“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
Stephen R. Covey
Stephen R. Covey
You go, USA Women’s Hockey! Know your value!
Susan Smith Blakely
Mastery of soft skills for lawyers — men and women, alike — is becoming more and more important all the time. In fact, I am working with some tech geniuses on a digital program for assessing these very skills, and I am very excited about the applications and potential of the program to help young practitioners improve the skills that will determine success and upward mobility.
Law schools and law firms are not providing most of this content, ostensibly for curriculum control and cost containment reasons, and, yet, research confirms that 80% of success in business is attributable to soft skills. The law profession is no exception.
Although the emphasis on soft skills may be new, the concepts themselves are not. The buzz words and the research confirming the importance of soft skills simply have raised the visibility of these concepts. We always have known the importance of communication skills, networking skills and inner office politics, for instance. The labels have just changed, and we have upped the ante for developing these skills. You are either in the game with these skills or you are on the sidelines without them.
I have been writing and speaking about the importance of “soft skills” for years, including chapters in my first book, Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law, Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2009. Chapters devoted to the following subjects make the case: Be a Team Player; Find Good Mentors; Ask for Help When You Need It; Find a Comfort Zone for Promoting Work; Treat Support Staff Well; and Watch Your Mouth. The fact that my books are targeted to women lawyers should not work as a limitation of any kind. All lawyers, men and women, alike, need soft skills to succeed in the profession.
To discuss soft skills, we first must define the “hard skills” that lawyers need and eliminate them from the discussion. The hard skills are the ones that come to mind first when most young lawyers contemplate what they need to succeed in the law. Those include intelligence, strong analytical skills, excellent writing skills, good judgment, and diligence (including lack of procrastination). These are the kinds of skills that most law schools concentrate on in developing practice-ready graduates and preparing them to pass bar exams.
While it is true that these hard skills are critical to success in the law profession, they are not enough. There is so much more that goes into being successful as a lawyer, and those things cannot be overlooked. Disregarding them is to proceed at your own risk and setting yourself up for almost certain disappointment.
To quote a friend of mine, a partner in the largest law firm in the world, “Everyone in our firm is smart. Some are smarter than others. The degree of smart is not what typically determines success. It is the soft skills. The ones who pay attention to the soft skills generally fare better than the others.”
Here’s a list of some of the soft skills that you need to develop:
Being a good communicator and a good listener;
Having the ability to accept feedback and use it positively it improve your product;
Learning to network and develop work;
Having a good attitude about work and getting the job done;
Becoming a good time manager;
Having adaptability to a variety of job settings;
Being assertive in the workplace to get the best experience possible;
Being comfortable with collaboration and being a member of a team;
Having confidence in yourself and your abilities;
Being polite and courteous;
Being a creative thinker;
Developing management and leadership skills;
Developing negotiation skills;
Being astute about office politics;
Having a sense of humor and not taking yourself too seriously;
Developing and using emotional intelligence;
Being empathetic; and
Finding mentors and becoming a mentor to others.
Master these soft skills to compliment the hard skills, and you will distinguish yourself from the crowd. To do that, you will have to get out of your office, get to know the people you work with, volunteer for assignments, go to the social events, and take advantage of the opportunity to have the other members of the firm get to know you. Grinding it out at your computer day in and day out to bill more hours than anyone else without even going to lunch with colleagues is a big mistake. When your name comes up in an associate review or later in consideration for partner, you do not want the decision makers wondering who on earth you are.
Make the decision makers aware of you by mastering the soft skills.
Below is a copy of the op-ed that I wrote and that was published on March 21, 2017 in National Jurist “Lawyer & Statesman” on-line magazine. I hope that you find it interesting and that you, too, will gain some hope that the events described present positive changes for women lawyers and for all lawyers in law firm cultures.
The link to the op-ed is: http://www.nationaljurist.com/content/op-ed-flexible-work-models-should-improve-law-firm-culture
Op-ed: Flexible work models should improve law firm culture
March 21, 2017
By Susan Smith Blakely
I have seen the effects of insensitive law firm cultures in my own career and the careers of so many others. Although the most severe impact has been to women lawyers with family and childcare responsibilities, male practitioners also have suffered from the inflexible demands of a profession that has refused to examine itself critically.
