For the first few years of my career, I worked at a huge law firm in New York, and it was a pretty incredible experience. I’d never had a full time job before (I went straight from college to law school), and for the first few weeks, I was so nervous and excited that I pretty much held my breath all day long. I was constantly working at a breakneck pace — it was ordinary for me to eat dinner at my desk almost every night, and pretty common for me to collapse into a car home at 2 or 3 a.m., only to get a few hours of sleep and head back to the office.
If that sounds awful… well, it sort of was, and it also sort of wasn’t. I was twenty five and didn’t have much in my life besides work, and Chad’s a lawyer too, so we were pretty much on the same insane schedule. I was excited about the work I was doing (many of those late nights were spent on an incredibly rewarding case, which I wrote about in January) and I really liked the people I worked with. The hours were tough, but those early pedal-to-the-metal years were also kind of fun. Everyone was as intense about their careers as I was, and we all committed to the work that had to get done.
And I also learned a lot.
A lot of what I learned is specific to being a lawyer: how to write a brief and pick a jury, how to prepare a client to be deposed and how to be courteous and professional even when the other side is being completely outrageous. They’re lessons I remember to this day.
But I also learned something else: how to appear confident and professional, even when I was twenty-five and completely terrified that I had no idea what I was doing.
As much as I learned from the work itself, I learned more from the people I worked with. And although I worked with a lot of wonderful male lawyers, truthfully, I paid more attention to the professionalism of the senior-level women I worked with. Law has traditionally been a very male-dominated field, but that’s changed dramatically in the past decade or so (like many industries, of course, it still has a long way to go). One of the tremendous upsides to this shift is that my law firm had a number of female lawyers who were five, ten, and twenty years ahead of me on their own career tracks, and often, they made a special effort to look out for female junior associates.
So I’m going to share one of the tips I got with you guys, one that isn’t specific to law at all. When I was a first year associate, I was sitting in the office of a junior partner, and she was talking about what it’s like to argue in a courtroom filled with men, when sometimes (if not often), you’re the only woman there.
And she filled us in on a little secret. “When I want a boost of confidence,” she told us. “I wear a red suit. I don’t know why, but there’s something about wearing red that always makes me feel strong.”
Wearing red is a small thing, but the small things really matter. When that partner told me about putting on her red suit, she wasn’t saying, “sometimes it’s intimidating to be the only woman in the room.” She was saying: Here’s what I do when I want to feel as good as I can. Here’s a small thing that, for me, makes a difference.
And, you know what? It’s good advice. When I’m getting ready for anything from a big meeting to an oral argument, I make an extra effort to dress in a way that boosts my confidence. So in honor of that piece of advice I got years ago, I’m sharing this Workweek Chic outfit today.
My own confidence-boosting red dress.
And, hey, if you’re on the fence about red in your industry, I have an easy workaround. There’s a reason Louboutins have a red sole!