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Do Lawyers Need to 'Lean In'?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

It's hard to read ... well, anything this week without coming across a mention on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new mission: Lean In.

Lean In is a multi-faceted approach to helping women develop as leaders and assert themselves. If you're interested in leaning, Sandberg has plenty of options for you: a book, a website, and a social networking opportunity. (Would you expect anything less from a Facebook exec?)

As explained on the website, Lean In aims to support women in three ways:

  1. By creating an active and supportive community to help women develop the confidence and know-how to achieve their goals;
  2. By offering a growing library of free online lectures on topics including leadership and communication; and
  3. By organizing Lean In Circles -- small groups that meet monthly to encourage and support each other in an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust.

So why is it important? Sandberg explains in this week's Time that men still run the world, and women are partially to blame. She writes:

Throughout my career, I was told over and over about inequalities in the workplace and how hard it would be to have a career and a family. I rarely, however, heard anything about the ways I was holding myself back. From the moment they are born, boys and girls are treated differently. Women internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives -- the messages that say it's wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men -- and pull back when we should lean in.

Basically, women need to be reprogrammed. We need to learn that it's good to negotiate and it's OK to be assertive. Sandberg thinks that Lean In circles are the key to doing that.

Not that it's an absurd idea.

Jessica Bennett wrote an article this week for New York magazine about her own experience with a Lean In circle, concluding, "Call it Lean In, call it consciousness-raising, call it whatever you want. When was the last time anybody talked this much about a women's place in the world, period? Sandberg's Lean In is opening up the dialogue -- and, in true Silicon Valley fashion, she's made it scalable."

For women as a group, Lean In sounds like rebranded feminism. But are these circles all that beneficial for female lawyers, who already -- arguably -- know how to assert themselves and negotiate?

Considering that it's free, there's no obvious downside to leaning in, other than the opportunity cost of your circle time. Do you plan to give it a try? Let us known on Facebook (we've got your back, Sheryl) or Google+.

Editor's Note, March 5, 2015: This post was first published in March 2013. It has since been updated.

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