Until now, perhaps.
Within a week’s time, announcements by Big Law players on major work-life initiatives in their law firms have provided hope that the sands may be shifting in favor of more reasonable policies and programs to reflect a changing world. This is recognition that the millennial generation, especially, is capable of embracing current technology that could benefit both themselves and their law firms.
Last week, Morgan Lewis announced its initiative allowing associates, who have been at the firm for at least two years, the opportunity to work from home two days a week. Similar announcements followed this week by Jackson Lewis and Baker McKenzie.
Peter May, Baker McKenzie’s chief talent officer, described the incentive behind the new program this way: “If you actually create an environment that is flexible, that enables people to be at their best no matter where they happen to be, you’re going to have much more engaged employees. If they’re more engaged they’re going to be more productive, and if they’re more productive, that’s going to have huge organizational implications.”
Morgan Lewis’s rationale for its forward-thinking program, however, was the one that got my attention and buoyed my spirits the most. That rationale revolved around the recognition that losing talent is very destructive to law firms and that making tested and proven work-life concessions will help protect talent in a very competitive industry.
Yes, this rationale is more law firm centric, but it reflects the truth that we all know to be the greatest motivator for change: Competition. Let’s call it what it is. Programs like this create a bond between employer and employee that often results in the kind of loyalty that traditionally has been missing in law firm cultures. One Morgan Lewis partner referred to the new program as necessary but very expensive. Another member of the firm described the program as “a reflection of the trust between the associates and the firm.”
We should take this as good news — very good news — and we should give the prescient leadership of these law firms the credit they deserve. We also can hope that other law firms will follow, and that what we are seeing is a law profession that is coming of age and throwing off the shackles of the past that are not only confining in a modern world but also are destructive.
As I wrote in a Corporate Counsel article “Is Work-Life Balance for Lawyers a Hopeless Goal in the Legal Profession?”:
“The only thing standing between the current workaholic culture of law firms and this brighter future for lawyers is greed. It was the greed of Wall Street that brought on the Great Recession in 2008, and that experience should serve as a harbinger to law firm leadership. Greed and pursuit of high profits at the expense of the well-being of lawyers and their families will lead to no good.”
Let’s call it what it is and make all efforts to do better.
Susan Smith Blakely is a lawyer, author, speaker and career coach. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Georgetown University Law Center. She is the founder of LegalPerspectivesLLC, and her Best Friends at the Bar Book series addresses the low retention and advancement rates for women lawyers. She can be reached through her website, www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.
Investment advisor! The title alone makes most of us shutter, and typically the individual advisor evokes a similar response. Not that they are bad people, but it is often a bad subject for us. So, the advisor gets associated with the advice. And, when the news is bad, it can be very bad. Something and someone you do not want to think about.
As women, we sometimes shy away from this kind of “boring” financial dialogue on subjects like saving, prioritizing and budgeting. After all, we like to keep things moving and exciting …… not get bogged down so that we have plenty of time to spend, spend, spend! Those new fuschia-colored sandals for spring, the antique server that is ideal for the entrance hall, the trip to the tropics, and wheels to make you the envy of the young attorney in-crowd. Why would you want to have a discussion that might put a damper on all those fun things?
No, I am not dissing you, I am dissing US. Women love beautiful and expensive things, and … well … it can get out of control. And soon you are plummeting downhill faster than you ever imagined possible. Then you are looking at the bankruptcy court — and you cannot discharge your student loan debt there. Sorry.
Enter the investment advisor. He or she could become your new BFF if you let it happen. The guy described in the article below understands your life as a law firm associate — because he is one —- and he blogs by night on a “mission to prevent young lawyers from falling prey to their own lousy money management.” Goodwin Procter seems to be good with that as long as he does not neglect his day job.
His name is Joshua Holt, and, until recently, he ran The Biglaw Investor website anonymously. There is investment advice and newsletters on the site to provide tips to Big Law associates, who lack an understanding of how to manage the big bucks they are earning.
