This week in the Young, Hungry and Committed blog series, virtual office NYC attorney Vivian Sobers learns to use her youthful appearance to gain an advantage over her adversaries.
When I describe myself to other people, I always lead with the fact that I am a lawyer. It’s involuntary.
It’s not just an answer to: “What do you do?” It’s an ontological truth.
My name is Vivian. I am a lawyer. It is my identity.
I am not a young female lawyer. I am a lawyer who happens to be young and female.
Unfortunately, there is sometimes a disconnect with how I view myself and how others perceive me.
It’s not just that I am young and a woman, but I “look” like a young woman. And it doesn’t help that I am “vertically challenged.” 4 foot 11 and ¼. (You know you are short when you intentionally add the ¼ inch after your height.)
As I was told by a nice gentleman on the elevator in court the other day: “You look like a little girl”.
Being a young female lawyer comes with a unique set of problems. The worst of them all is that most attorneys have a hard time taking me seriously.
Being taken seriously is an uphill battle. While gender plays some part, it’s more an issue of legal ageism.
Being a young attorney is hard. But looking like a young attorney is even harder.
When most people think about what a successful lawyer looks like, they likely picture someone who is older looking. And I’m not just referring to clients, adversaries too.
There’s not much I can do about my youthful appearance, other than bide my time. It’s an obstacle to success that is not easy to overcome. I can tell you that being told you look like a little girl doesn’t scream “I respect you.” It does even less for your confidence.
You can’t study your way out of being subtly disrespected. You can’t over-prepare yourself out of being called “honey” or “sweetie”.
Since Sallie Mae won’t wait for my hair to fully gray, I’ve turned my youthful appearance into a strategic advantage that I use every day in court.
I may look like a “little girl”, but I don’t practice law like one.
I am not dainty. I don’t tip toe around case law with a pursed smile. I crash through it. I over-compensate by hiding my sometimes wide-eyed awe of legal proceedings under a cloak of over-preparedness, frequently surprising my under-prepared adversaries.
But, I don’t feel like this is a burden. I am not writing this from a comfortable chair deep inside the “chip on my shoulder.” Having to earn the respect of your colleagues is universal to every career. It makes me work harder. It forces me perform to the best of my ability at every appearance, every negotiation and every client meeting.
I’ve learned to leverage my youthful appearance because, as a lawyer (especially a young lawyer), you must use every tactical advantage available to you.
Mine happens to be heels and a youthful appearance. Yours can be whatever you decide. As a young lawyer you have to educate your adversaries that you are their equals. You gain respect. Every interaction is an educational experience for my adversaries.
I am my adversaries’ equal. . .sometimes, they just find out too late in the case.
My name is Vivian Sobers. I’m young. I’m hungry, and despite the challenges that may lie ahead, I’m committed to making this law practice a success.
Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.