Persuasion skills for attorneys of the gentler sex

This morning, I received an email regarding a CLE just for us girl attorneys.  The class is entitled, “Persuasion Skills for Women Attorneys.”

“Why attend?  The presenter quotes a 20-year-old opinion by the late Justice Brennan:  ‘An employer who objects to aggressiveness in women but whose positions require this trait places women in an intolerable and impermissable Catch 22: out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they do not…'”  Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989).  The presenter conveniently omits the rest of Justice Brennan’s famous quote, “Title VII lifts women out of this bind,” and instead the presenter provides a course that is so riddled with gender stereotypes it is difficult to know where to begin.

According to the course description,

Female lawyers often find themselves navigating the tricky situations that require strong communications skills such as advocating for clients while feeling societal pressure not to be overly aggressive; overcoming gendered communications habits (i.e. submissive body language and patterns of speech) that undercut authority; and juggling the personal  (i.e. what to wear, how much of your family life to reveal at the office) with the professional. 

This is what the little ladies will learn at their class:

  • Establishing authority and gaining the trust of the listener
  • The use (and misuse) of emotion
  • Making listeners care about what you have to say
  • Avoiding “stereotype” traps for women
  • Finding and using your most effective voice
  • Overcoming gendered gestures and body language
  • Striking an authentic and confident tone

I recognize that the overall goals of this course are useful.  All attorneys need to find their most effective voice, figure out how to capture their audience’s attention, and convey confidence.  These are all traits of a persuasive communicator.  But these are traits that all attorneys should master, not just”women attorneys.”  (Seriously, when was the last time you saw a CLE marketed just at “Men Attorneys”?)  I get that, at least on some level, there are women lawyers who may have different ways of communicating than their male counterparts.  But it simply isn’t okay to ascribe certain advocacy skills to one gender.  It is 2011, it should not be assumed that advocacy skills of persuasion have something to do with being male.

Enough already.  It’s time to move on.


~ by siouxsielaw on September 26, 2011.

5 Responses to “Persuasion skills for attorneys of the gentler sex”

  1. there’s so much wrong here i don’t even know where to begin. i expect better from our profession. sigh…

  2. I can’t believe they’ve wheeled out this old chestnut! However, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Look at the general political and social atmosphere these days — it seems like we are going backwards instead of forwards. Very scary indeed.

  3. Dear Siouxsie,

    With a firm voice but gentle eye contact, let me say how sorry I am if my CLE offended you. We ladies – please stop writing “us girls,” as I do prefer the term “lady lawyer” or, on occasion, “skirt” (you know I don’t wear pants! Why how could I show off my authoritative, yet powerfully sexy aura if I did?) – must stick together lest the men not take our female oriented initiatives seriously. Why, my networking session with clients and a department store personal shopper was fun and a great way to make people think of me as a sophisticated (and sophistically dressed!) lawyer. I do hope you will join us for our next CLE, when we learn how to bat our eyelashes like we mean it and do the “bend and snap” just so when we proffer evidence before the court.

    • Dear Ms. Crocker,

      I completely forgot to use the term “skirt.” For that I am deeply sorry.

      When you teach the session on batting eyelashes, please include a segment on false lashes. Seriously though, I really do struggle with false eyelash application, and could really use some further instruction. I had never considered them as work appropriate but they do have persuasive power. So maybe it is time to reconsider.


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