However, Joshua wants to be an equal opportunity website, so he also offers advice to young lawyers on the low end of the pay scale, like those public service lawyers, who are not making the big bucks. He seems to understand that most law students did not have a lot of money to handle during those three years preceding the downpour of any bucks at all, and that making a salary of any kind can be daunting.
The bottom line is that we all need financial advice — unless we have a lifetime supply of green eye shades. Young lawyers with massive student loan debt REALLY need it. In fact, in a rush of humility, Joshua identifies himself on the website as starting his career with $200,000 in student debt and with “zero understanding of how to manage a $160,000 salary and enough anxiety to immobilize a small horse.” Does that sound familiar?
If, so, check out the website below. This is not an endorsement of Joshua Holt and/or his advice. I do not know Joshua or what kind of advice he dispenses. He may not be for you. But, chances are someone like Joshua is. Be sure you find that person — PRONTO — to save yourself a lot of unnecessary grief.
You know how I feel about the need to improve law firm cultures.
See my op-ed today in National Jurist Lawyer & Statesman: http://www.nationaljurist.com/content/op-ed-flexible-work-models-should-improve-law-firm-culture.
Send it to your networks to spread the word!
I welcome public speaking opportunities to discuss key issues addressed in my Best Friends at the Bar books for women lawyers and What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice for ALL young lawyers. My programs are consistently approved for CLE credits. If you would like to arrange a speaking engagement, please contact me at [email protected].
The presentations for women lawyers address the low retention rates for women lawyers due to lack of systemic support for the issues of work-life balance and gender parity that affect so many women lawyers. My research and conclusions detail the benefits of change for lawyers and law firms and the approach that young women lawyers take to their careers.
I speak on a wide range of subjects related to women lawyers. Here are some representative speech topics:
*The Low Retention Rates for Women Lawyers and What We Can Do About it;
*Effective Leadership for Women Lawyers;
*Effective Negotiations For Women Lawyers — For Clients and For Yourself
*Why Women Lawyers Leave;
*Why Law Firms Should Care about Retention and Advancement of Women Lawyers;
*What to Look for in a Law Firm and How to Succeed;
*The Role of Law Firm Leaders in the Success of Women Lawyers;
*Negative Leadership Behaviors and How They Impact Women Lawyers;
*How to Avoid the Pitfalls of a Male-Dominated Profession;
*Navigating the Gender Issues;
*How to Develop Personal Definitions of Success;
*The TO DO List for Success for Young Women Lawyers;
*The Art of Negotiations — for others and for yourself;
*The importance of Networking and Business Development;
*The Issues Surrounding Leaving the Profession and Re-entry;
*How to Create Balance Between Your Professional and Personal Lives;
*Myths Affecting Women Lawyers;
*How to Avoid the “Golden Handcuffs” of Private Law Practice and Keep Your Options Open;
*Pay Equity For Women Lawyers;
*Implicit Gender Bias and Its Relationship to Effective Leadership for Women Lawyers;
*How to Transition from One Practice Setting to Another.; and
*The Responsibility of Law Firm Leaders to “Lean In” on Retention Issues.
Here is what one audience member has to say:
The Women’s Bar Association of Maryland was honored to host Susan Blakely in September 2010 at the University of Baltimore School of Law to discuss her book. Susan is an interesting and personable woman who took the time to talk one on one with attendees before speaking. She truly is an inspiration to women lawyers – both brand new and seasoned alike – and has some amazing insight into surviving in the legal field. I only wish she had written her book before I went to law school! I would not only recommend it as a must read for any young woman contemplating a legal career, but as an attorney with 10 years of experience and a young family, it spoke to me as well.
The presentations for ALL young lawyers are non-gender specific and address what today’s young lawyers want, how young lawyers and law firms need to work together to meet the needs of today’s young lawyers and the Soft Skills young lawyers need to advance in their careers.
