Best Friends at the Bar: The Girly Girl Lawyers and Why They Matter
Yes, you heard me right. I said "Girly Girl Lawyers." Hold onto your seats and listen for awhile. It will be worth your time.
Girly Girl Lawyers is what I call a significant group of young women lawyers - who I happen to love - in my second book, Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 2012). Yes, me - the women's advocate who founded Best Friends at the Bar to help raise the retention rates for women lawyers and make improvements to the practice experiences for all women in our profession. Me - the one who travels the country as a motivational speaker for young women lawyers to advise them on the challenges of law practice for women and to enhance their survival skills. Me - the one who wants you to be very serious about your profession and your career goals. Confusing, I know, and worthy of an explanation.
First, let me identify the young women that fit my description of Girly Girl Lawyers. As explained in the book, they are the millennial generation young women who are obvious on every law school campus and in every law firm that I visit. They are smart and savvy and enthusiastic about life. They typically dress in a way that makes it clear that they have fashion and style sense, and they love having Cosmos - or the cocktail of the moment - or lattes with their girlfriends. Many of them have favorite fashion web sites to start their day and to end their day, and Pinterest is a staple for them. They can't wait to get the new editions of InStyle and their favorite interior design mag, and they can tell you the best vintage clothing stores in the city. You see them on the streets of Soho, on Miracle Mile in Chicago, in Beverly Hills and in Georgetown.
However, they also are the young women who graduated at the top of their law school classes and have excellent practice skills. They know how to fight the battle and take no prisoners. They are headed for very satisfying and successful careers in the law if they don not get derailed along the way.
Girly Girl Lawyers seem to be everywhere. Their numbers alone would cause me to focus on them in a project like Best Friends at the Bar. But I also know that they are the ones who are most likely to be challenged by the work-life struggle that is sure to come their way in our profession. Many of these young women will marry, they will have children, and they will transfer the same personal traits that make them interested in classically feminine things like nurturing and nesting to classically feminine caretaking for their families. That is where the rubber will meet the road - it always does, and it lends significantly to a mid-career drop out rate exceeding 40% for women lawyers. They are a population at risk.
But my motives for salvation of young women lawyers go well beyond the Girly Girl Lawyers. They just happen to present an easily defined challenge to start the discussion. The challenge for the Girly Girls is similar to the challenge that all young women lawyers with passions and interests beyond the law will face. The Girly Girls just sharpen the focus. This is how it works.
The key to success and finding an acceptable work-life balance for all young women lawyers is to safeguard the things that make them happy and to have personal definitions of success - not the definitions of the male lawyers in practice or the woman lawyer in the office down the hall. No, personal definitions of success founded on personal circumstances and personal goals.
A personal definition of success may be something different from becoming a partner in a law firm if a young woman is staunch about protecting the things in her personal life that matter most and make her happy. That is certainly true for the Girly Girl lawyers, but it also is true for the young woman lawyer who happens to be an avid cross-country runner and trains for marathons. It is also true for the young woman lawyer devoted to mastering a musical instrument and playing in the symphony orchestra, and it also is true for the young woman lawyer compelled to follow her passion for feeding the homeless. All of the young women of these various definitions, and more, count equally, but using the Girly Girl Lawyers as the example makes explaining it so much easier.
So that is what I do. If we cannot find a way to keep the Girly Girls and the piano player and the long distance runner and the volunteer at the homeless shelter in the profession, we will lose huge amounts of talent and it will impact best legal practices for a long time to come. So, you see, there is a lot at risk if women lawyers with significant passions and interests outside the law cannot find their way.
I understand that you might have called them something different, but that is not as easy as you might think. Should I have called them the "Feminine Lawyers" and risk offending every woman lawyer who considers herself feminine but does not fit into that group in terms of her interests? Should I have called them the "Multi-Dimensional Women Lawyers?" You would have stopped reading a long time ago, and I would not have had the chance to tell you about personal definitions of success and why they matter for you.
I decided on Girly Girl Lawyers when I recalled how often I have heard my male friends describe their pink-cheeked, tutu-wearing daughters -who would go on to become doctors and lawyers - as "Girly Girls", an obvious term of affection. Certainly for me it is, because I have beloved Girly Girl Lawyers in my life, and I am a Girly Girl Lawyer. Always have been. No pinstriped oxford cloth shirts and little bow ties for me. Nope. Even in the late '70's when that attire was popular for young women lawyers, I wore silk blouses, last year's designer suits that I bought at the discounter and heals as high as I could get them. I refused to dress like a man because I was not one. I joined a law firm of 25 men, and I made them believers that a feminine woman can be a killer advocate - as a construction lawyer, no less! It worked for me, and I want it to work for the Girly Girl Lawyers of today. I want it to work for all of you. I want you to be happy enough in your personal and your professional lives to stay in the profession.
That is who the Girly Girl Lawyers are and why they matter. A book critic, a super feminist from what I can tell, went ballistic at the name - that is, after she found the book most valuable and helpful for young women lawyers. So, what's in a name?
You cannot solve a problem until you define it. Here's to the Girly Girls. Here's to all young women lawyers. Here's to your futures!
This entry originally appeared on my web site blog at www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.
Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law. She is author of Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another. Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business. Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession. Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow for legal research and writing.