Susan Smith Blakely is the award-winning author of the Best Friends at the Bar books for Women Lawyers. As the recipient of the 2015 Ms. JD Sharing Her Passion Award and the Lawyers Monthly Women in Law Award 2016, the Best Friends at the Bar project has been recognized for making a positive difference for women in the law.
In Her Own Words
When you tell people you’ve written a book, they usually want to know what motivated you. When you’ve retired from a successful career, they are often curious about why you would put in all that effort instead of just relaxing on a beach somewhere. If you and I had a few minutes to talk, I might answer…
Of course I was motivated by my own experiences practicing law and watching so many talented young women lawyers leave the profession, but it was much more than that.
I am devoted to the concept of women helping women. I have been involved in women’s issues for most of my life, and I am thrilled that my books Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer offer career advice that has the potential to make a difference in women’s lives. I could not have written these books while I was busy practicing law, but now I am fortunate to be in a position to bring together the collective wisdom of more than 60 women who struggled and triumphed during their legal careers—many of whom I count as my best friends at the bar.
But, it is not all up to young women to improve their career expectations. The solutions also will depend on the participation of law firm leaders and managers. That is why I wrote the third book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, which is directed to the mostly male leadership in law firms. It makes the case for why high attrition for women lawyers is not only squandering talent but also is not a good business decision for law firms.
Writing about what women need to know for successful and satisfying careers in the law is a natural extension of my passions for writing and mentoring. I have spent countless rewarding hours offering career advice and mentoring young women lawyers over the years, and I am still troubled by the high percentage of women who abandon legal careers out of frustration with the system and the challenges of work-life balance. Something must be done to change those dynamics—and it all starts with mentoring and passing along the knowledge that will enable these women to make better decisions and create the work-life balance they deserve.
Young women need to be aware of the great benefits and the significant challenges facing women in the law. By helping young women lawyers make informed choices as they plan their careers and making them understand the responsibility that they have to each other while striving to reach their goals, we empower them to take charge of their professional and personal lives.
In the long run, encouraging women lawyers to embrace cooperative approaches in their careers will improve practice conditions and retention rates and, in turn, will provide opportunities for more women to advance to the top levels of law firm management. Women at the top will bring different experience-based perspectives and will have the potential to positively influence workplace environments and the quest for work-life balance that affects both women and men.
Writing a book is always a huge undertaking, but my books are both a labor of love and a celebration of women in the law. I grew up with the law and it always has been a part of my life—starting with my father’s law practice in a small Midwestern town—where there was little chance of the judge’s decision or a jury verdict taking years or of it going unnoticed. Cases, parties, facts, assumptions, and distortions all became part of the fabric of life. I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly up close and personal, and it fascinated me.
From those early experiences, I learned to admire the players who tried to bring about positive change and improve the human condition. They still have my greatest respect and admiration, and, in my own small way, I hope to carry on their legacy by reaching out to the young women who follow me in the law.
Susan Smith Blakely Bio
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown Law where she was a teaching fellow. Her diverse background includes private practice with law firms, specializing in litigation and land use law, experience in both state and federal courts and before administrative commissions and boards, and service in the public sector as Chief of Staff for an elected official. Ms. Blakely also has published the following comprehensive articles in academic law journals:
Credit Opportunities for Women: The ECOA and Its Effects, Wisconsin Law Review, Fall 1981.
Judicial and Legislative Attitudes Toward the Right to an Equal Education for the
Handicapped, Ohio State Law Journal, Fall 1979.
After 25 years of practice and public service, Ms. Blakely retired as a law firm partner in 2006. She and her husband Bill, who also is a lawyer, live in Great Falls, Virginia, and have two children: Elizabeth, a graduate of the University of Virginia and Seton Hall University School of Law, who is an associate with a law firm in NYC; and Derick, also a graduate of the University of Virginia and Washington College of Law, American University, an associate with a law firm in Nashville, TN. When she is not writing, Susan enjoys reading, playing the piano, gardening, skiing, traveling, being with family and friends, and serving on not-for-profit boards of directors.
Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law is Ms. Blakely’s first book. Her second book, Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in July 2012. Her third book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015 and addresses the role of law firm leaders in the solutions for young women lawyers.
Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer, published in July 2012 by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.
Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, published by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in the summer 2015.