Interview with Nadja Harraschain, breaking.through, Frankfurt/M.

Lawyer Career: Success in the legal profession is no coincidence. Is it always just the result of hard work? Or is it also about doing the right thing at the right time? What is the secret of successful lawyers? What should one pay attention to from the very beginning? Do you really seize every opportunity? And is the decision for a career really a decision against a fulfilled private life? In our series "Success in the legal profession is no coincidence" we present top lawyers and their very personal recipe for success:

Nadja Harraschain

1. Professional profile

Nadja Harraschain is a PhD student at the University of Basel, Business Director of the Moot Academy and founder and CEO of breaking.through, a platform for women lawyers with an interest in career and women's issues, which was launched this spring.

2. Please name at least one of your very personal tips for success:

I think it is important in any case to seize opportunities and create opportunities. By this I mean, on the one hand, that you should tend to accept offers that come your way; provided, of course, that you carefully examine them. On the other hand, you should also always be proactive in looking for new offers - for example, by taking part in a competition, applying for a mentoring program or registering for a workshop offered by law firms or companies.

I also believe that you can benefit a lot from approaching strangers with an open mind and curiosity - regardless of who you're dealing with. You should not be afraid to get in touch with people in important positions, nor should you be afraid to get into a circle of strangers where you cannot assess in advance how high the intersection of interests you share is. If you find this difficult, practice and the search for a suitable attitude can help you learn to feel comfortable with it.

3. What do you want to achieve with breaking.through?

We want to encourage women lawyers not to give up a possible career prematurely. Of course, it is a highly individual decision how you want to shape your professional career. But we experience time and again that women have the impression of "not being able to make it" due to a lack of role models and therefore give up a career earlier than necessary. In addition, doubts simply rob women of valuable energy that could be usefully invested in other things. By pointing out role models in personal interviews on career and women-relevant issues, through our advice and events, we want to create inspiration and thus release new energies that can strengthen women in their careers.

4. Who is breaking.through aimed at?

In general, we address female lawyers interested in their career, regardless of the stage of their lives. Our events are attended by women lawyers in training, practitioners from various professions with several years of professional experience, but also by female professors and presidents of universities. There are also always women lawyers who have already left their professional lives behind or are almost finished and who are interested to know whether the younger generations are still dealing with the same issues. This diversity shows us that we address issues that are burning under the nails of many women lawyers. But men who are interested in the same topics are also always welcome.

5. What has surprised you most in your work for breaking.through so far?

On the one hand, how much trust was placed in the idea of breaking.through by numerous female lawyers, even before there was an official public appearance. In the early days of breaking.through, I contacted numerous female lawyers and potential cooperation partners, presented my idea to them and asked them whether they would like to have their portraits taken or whether we would like to organise one or more events together. Only relatively shortly before the official kick-off I started to build up my team and created a teaser homepage for the external appearance. Nearly all contacts, among them for example the Federal Minister of Justice Dr. Barley, were enthusiastic about the idea and agreed to it, although they had to trust me almost blindly at first.

On the other hand, I didn't reckon with the fact that the women lawyers and lecturers portrayed were usually keen to give something back to the younger generations. In most cases, the women lawyers do not see this as a favour to us or our target group. Rather, it is a mutual give and take, from which both sides benefit. Many of the women lawyers, for example, would have liked to see more role models in their own time. This creates a strong unifying element. Only last week we received the 100th promise for a personal portrait. In contrast, there have hardly been any refusals so far. Even busy BGH judges sometimes take two hours for a preliminary interview, although this is by no means a prerequisite for a portrait. All this speaks for the strong intrinsic motivation of our network.

6. Are there any statements and advice that recur in the interviews with the women lawyers portrayed?

There certainly are. For example, we hear again and again that women too often assume that good work alone is sufficient for professional advancement. One should not wait to be shown or offered career perspectives by one's supervisor, but should create opportunities for oneself and communicate explicitly to the outside world where one wants to go.

Another aspect often mentioned is that many women could appear even more self-confident and do more self-marketing. When it comes to the question of the compatibility of family and career, it is regularly said: "Keep your eyes open when choosing a partner". Furthermore, there is always the advice to be brave and to calmly trust in things.

On the other hand, experiences differ as to whether a woman is perceived or treated differently in a professional context than, say, male colleagues. There are many female lawyers here who also report more or less subtle discrimination that still takes place today. One female professor, for example, reported that in newspaper articles or as a reviewer in the Bundestag she was stripped of her titles at the end of the article or debate, whereas male colleagues mentioned them right to the end. Other female lawyers, on the other hand, have not yet had the impression in their professional careers that they are treated differently from their male colleagues. The latter is certainly good news, which would probably have been hard to find a few decades ago.

7. They regularly cooperate with other business and women's networks. How important do you consider such associations to be?

Very important. In general, it is worthwhile to look for like-minded people when pursuing interests in order to give one's own concerns more assertiveness.

In addition, such associations can facilitate networking, which is still immensely important, especially for women, but is associated with special challenges. For example, during my several years of work in a commercial law firm, I experienced how a trainee lawyer, who had been employed for a few weeks, reported on his experiences during a regular football match in loose rounds, which crosses departments and hierarchies and to which he had been invited by several lawyers. Of course, nobody had thought of inviting women to the regular meetings; many did not even know about the existence of these regular meetings. I do not necessarily assume that there was a bad intention behind this selective invitation practice, and I think it did not even have to happen consciously. However, the example clearly illustrates how much easier it can be for men to establish connections with colleagues from other departments and across hierarchical levels, which are often withheld from women.

It is therefore all the more important for women to seek and gain access to networks. This starts by attending events that interest them or by joining a network. Many of our cooperation partners, such as PANDA, the djb or the Business Club Nushu, which is present in Hamburg and Munich, offer optimal opportunities for this and combine the targeted promotion of exchange among women with valuable topics. However, I consider it at least as important that women also participate in subject-specific, gender-mixed forums. The sooner you start with both - preferably while you are still in education - and the less you neglect that when you start a family, the better.

8. How do you balance your doctoral thesis and your work for breaking.through?

Basically, I have imposed a strict separation of my working hours between my doctoral thesis and breaking.through to avoid that the work for breaking.through gets out of hand. Due to the unbelievable positive feedback we receive, we have grown a lot in a short time and new event concepts and formats are constantly being developed, which are of course also connected to work. But there are always phases in which one or the other thing takes up a lot of time. At the moment, for example, I'm concentrating very strongly on my doctoral thesis in my evening hours. This is possible not least because the team behind me is so dedicated and motivated and the number of eleven female lawyers has now grown strongly enough to compensate for individual phases of other workloads.

9. Are you also doing your doctorate on a topic that is connected with breaking.through?

No, not at all. Since my studies, I have been very much involved in the fields of dispute resolution and IP and have developed a special liking for international arbitration law. Through my doctoral thesis, I have extended my original focus on commercial arbitration to include investment arbitration, and I am now dealing with the question of how to deal with parallel or successive cases involving identical or closely related facts and parties when traditional institutions such as the force of law or lis alibi pendens do not apply due to various peculiarities of the dispute resolution mechanisms common between states and investors.

Thank you very much.

Mrs. Nadja Harraschain lives with her husband and her child in Frankfurt am Main and, like CLP, supports PANDA Law, which is taking place this week in Frankfurt.

Her personal motto in life is:

"Whether something is impossible is something you can only know when you have tried."

(Originally published on 05.10.2018 on the former CLP blog JurCoach.)



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