Women come into their own in law - Ewadele Butler

In celebration of International Women’s Month, we are profiling some of the exceptional Hogan Lovells women from around the world who are working with and on the African continent. What better way to celebrate these phenomenal women than finding out more about them and in particular, their journey in the legal industry.

Ewadele (or Dele) Butler is a senior associate in our Washington office. She advises fund managers on their private investment funds covering all aspects of fund formation and maintenance, including structuring, governance, and investor relations.

What motivated you to choose a career in law?

I sought a career as a lawyer because I wanted a direct connection between the effort that I put into building my career and my "success". Prior to going to law school, I pursued a career as a TV and film actor in Hollywood, California. I learned very quickly that this was a career path that did not have this direct connection. As an actress, it is very hard to get a reputable agent, obtain Screen Actors Guild (SAG) membership, get invited to auditions, and land speaking roles (despite immense talent). As a lawyer, there is a strong correlation between the time one dedicates to their career and their level of expertise, recognition and financial success.

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in law?

Take stock of your strengths and be confident with them. Accept that sometimes it is a good idea to be a "show-horse" even if it is your inclination to simply be a work-horse and get the job done. Make sure that people see your contributions and your expertise. Stop caring so much about being perfect. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for flex-time at work (especially when family obligations demand it).

How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?

Continuous hard work, commitment to self-improvement and supportive family members are all critical components of where I am today. As a mother of three children, I constantly search for ways to do top-notch work while also having family time. The best solution in recent years has been waking up at 5 am and getting right to work and, as much as is possible, shutting down my computer for a couple of hours each day to have uninterrupted family time. My husband has been an excellent parenting partner in these last couple of, years and has exclusively gotten our children ready for school and out the door each morning; allowing me to dedicate my mornings to client matters. I would be remiss if I don’t give a shout-out to my amazing mother who enabled me to finish law school and my first six years of law firm practice through her unrelenting support. During my second year of law school, my mother drove 35 minutes to my law school, twice a week, so that I could nurse my infant daughter (who is now an amazing 11-year old) during the middle of my school day. During the first six years at Hogan Lovells, my mother babysat our children at least three nights a week so that I could work late and be confident that my children were in safe and loving hands.

What lessons have you learned about leadership and mentoring others?

Mentoring attorneys within the firm creates a work environment with strong, genuine relationships that are supportive and enjoyable. Further to that, being a mentor to junior associates within my practice group has helped build a strong team that enjoys working together and provides excellent service to our clients. I have also personally benefited from and learned from my mentees. My mentees have their own particular gifts/talents which I have watched and added to my toolkit to become a better attorney.

What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?

Determine what "success" in the workplace means early in your career. Once you’ve determined what "success" looks like, commit yourself to seeking it and be relentless. Speak up and let those that exercise power or authority over your career trajectory know what you’d like to achieve. Assess which of your natural/effortless talents will help you achieve success. Also, determine which traits or skills might be necessary that you don’t possess. Build a supporting team of people that can supplement those areas and make sure that you’re developing and using your strengths strategically.

What would you say, that you do, to empower more females in law to be taken seriously in the workplace?

I believe that all attorneys will be taken seriously at the workplace if they are working hard and being vocal about their desire to learn and develop skills in the workplace. My mere presence, longevity at the firm and hard work is probably the most empowering thing I have provided.

I am a mother of three that has managed to being a parent and a full-time "Big Law" corporate attorney. I make sure to share stories with female attorneys to help them understand how I have managed my personal and work life. I encourage female attorneys to be fearless in asking for what they want. I also try to provide them with a living example of someone that is authentic, confident and purposeful about their career.

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

It is critical to build relationships of trust and goodwill so that constructive feedback may be more easily provided and more readily received. I have found that providing constructive feedback to a person that trusts me (i.e., trusts that I believe in their skills and that I want them to succeed) has enabled that person to be a dependable team member that provides top-notch work product. Building a team of strong technicians helps me feel comfortable offloading certain work streams to junior members of the team, and helps our clients receive timely work product with lower legal fees.

Discuss a specific accomplishment you’ve achieved that made you thrive in the current position you are in?

Building up the confidence to request flexible working arrangements has helped me thrive at Hogan Lovells. I now work Tuesdays and Fridays from home, and I have successfully been able to hold a couple of hours on those days for family-related activities. Having the time to be with my daughters provides me with such satisfaction and well-being and has almost eliminated my mommy-guilt (i.e., the guilt of not being home with my kids more and spending so many late nights and weekends on client matters). Now, I’m much more likely to spend additional time on business development activities and mentoring. That additional time spent is providing additional value to the firm and it is helping me build relationships and strengthen my prospects for being promoted to partner.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

About a year and a half ago, I began to work from home twice a week. On those two days, I pick up my children from school around 3:30 pm and I spend about an hour talking with them about school, helping with their homework and simply enjoying quality time with them. Having that dedicated family time (and freeing up my commute time) allows me to be more present and energetic when I spend time working on client matters. Also, working from home allows me to have the flexibility to start my days very early and schedule necessary doctor’s appointments, house repairs and other appointments.

What has been the role of luck in your success?

Good fortune has played a large role in my success. However, the good fortune was made possible by the hard work and proactivity that preceded it. For example, my grades during my first year of law school were not spectacular. As a result, during the on-campus interview program (where law students bid for the opportunity to interview with law firms), I did not receive many interviews and I was unable to secure a summer associate position at a law firm. However, because I had the good fortune of being pregnant during the first year of law school and I took a semester off from school in the beginning of my second year in law school, the law school recruitment office made an exception for me and allowed me to apply for summer associate positions the second time. During my third semester of law school, I worked very hard and my grades for that semester were spectacular (top 5%) and as a result, I landed over 25 interviews and received numerous job offers. Like this example, I have many more examples of good fortune and hard work coming together to make magic happen!

This article forms part of our Women in Law series. The first article in the series was authored by Carol Campbell, published on Africa Legal on 8 March and is reproduced here with kind permission from the publishers.

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