Lessons from the NAWL Conference

Last week I attended the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) Annual Conference in NYC.  It was an especially good time for me to be with that group because my new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, had come out the week of the conference.  Coincidentally, the theme of this year’s conference was “Harnessing Our Power To Lead,” and there was a lot of interest in the book.  It was a great time to connect with fellow women lawyers and catch up on what is important to them in a rapidly-changing profession.

The breakout session, “Lessons From Men Who Lead By Example” was of particular interest to me, especially as it relates to the new book.  The panel consisted of two male corporate general counsel and a male managing partner of a national law firm.  The premise was that women need the support of men in the profession in meeting the challenge to raise the retention rates and increase the opportunities for advancement to leadership and management for women in the profession.

All of the panelists agreed that unconscious gender bias needs to be talked about and eliminated.  If you are uncertain what unconscious gender bias is, I suggest that you read about it in my new book, particularly Chapter One “Why Women Lawyers Leave.”  It is a subject you need to know about.  The panelists emphasized that women need to have the same opportunities to succeed as men in the profession, and that individuals and organizations must be held accountable to make that happen. They also agreed that women are very strong and that women lawyers should have the opportunity to decide their own limitations without those limitations being predisposed by others.  I loved the reference to Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote:  “A women is like a tea bag.  You never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”  Remember that one!

Another quote, this time from the law firm managing partner, caught my attention.  To assure that talented women lawyers join his firm and continue in the practice, he said that he makes sure he sends the message that “others may not care about you, but I do.”  I have been suggesting to law firm managers and senior lawyers for years that they keep several of my books on hand to give to women recruits who they really want to join their firms.  They can get a leg up on the competition by handing the young interviewee a book and demonstrating that they care about the futures and successes of women in the practice.  It is so easy, and the message is so powerful.  Most young women would be tempted to join that firm right on the spot!

Here are a few more messages from this impressive panel:

  • Women lawyers do not want privilege.  They want equality;
  • When you are being marginalized, power through it.  People will “try you” whenever they can.  You need to let them know who they are dealing with, with respect and dignity; and
  • Always stay true to your values.

It was a great conference.  Tune into the next blog for a discussion of the breakout session “The Art of Self-Promotion:  It’s Not Bragging, It’s Building Your Brand.”

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Thought For The Day: On Joy

“Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.”

Helen Keller

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Thought For The Day: On Determination

“Your opponent, in the end, is never really the player on the other side of the net, or the swimmer in the next lane, or the team on the other side of the field, or even the bar you must high-jump. Your opponent is yourself, your negative internal voices, your level of determination.”

Grace Lichtenstein

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The Wisdom of Facebook Revisited

Facebook is fun!  Right?  Facebook keeps you current on EVERYTHING your friends are doing.  Right?  Facebook makes you feel good when you see how many “friends” you have and see that number grow.  Right?  Facebook is like a warm fuzzy blanket when you are feeling lonely or bored.  Yes, of course.

While all of those things may be correct for you, think again.  Here is an account of just why you want to be very careful with Facebook and social media in general.

Consider this.  Have you ever played hooky and called in “sick” to the office and then spent the day on Facebook commenting about how beautiful it was in the park or on the water that day — complete with pictures, of course?  Have you ever been so hung over from partying, the evidence of which you splashed all over with pictures on Facebook, and called it “the flu” when you left the voicemail for the office manager or managing partner?  If you can relate to this kind of behavior — granted, not criminal, just stupid — you might want to consider being very careful what you put on Facebook and when you put it there.

I have opined on this before.  I have counseled newbie lawyers to close down their Facebook accounts long before applying to sit for a bar exam and long before a job interviewer can do a casual “background check” through social media.  And they do.  You must know that.  It is so easy.  Google and Facebook are a click away, and so is your social life, the pictures of you in compromising poses, and a rash of other stuff that you probably would like to keep quiet from professional colleagues.  You, of course, are not naive enough to think that just because the law firm partner does not have a Facebook account he or she cannot find you there.  Law firm staff is so helpful in those situations.

So, I am a little bit like a broken record.  Worse, however, I am a hypocrite on this subject.  I have not just one, but two, Facebook accounts!  Yes, shame on me, the consummate professional.  The Best Friends at the Bar account is an effective marketing tool that helps me to spread my messages to a much wider audience, and it is populated by mostly professional and business acquaintances and colleagues.   That is a good thing, and I have yet to see anything there that gives me pause.  I do not count contrary opinions as “giving me pause.”  I welcome them, as long as they are respectful and thoughtful.

The problem is my personal account.  There is a lot posted within my network on that account which, to be honest, is trivial and sometimes embarrassing.  At the very least, it is not professional and does not reflect who I am.  So, it has to go.  I have hesitated too long.  I have worried too much about offending people by disengaging.  I have not been practicing what I preach.

So, you no longer will be able to find me on Facebook as Susan Smith Blakely.  I am a thing of the past.  But, you always can reach me on the Best Friends at the Bar account and Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and I hope you will — and often because I love to hear from you.

Wisdom comes with age.  Be wise ahead of your time.  Do not wait as long as I did!





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Thought For The Day: On Joy

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”

Marianne Williamson

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Oh Grow Up and Enter Your Time ON TIME

Do lawyers really need staff members nagging them to submit their billing logs on time?  One law firm seems to think so.

Lawyers being dilatory about entering their time logs qualifies as a “pet peeve” for me.  I understand how busy lawyers can be, and I logged plenty of billable time in my career.  But, one thing that I always recommend to junior lawyers is to fill out their time logs before they leave the office at the end of the day.  It’s fundamental, Watson.

Time spent on client work should be entered when the time is “spent” or closely thereafter.  That is when the time allocation is likely to be most accurate and reliable.

I know lawyers who “back” into time logs and virtually try to recreate large stretches of time.  That is a lot of remembering that most busy lawyers are not going to get right, and it simply does not work unless the lawyer has only one client.

It is a real problem, and now a law firm is putting secretaries/legal assistants in the position of enforcers in their relationships with their bosses.  Do we really need more things for staff and lawyers to disagree about?  Have you been in the corridors of law firms lately?   Not a place for meditation, that is for sure.

As Joan Rivers would have said, “Oh, grow up!”  Lawyers need to take responsibility for themselves.  They should not need prodding and penalties and bonus reductions to do the right thing.  After all, it is about the client’s money and how much the client is billed for legal services at the end of the month.

Time recording and allocation on a timely basis is a professional responsibility, and it is time that lawyers got it right.  It also makes the end of the month a lot more pleasant.  Those e-mails with midnight deadlines or else from managing partners can be alarming!

(Just for fun, think about this.  My instincts tell me that most of those dilatory timekeepers are men because, typically, they lack attention to details that annoy them and they do not multitask as well as women.  And, a man cannot be relied on for much else when he is worrying about the “big case.”  They are one-thing-at-a-time guys.  Women not only change the diaper, make school lunches, file away mental notes about early childhood vaccination updates, apply for summer camps for the kiddies, AND worry about the big case.  Just sayin’!  In fact, I would like to see the stats on the dilatory time keepers by gender.  If you have them, send them my way.)





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Thought For The Day: On Reaching Your Goal

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”

Mario Andretti

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Thought For The Day: On Character

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

John R. Wooden

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