Remarks, Book Launch Event, Kirkland and Ellis, Chicago, February 2019
Speaker, Pro Bono Institute Conference, Washington DC, Spring 2019
Speaker, DC Women’s Bar Association, IP Group, Spring 2019
Speaker, DC Women’s Bar Association, Young Lawyers Group, Spring 2019
Past Speaking Engagements & Events
Speaker, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, MO, October 2018
Speaker, Charlotte Women Lawyers, Charlotte, NC, February, 2018
Speaker, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher Law Firm, New York, NY, November 2017
Speaker, Oklahoma City Bar Association, Oklahoma City, OK, September 2017
Speaker, Womble Carlyle Law Firm, Washington, DC, April 2017
Keynote Speaker, Federal Bar Association Women Lawyers Conference, Tampa, FL, April 2017
Speaker, American Health Lawyers Association Conference, Baltimore, MD, March 2017
Speaker, Presidential Inaugural Scholarship Summit, Washington, DC, January 2017.
Speaker, Jackson Walker Law Firm, Dallas, TX, November 2016
Speaker, ACI Healthcare LawConference, Boston, MA, July 2016
Speaker, Simpson Thacher Law Firm, New York, NY, July 2016
Panelist, Federal Bar Association Women Lawyers Conference, New Orleans, LA, April 2016
Webinar Featured Speaker, Practising Law Institute (PLI) , March 30, 2016
Speaker, Catholic University Law, Washington, DC, March, 2016
Speaker, University of Baltimore School of Law, Baltimore, MD, March 2016
Guest, Your Working Life Podcast With Caroline Dowd-Higgins, February 2016
Speaker, University of Maryland School of Law, Baltimore, MD, February 32016
Discussion Leader, NewLAWu.s. Legal Market Roundtable, New York, NY, September 2015
Panel Moderator, Georgetown Law Women’s Forum, Washington, DC, February 2015
Speaker, Women’s Business Roundtable, McLean, VA, January 2015
Speaker, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, December 2014
Speaker, Georgetown University Alumni Career Services Webinar, November 2014
Speaker and Classroom Lecturer, Wake Forest University School of Law, Winston-Salem, NC, October 2014
Speaker, University of Washington School of Law, Seattle, WA, October 2014
Panelist, International Aviation Women’s Association (IAWA), Seattle, WA, October 2014
Speaker, South Carolina Women Lawyer’s Association, Charleston, SC, October 2014
Keynote Speaker, Erie County Bar Association, Erie County, PA, September 2014
Webinar Speaker, Women in Business Superseries (UK), August 2014
Webinar Speaker, Georgetown University Alumni Career Services, August 2014
Keynote Speaker, University of Baltimore Law Women’s Bar Association, Baltimore, MD, April 2014
Webinar Panelist, American Bar Association Copyright and Trademark Section, March 2014
Panelist, WAPLA Pre-Law Conference, Denver, CO, March 2014
Speaker, Polsinelli Law Firm, Chicago, IL, February 2014
Speaker, Baylor Law School, Waco, TX, February 2014
Speaker, William & Mary Law School, Williamsburg, VA, November 2013
Guest, Voice America Radio with Host Chris Efessiou, September 2013
Speaker,Washington Women’s Weekly, Washington, DC, June 2013
Speaker, National Conference of College Women Student Leaders (AAUW), University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, May 2013
Speaker, Ladies DC, Washington, DC, May 2013
Speaker, Lerch Early & Brewer Law Firm, Bethesda, MD, May 2013
Guest, CBS Radio with Host Bonnie Marcus, April 2013
Panelist, George Washington University Women in Business Conference, Washington, DC, April 2013
Speaker, University of Maryland School of Law, Baltimore, MD, April 2013
Speaker, College of the Holy Cross Pre-Law Program, Worcester, MA, February 2013
Keynote Speaker, Association for Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City, Kansas City, MO, October 2012.
Speaker, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Detroit, MI, October 2012.
Panelist, Ms. JD National Conference, Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, DC, October 2012.
Speaker, National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations Leadership Summit, Chicago, IL, August 2012.
Speaker, National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (AAUW), University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, June 2012.
