Read an Excerpt from Best Friends at the Bar

Emily had dreamed of being a lawyer all of her life. She came from a family of lawyers, and, as a child, she loved milling around her father’s law office. She liked the smell of the leather-bound books, and she especially liked the days when her father took her to the courthouse with him to file a paper or to meet with the judge. Emily prepared herself well. She succeeded in high school, went to an Ivy League college, and attended a first-tier law school. She graduated from law school at the top of her class and was hired by a national law firm where she made a six-figure salary and had excellent opportunities for advancement.

Two years into Emily’s legal career, she resigned from the law firm, where she worked around the clock. She had no social life, no prospects for marriage, and she knew that marriage and family would be very important to her some day. She did not feel like she fit into what seemed like a man’s profession, and she did not know how to change that. She was riddled with debt from her student loans, and she felt that she had disappointed herself and her family. She told her friends that practicing law was not what she had expected.

How could this have been avoided? What would have helped Emily to be better prepared for law practice?

Hopefully, a book like this one would have helped Emily. This book is for young women in law schools and undergraduate colleges and universities across America who are considering careers in the law and pursuing those careers. It is also for young female practitioners who are passionate about their careers as attorneys, who want challenging and stimulating professional lives, and who also want complete personal lives without compromising their professional hopes and dreams. These are admirable professional and personal goals, but they often can be on a collision course.

You are probably one of these women. By reading this book, you will have the chance to gain insight into the challenges of the legal profession for women and to learn valuable lessons from some of the most accomplished women attorneys in the business. The contents of this book can change your life by assisting you in planning a successful and satisfying legal career and helping you to avoid the pitfalls that can derail those plans. One of my contributors, a federal judge, has compared the book to Ariadne’s story in Greek mythology. You might recall that Ariadne provided her lover Theseus with the skein of thread that enabled him to find his way out of the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. It is my fervent hope that this book will become your skein of thread and will help you to successfully find your way through the challenge of modern law practice.

Learning the lessons included in this book might not be equally important for all women aspiring to a legal career. There are always the superstars who have the right combination of attributes to help them rise to the top without the need for a book like this. We all know them. They are the very brightest and highest achievers at the best law schools, who have been taken under the wings of powerful and effective mentors and who succeed, notwithstanding the odds that normally affect women in the profession. However, these women are in the minority, and most of the women who read this book will not have the superstar profile. As a result, the book will be a valuable assist to most of you in developing successful careers and compatible personal lives.

You should not envy the superstars. You should thank them. They continue to open doors for all of us. It is the superstars who prove themselves so valuable to employers that they gain concessions that would not be gained by the rest of us under the same circumstances. Over time, those concessions have proved to be successful, and employers have become willing to address them for other women attorneys who are not necessarily superstars. It is still a steep climb, but not as steep as it would have been without the superstars. The superstars have helped to open up many additional choices for women in the profession.

This brings me to, perhaps, the most important message that I have to convey to you. It needs to be one of your main focuses as you read the book. It is about choices. My purpose is to inform you about the choices that you will face in pursuing a legal profession, the importance of having well-informed choices as your goal, and the imperative that those choices be your own—made by you and for you. In the end, it is all about choices and the limitations of some career paths and the opportunities of others. It is about safeguarding your career and keeping yourself in the legal arena even while you are ‘‘off ramp’’ so that you will have future choices to reenter the profession if and when you choose to.

Women attorneys have these choices today because law is not a man’s profession anymore. Yes, it is still dominated by men, but women are very much a part of the legal world, and concessions to women’s schedules and recognition of their unique roles in child care and family issues has brought about that result. We are far beyond the days when women could not get hired in prestigious law firms or become members of the judiciary. Women can choose to be in law firms or they can choose to be in the other myriad legal settings. They can choose to have flexible time or they can choose to work full time. Men are not keeping them out. However, for women lawyers who want marriage and family and also want successful and satisfying legal careers, the choices are much harder than for men with similar aspirations.

These are serious issues that require serious consideration. The discussion and recommendations contained in this book will assist you in that endeavor. Reading the book will develop awareness that can make or break a woman’s legal career and can turn what might be a disappointing experience into something much more satisfying. In the end, I hope that this book will have the effect of adequately preparing young women for the realities of a legal career and keeping talented women in a profession that has played such an important role in my life and in the lives of my best friends at the bar. I hope that it will help women attorneys avoid the pitfalls that have adversely affected so many women lawyers of my generation, who had few positive role models and who encountered senior women in the practice who preferred competing with them to mentoring them.

Choices, choices, choices. Keep that as your focus, and you will gain the maximum benefit from the discussions that follow. The best choices are the ones that are made by you and for you, with an abundance of information and with an eye to the future.

So, let’s get on with it. There are so many choices!

From Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2009).

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