Projecting the Right Image: Mother vs Attorney

by admin 10. September 2013 09:10


So, my prior law firm, where I spent 13 years practicing corporate and securities law, had a wonderful tradition of serving lunch every Wednesday to all of the firm’s attorneys.  This tradition provided all of us with the chance to bond on a more personal level and should have created a heightened sense of comradery.  However, in practice, it actually ended up separating the genders further, because the women always sat separately from the men.  While we talked about our children and the various issues we were facing as moms (working moms, in particular), the men discussed business. At a firm "women's initiative meeting, when one of the women raised this issue, and the fact that the senior men were well aware of the divide and that it did not reflect well upon the firm’s female attorneys, two opposing sides to the debate formed, each very adamant about its own point of view.  I see both sides of this debate—one being that it is tricky to navigate the dual roles of lawyer and mother, little time is available for friendships outside of work such that the resources available to a young mom through the senior women in the workplace are invaluable; the other being that, by isolating ourselves from the business generators we gave up the opportunity to learn more about how these lawyers’ minds worked, to jump at potentially career enhancing projects and to form the bonds that lead to senior status attorneys eventually transitioning clients to us. 


All of this relates to image.  Since starting my firm, I have built my own client base and, in that process, I have learned that projecting a certain image is paramount.  Although a potential client may think of you as very likable and relatable based on your family life, he or she will NOT hire you on that basis.  Instead, that client needs to know that you are a competent attorney who knows about the issue the client is facing and who cares deeply about the client’s successful resolution of the issue.  As a result, I virtually never mention my children when meeting with clients or really with anyone outside of my personal life, until we have discussed our professional lives. I truly believe that, especially due to our society-wide bias in thinking of women as mothers before career-people, it is imperative that you start every relationship that is intended to benefit your professional life implanting the image of yourself as a professional first and foremost in the other person’s mind.  I have developed very close relationships with several of the women who serve with me as members of the Board of Directors of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law.  We have spent a great deal of time building this organization for over five years now and our relationships have expanded to include quarterly dinners at Chicago’s newest restaurants.  While we know about each other’s children and spouses, the first conversation whenever we meet is always about our businesses—how busy we are, any really interesting new work we’ve taken on, how women are fairing at our various firms, etc.  Only after we are caught up on all of this, which takes the first hour or more, do we move onto discussing our personal lives.  I think that for this reason, we see each other as professionals and are always seeking opportunities to refer business to, or serve as career improving resources for, each other. 


When I was at my prior firm, I used to complain that the men in line for Wednesday lunch, which was served buffet-style, would see me and immediately ask “how are the kids,” before turning to the guy next to them and asking “how did that deposition go?”  Looking back, however, I see that, by isolating myself at a table with only other women every Wednesday, I projected to these men the image of myself as primarily a mother.  If I had to do it all over again, I would sit with the guys each week, then grab quick breaks whenever possible during the workdays to seek the girl time I certainly needed as well. 


Leslee Cohen is a principal at Hershman Cohen LLC, a boutique corporate and securities law firm in Chicago that stands out from the crowd, combining big-firm experience with small-firm rates and relationships.  Leslee lives in Deerfield with her husband—the true love of her life—and her two amazing boys, ages 13 and 10.  She was a co-founder of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law and continues to serve on its board of directors, and she is very active in the Small Business Advocacy Council. Her interests outside of work and family include fashion and politics, and her passion is helping younger women rise to the top of their professions.

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Leslee Cohen | Life on the Lattice

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