Speaker, Whiteford Taylor Preston Law Firm, Washington, DC, March 2012
Speaker, Washington and Lee University School of Law, Lexington, VA, November 2011
Panelist, American Bar Association Air & Space Law Conference, Washington, DC, October 2011
Speaker, University of Miami School of Law, Miami, FL, October 2011
Speaker, Holland & Knight Law Firm, Miami FL, October 2011
Speaker, Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami, FL, October 2011
Speaker, St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami Gardens, FL, October 2011
Panelist, George Mason University Law School, Arlington, VA, September 19, 2011
Speaker, DLA Piper Law Firm, Washington, DC, July 2011
Panelist, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, April 2011
Speaker, Seton Hall University School of Law, Newark, NJ, April 2011
Speaker, Marquette University Law School, Milwaukee, WI, April 2011
Speaker, University of Wisconsin Law School, Madison, WI, April 2011
Speaker, Georgetown Law, Washington, DC, March 2011
Panelist, University of Maryland School of Law, Baltimore, MD, March 2011
Speaker, University of Virginia School of Law, Charlottesville, VA, February 2011
Speaker, Paul Hastings Law Firm, Chicago, IL, December 2010.
Speaker, Polsinelli Shughart Law Firm, Chicago, IL, December 2010
Speaker, George Washington University Law School/DC Women’s Bar Association Joint Program, George Washington University Law School, Washington, DC, November 2010
Speaker, National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) Teleconference, October 2010
Speaker, University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law, Detroit, MI, October 2010
Speaker, University of Baltimore Law School/Maryland Women’s Bar Association Joint Program, Baltimore, MD, September 2010
Speaker, Virginia Women Attorney’s Association, Alexandria, VA, June 2010
Speaker, Crowell & Moring Law Firm, Washington, DC, March 2010
Keynote Speaker, Roger Williams University School of Law, Bristol, RI, March 2010
Speaker, American University Washington School of Law, Washington, DC, February 2010
Speaker, DLA Piper Law Firm Book Reception, Washington, DC, December 2009
Panelist, American University Washington College of Law Lawyer Re-Entry Program, American University Washington College of Law, Washington, DC, November 2008
Lawyer Monthly Women In Law Award, 2016
Ms. JD Sharing Her Passion Award, March 2015
Books by Susan Smith Blakely
Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business/Aspen Publishers, 2009)
Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business/Aspen Publishers, 2012)
Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business/Aspen Publishers, 2015)
What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018)
All books are available for purchase on this web site and through Amazon Books.
Articles by Susan Smith Blakely
ABA Journal, “Women Lawyers Must Be Careful What They Wish For,” http://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/gaining_in_influence_women_lawyers_must_be_careful_what_they_wish_for, December 20, 2018
ABA Business Law Today, “Good Law Firm Business: Protecting Millennial Talent,” https://businesslawtoday.org/2018/11/good-law-firm-business-protecting-millennial-talent/, November 15, 2018
Law360, “Losing Law Firm Talent at Both Ends,” https://www.law360.com/articles/1094538/protecting-law-firm-talent-at-both-ends-, October 30, 2018
Corporate Counsel, ” What Millennial Lawyers Want,” https://www.law.com/corpcounsel/2018/10/25/what-millennial-lawyers-want-a-bridge-from-the-past-to-the-future-of-law-practice/?slreturn=20180926090755
Lawyer & Statesman, “Flexible Work Models Should Improve Law Firm Culture,” , National Jurist, March 21, 2017
DC Women’s Bar Association Raising the Bar, “Recent Developments on Gender Pay Equity,” Raising the Bar, December 2016, http://www.wbadc.org//Files/Newsletters/2016-2017/WBA_RTB_2016-2017_Issue4_NovDec.pdf
Corporate Counsel, “Is Work-Life Balance a Hopeless Goal in the Legal Profession?,” September 2016, and reprinted in DC Women’s Bar Association Raising the Bar, October 2016, http://www.corpcounsel.com/id=1202760663523/Is-WorkLife-Balance-a-Hopeless-Goal-in-the-Legal-Profession-?slreturn=20160810140531 (archived and only available through Nexis Lexis)
Corporate Counsel , “What Millennial Lawyers Want,” October 2018, https://www.law.com/corpcounsel/2018/10/25/what-millennial-lawyers-want-a-bridge-from-the-past-to-the-future-of-law-practice/?slreturn=20180926090755
University of Michigan Website, “The Law School Decision,” https://careercenter.umich.edu/articles/popular/writing-better-bullet-points?…60…
Law 360, “Protecting Law Firm Talent at Both Ends”, October 2018, https://www.law360.com/articles/1094538/protecting-law-firm-talent-at-both-ends-
NALP Handbook for Pre-Law Advisors, “Special Challenges for Women Lawyers,” Book Chapter, , 2015
Noted and Quoted In:
Book Review: Above The Law: Review in Two Parts of “What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice;” https://abovethelaw.com/2018/11/what-in-the-world-can-be-done-about-millennial-lawyers/, November 29, 2018 and https://abovethelaw.com/2018/12/millennial-lawyers-what-you-need-to-know-to-succeed/, December 13, 2018.
