I was speaking to a newbie lawyer the other day. I am going to call her Sue, which is definitely not her real name.
Sue is an intelligent young woman, but like many of us when we are starting out, is perhaps just a tiny bit naïve.
Sue told me that she was applying to a firm in a community where she lives in eastern Canada. To prepare for the interview, she checked out the firm’s website. She was delighted to learn that the firm prides itself on recognizing the importance of work life balance.
When Sue interviewed with two male Partners, it only made sense to her to be honest. When asked why she was applying to the firm, Sue explained that she wanted to work in her community and looked forward to raising her family there and balancing her career and family responsibilities.
Both Sue’s (female) mentor and I told her that she had blown it. She had made the mistake of confusing the firm’s marketing with their real values. A rookie mistake. She will know better next time.
Now perhaps I am wrong, but here is how I think it works in most of the legal profession, with the notable exception of a handful of relatively new (mostly female-founded) law firms:
- Law firms want their Associates to work really hard, especially in their first five years of practice.
- In the back of their minds, Partners know that young women just starting out in their late twenties or early thirties are often going to want to start their families soon, if they have not done so already. However, many Partners like to pretend that it just is not so.
- There are some Partners who understand that they cannot allow considerations such as whether a woman is likely to take a maternity leave and have to balance being a parent and a lawyer to sway their hiring decisions. Some members of this group even believe in the cause or, at a minimum, can ignore their internal bias.
- The rest of them only understand that they cannot say it aloud. These are the folks who would still be asking about marital status, whether the candidate has children, what her plans are for having a family, and how she is going to handle childcare, if only they could without being reported for a human rights violation. These are the same folks who would never ask a man that type of question.
So, sad as it is to say, I would advise young women to join the fantasy world that the interviewers are trying to live in. They have to lie and say that for the foreseeable future, the only thing that is important to them is to work hard, learn stuff, and bill hours.
The truth can come out after they have the job. Honesty is not always the best policy.
Of course, landing a job with a firm that does not share your values creates its own set of problems – but at least the problems can be pushed down the road a bit while you get some experience. Better yet – join a firm (likely female led) that practices what they preach.
This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.