Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers

As you know, Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers is the name of my new Best Friends at the Bar book.  But, what exactly does that mean?  To answer that question for you, I am reprinting the Foreword to the book here.  I hope it makes you want to read the book, as I believe you should.  You will understand lawyers and law firms and where you fit in on the law firm spectrum much better after you do.  You also will understand what you need to know and what law firm leaders should be telling you. 

The Foreword was written by an esteemed biglaw litigator, Neil Dilloff of DLA,and I am honored to have him as a contributor.  He has “been there and done that” more than most any lawyer I know.  As a law firm partner and a member of the management committee, Neil understands law firms inside and out.  He also understands the challenges to young lawyers who have not yet figured out the culture of law firms.  Here is what Neil Dilloff has to say.

“Susan Blakely’s third book in the Best Friends at the Bar series builds on her first two and challenges law firm management to make room at the top in a direct, but non-mandatory reading for both constituencies—women lawyers and law firm management.

The fact that one-half of all law school graduates are women, but that few are in firm leadership positions, demonstrates the issue and underscores the need for a book like this. Susan Blakely explores and analyzes this inconsistency and gives meaningful and insightful advice to both today’s women lawyers and those firm leaders in a position to effect change. She explains in a systematic and convincing way why remedying this imbalance is in the interest of law firms from internal culture and morale standpoints as well as constituting good business practice.

In my 40-plus years of practice, including stints as a Navy JAG lawyer, a law firm associate, a law firm partner, a member of law firm management, and as an adjunct professor of law, I have had the benefit and privilege of mentoring numerous women lawyers and law students. It is obvious that many have the talent and common sense to lead. However, until now law firms have not made it a priority to retain the talent that women lawyers represent and to develop them as leaders. This book addresses those issues straight on and without apology.

Ms. Blakely’s book is designed to serve as a catalyst. She not only identifies the problems, but she also includes valuable advice about the solutions, including helpful suggestions on the substance of conversations that law firm leaders need to have with young women lawyers in developing them into leaders. Her advice to women lawyers and the male legal establishment is not only inspirational, but pragmatic. In addition to making arguments as to fairness, Ms. Blakely appeals directly to law firm management on the basis of good business. Today, many in-house counsel are women and many have left law firms to join corporate America. There is no doubt that law firms should recognize that having women partners and associates interact in a meaningful way with their corporate female counterparts can be financially beneficial to the law firm. Ms. Blakely makes the case for this financial benefit as well as others and also explores the impact of the retention of the talent of women lawyers in the aggregate to the succession plans for law firms. She is not just advocating for the women lawyers, she also is advocating for sound law firm management and for the future of the law profession.

Ms. Blakely pulls no punches in putting her finger on the reality of today’s BigLaw legal marketplace—money. While this may sound crass, it is the truth. While quality as opposed to quantity is still important, the rewards and privileges in large law firms go disproportionately to the rainmakers. That is not to say that many highly compensated rainmakers aren’t also good lawyers, but those of us who have been in the profession for a long time can name many excellent lawyers who are undercompensated because they don’t have millions of dollars of their own business. As Ms. Blakely points out, in order for women lawyers to get their fair share of “the pie,” they must seek out opportunities to generate business, and it is very much in a law firm’s interest to help them succeed in doing so.

Although progress for women in taking the step from partner in a law firm to a leadership position has been slow, it is occurring. In my own firm, at one point, the highest paid partner was a woman. She also was on the Executive Committee. Beyond the law firm world, nations, states, and large corporations already have made women leaders—prime ministers, presidents, cabinet officials, governors, members of Congress, CEOs, CFOs, etc. As is typical in the law firm world, the legal profession lags behind. Ms. Blakely suggests ways in which women can seek and obtain leadership positions without unduly “rocking the boat” and why their efforts are in the best interests of diversity in the law firm ranks.

A discussion of whether and how women lawyers can achieve law firm leadership positions shouldn’t even be necessary, but it is. Susan Blakely understands that and approaches the subjects with finesse and with the overall theme of teamwork to benefit all players. Clients get it and so should law firms. It is my pleasure to recommend this important book to you and to congratulate Ms. Blakely on providing this virtual primer on effective leadership for law firm leaders and the young women they lead.”

Neil J. Dilloff
Retired Partner
DLA Piper LLP (US)

I hope this makes you want to read the book.  You will be much better prepared for your profession if you do.  Happy reading!

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