University of Wisconsin Alumni Magazine, Fall 2018, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/43204524-wisconsin-alumni
American Assoc of Law Librarians – Book Review: https://aallspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/book-review-best-friends-at-the-bar/
Women’s Law Journal (WLJ) published by NAWL: Book 3 Review in Vol 101, No 1, page 32 (2016)
American Bar Association — Cites BFAB: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/litigation/materials/2014_sac/2014_sac/lean_in_for_lawyers.authcheckdam.pdf
Examiner Newspaper: /www.examiner.com/article/best-friends-at-the-bar-author-susan-smith-blakeley-says-women-can-have-it-all
Forbes Woman, www.forbes.com/sites/shenegotiates/2012/07/20/your-bff-at-the-bar-would-like-to-have-a-few-words-with-you/
Her Campus — How to Get Into Law School — http://www.hercampus.com/life/academics/how-get-law-school
Intern Queen: Speech Review: https://www.internqueen.com/blog/2015/02/people-inspiring-us-2015
LA Daily Journal: https://issuu.com/elizabethblakely/docs/dailyjournal
Law Insider: www.thelawinsider.com/insider…/five-things-women-can-learn-from-sheryl-sandberg
Lawyerist — Book Review — https://lawyerist.com/52562/best-friends-at-the-bar-the-new-balance-for-todays-woman-lawyer-book-review/
National Jurist: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/cypress/lawyerstatesman2016/#/16
Daily Muse –— Why Do Women Leave the Law: A Q and A: https://www.themuse.com/advice/why-do-women-leave-the-law-a-qa-with-susan-smit…
Huffington Post — Advice for Women Lawyers: www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-smith-blakely/women-lawyers_b_2155906.html
Law Bank – Book Review: law-bank.com/three-tips-for-women-in-law/
Law Society of Upper Canada: www.lsuc.on.ca/uploadedFiles/…/career_advancement_lawyer_August_2012(1).pdf
Litig8or – Advice for Women Lawyers: blog.litigatortechnology.com/…/best-friends-at-the-bar-an-interview-with-author-susa..
Media Bistro: http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowldc/book-party-best-friends-at-the-bar_b83709
PR Underground: www.prunderground.com/women-lawyers-leaving-profession-in-record…/007379/
TimeSolv: Book Review: https://www.timesolv.com/traversing-the-legal-world-as-a-female-attorney
Women’s Law Journal (WLJ) published by NAWL: Book Review of “Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law” in Volume 95, No. 2 (2010)
The Best Friends at the Bar Newsletter is published by subscription only. To be added to the mailing list, please e-mail [email protected] or subscribe through the website. The newsletter updates readers on issues affecting lawyers and law firm leadership and includes articles from guest contributors.
YouTube Videos,”Susan Smith Blakely” channel
Video of Presentation at Womble Carlyle, http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/x/592612/Recruiting
There are more female managing partners and women at leadership levels in law firms today than ever before, and many of the young women lawyers climbing the ladder of success behind them show promise for leading law firms of the future. Although progress in the retention and advancement of women lawyers has been slower than expected and gender parity in the practice has not been achieved, there is a lot to applaud.
