Susan Smith Blakely

A “Conversation” with an Accomplished Woman Lawyer and a Powerful Businessman

You may have noticed that I don't get into politics in my work.  My goal is to be a voice for the retention and advancement of women lawyers, and I know that my audience is diverse in terms of political persuasions.  Waxing on my political views risks cutting me off from part of that audience and defeating my mission.  I just do not do it.

Today, however, I want to talk to you about a political event that involved an accomplished woman lawyer having a "conversation" with a very powerful businessman.  My message is not about politics or policies.  It is plain and simple about demeanor and how you handle yourself as a woman professional.  You will encounter the kind of behavior I describe many times in your career, and I believe that there was a lot to be gained from watching the presidential "conversation" that occurred recently before a television audience of more than 80 million people.

As a woman lawyer, you will be baited many times by larger and stronger competitors who will try to push you back and off your mark.  You need to be ready for it.  You must be totally professional and make your arguments in a respectful manner.  You must not give into your urges to react in kind because you know that the "B" word is poised on tongues ready to be released to attack you.  No negative body language, no smirks, no condescension, no constant interruptions, and, most important, no slurs of any kind, especially gender.  To quote someone else who undoubtedly was watching last night, "When they go low, we go high."  Make that your mantra, as difficult as it might be, and practice your smile.  Hopefully there will not be a split screen in the deposition room when your time comes, but, if there is, you will be prepared for it.

Of course, I appreciate that you are an advocate --- for your clients and for yourself in terms of your career goals ---  and there will be times when you cannot give up the opportunity to take your "best shot."  Scoring for your team with a winning shot --- think hockey, basketball, lacrosse ---- is a good thing.  It is positive in its literal sense, but too often it becomes negative in business because of ill-conceived demeanors.  When you have the opportunity to take your best shot, do it with dignity.  There is nothing to be gained by raising your voice and pointing your finger.  Hands on hips in an aggressive stance will not do you any good.  Go high.  Make your point in a professional way, and move on.

There is so much to learn from a "conversation" between an accomplished woman lawyer and a powerful businessman.  Both have their detractors, but both can teach you a lot.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, 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.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist. Com, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 

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