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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Tips for Successful Women Mentoring Relationships


By Marina Sarmiento Feehan, Esq., Founder, Positive Counsel



Women Mentor Event Panelists

On August 22, 2012, a powerful panel of women attorneys spoke to a group of over 150 lawyers at The Bar Association of San Francisco’s (BASF) “Mentoring Women Lawyers: Focusing on the Unwritten Rules.” With Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Associate Justice Maria Rivera of the California First District Court of Appeal, Clothilde Hewlett, a partner at Nossaman, Isabelle Salgado, Associate General Counsel at AT&T, and current BASF President, Kelly Dermody, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, as speakers, the panel imparted key nuggets of wisdom.

Moderator Yolanda Jackson, BASF’s Deputy Executive Director and Diversity Director, questioned the panelists to uncover the unspoken rules of conduct to succeed as both a mentor and mentee.

Here are some of the tips imparted by the panelists:

Tip #1: Self-knowledge is the key to success. Build from your strengths and learn how to make up for
your weaknesses.

Tip #2: Women lawyers need to self-promote to move their careers forward. Watch how the male lawyers do it and know there is a difference between self-promoting and bragging.

Tip #3: Women lawyers need to have their own “Board of Directors” to help in their career. To be successful, your board needs to be diverse, made up of more than just attorneys, but of people whose advice you respect.

Tip #4: Women lawyers need to brand themselves. Start by doing excellent work as your reputation precedes you. Often, you are only as good as your last deal or your last brief. Doing good work allows you to recover from mistakes easier.

Tip #5: With the advent of social media, branding now begins in law school. Learn social media and engage in business etiquette, both online and in-person. Manners count!

Tip #6: “No” is one of the strongest words in the English language. Setting boundaries with other attorneys is essential, as it is easy to fall into doing “minimum wage” administrative work. Before taking on a new project, ask yourself, “Are these new tasks adding value or growth to my skill sets?”

Tip #7: Mentors may not be as effective as having a sponsor. Sponsors advocate on your behalf, stand up for you when you are not in the room, and help you get the work you need to grow.

Tip #8: Stand up against assumptions based on gender and race. Do not simply attend meetings: show up, speak up, jump right in, and swim!

Tip #9: Most of all never lose the ability to reflect and balance your life as a woman attorney.

Lastly, to find a mentor outside of your firm or organization, get involved in your community both legal and the world at large. Joining groups such as BASF, its Barristers Club, minority and specialty bar associations, or various alumni groups allow you to meet potential mentors organically. Then once you find a mentor, pay it back and pay it forward.


To purchase the on-demand video of this presentation, visit


Marina Sarmiento Feehan, a career expert and social media consultant, is the founder of Positive Counsel, a legal career coaching and consulting firm based in San Francisco ( A certified professional branding strategist, she trains attorneys on how to market themselves for a job search, for business development, and for career advancement.

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