Women lawyers must keep a focus on what matters most for them and for their profession as they advance in their careers. Female lawyers need to be reminded that they will have the greatest positive impact if they:
• Use their skills to advance not only their own careers but also the careers of other women lawyers.
• Work to create an inclusive profession for all lawyers, both male and female.
This sounds fundamental, and it is. But, there is great room for improvement by women lawyers on both counts.
Support for women by women is critical to achieve positive outcomes in law firms today. Too many senior women lawyers do not take enough interest in young women colleagues because of old school attitudes about what it took in the day for women to succeed in law practice before the advent of paid maternity leave, schedule flexibility and telecommuting opportunities. These “queen bee” lawyers refuse to acknowledge the work-life challenges for women with families, and they have influenced a follow-up generation of women law leaders, too many of whom now model that same kind of withholding behavior.
As pointed out in a recent article by Vivia Chen in The American Lawyer, the positive message that women in a variety of industries (including law) “watch out for each other and push progressive agendas” and that they are “more sensitive, more honest and just all around better people” because of these altruistic attitudes, is not true of enough women today.
If we want our profession to survive and prosper, and we know that survival is dependent upon the more than 50 percent of law school graduates today who are women, female lawyers must embrace attitudes of women supporting women with enthusiasm, purpose and resolve.
Women lawyers need to be positively invested in the careers of other women lawyers, women lawyers need to become mentors to other women lawyers, and senior women lawyers need to be content that they have made it in the profession and move over to share the spotlight and opportunities with junior women.
The senior women need to remember the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she said, “There is a special place reserved in hell for women who do not support other women.” Remember it and post it in their offices for constant reminder.
But that is not all. The attitudes of women lawyers toward male lawyers also need examining. They are equally as divisive and harmful to the profession.
When senior women lawyers become exclusive in their preferences to work with women over men, it is harmful to the profession. When departments full of women lawyers “freeze out” male practitioners in other ways because of built-up resentments, it is harmful to the profession.
And when that kind of “not-female” exclusion also is targeted to unsuspecting young male lawyers—who have had nothing to do with historical grievances—there is potential for even greater harm.
Most of the female lawyers exhibiting these behaviors are motivated by past gender inequalities. They are still smarting from old wrongs. In their negative and divisive actions toward male colleagues, they are failing to recognize that the excuse of “cluelessness” articulated by past generations of male lawyers to explain wrongful attitudes about gender inclusion is no defense for the exclusionary behaviors of women lawyers today.
Today’s powerful women lawyers are not clueless. They are not naive. They have borne witness to the sins of the past, and they know better than to repeat them.
They know exactly what they are doing to their male colleagues and how harmful grinding the ax of resentment can be. They understand that the oft-heard rallying cry, “We don’t need the men,” is short-sighted, imprudent and potentially harmful to our profession. But they don’t seem to be able to help themselves.
We women lawyers must be willing to examine ourselves and our motives. We must be willing to critique our attitudes and change our behaviors—for the good of all lawyers and the profession.
Recently when I was speaking at a conference of the Federal Bar Association, a senior woman judge told me, “The women lawyers are smart, capable, determined and hungry. They are gaining. Soon the men will decide not to compete and will leave firms for in-house positions or businesses or early retirement.”
She said this as if it would result in improvement for the profession. She stated it as a wise, aspirational goal. She said it in a way that made me believe she thought it was what I wanted to hear.
But it did not strike me that way. It struck me as very shallow and unfortunate. It struck me as a way of evening the score, and I could not help but wonder whether that is what we want.
Do we want a reorganization of the profession that will send us back to majority class rule and little in terms of empathy and respect for the other foundational values of our profession?
Do we want a reorganization of the profession based on divisive behaviors and unwillingness to pull together as women and men working toward mutual goals?
I don’t think so, but we need to be careful.
Our lack of professionalism and petty natures may be showing.
Susan Smith Blakely is a lawyer and founder of LegalPerspectives, an umbrella organization for her writing, speaking and consulting on issues affecting women lawyers and women in business. She is the author of the Best Friends at the Bar book series for women lawyers. Her most recent book is What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice.