated and lonely.
For example, many firms have “mentoring” programs. However, most do not have a clearly defined process or structure; measurable outcomes and objectives; or assurances that the person mentored can have confidence in the confidentiality of their mentor.
I have also been told by many women lawyers that they sought guidance and direction from a female mentor, only to be disappointed by a lack of real value add for their professional and personal growth because instead they were encouraged to “suck it up” and deal with the long hours, crushing workload and to manage this partner or that client’s demanding personality.
Another unfortunate consequence of a lack of good mentoring is that when a woman lawyer seeks mentoring from senior male leadership, she may be accused of having ulterior motives for doing so, notably by other women lawyers.
So many women lawyers are commonly faced with the problem of not having a sisterhood of other women within their firm with whom they can build a transparent, genuine and agenda-free relationship. They fear the consequences of revealing their struggles within their firm and feel they have to appear that all is well to their colleagues, family and friends.
Some may find it difficult to accept some of what Lakeshia has to say; are law firms really male dominated when most new lawyers coming into the profession are women? Perhaps this difficult culture doesn’t apply to our law firm?
But Lakeshia’s observations may have much more resonance than we think; they are gleaned from her extensive work with women lawyers. And we know that at the top level, men dominate leadership at law firms and they earn more. Your own opinion and observations on this valuable topic would be gratefully received; please use the comments box below.