Susan Smith Blakely

Best Friends at the Bar: The NAWL Mid-Year Meeting Provides Leadership Nuggets for Young Women Lawyers

Last week I made my yearly pilgrimage to the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) Mid-Year Meeting.  As always, there was a lot on the program to benefit all of you, so I will dedicate this week's blogs to the teachings of NAWL.  Better yet, those of you already in practice should start to attend the NAWL conferences and to get involved.  It is a great organization and one where you will learn the things that will determine success or lack of success in your career.

Most of what I heard was like hearing an echo in the room.  I have covered these same topics in my books, blogs and speeches.  However, it is good to hear it again from these oh-so accomplished women.  I know many of them personally, and I always am delighted to be in their presence.

Deborah Froling, the President of NAWL, made us all aware that the results of the annual NAWL survey are still dismal in terms of retention of women lawyers and the number of women lawyers in positions of partnership, leadership and management. That set the stage for the themes of the conference, which centered around leadership and power --- what it is and how you get it.

The breakout session on "Developing Lawyers as Leaders" was especially informative.  Although many law firms spend significant resources on substantive and business development training for lawyers, there is a continuing lag in leadership training at law firms in general.  The panelists addressed why that is the case and what can be done about it?

Barbara Wall, Vice President and Senior Associate General Counsel of Gannett Company, Inc., talked about the early days of women lawyers dressing like the men and "experimenting with little neckties" in efforts to be successful like the men.  I remember it well, and so will you if you have read my books.  As Barbara pointed out, that was not an authentic approach then and certainly would not be now.  Although there was a time when women had to  "swallow their own voices," today we need to find our own voices and create our own authenticity by seeking out leadership roles.  Barbara emphasized making sure that you are practicing leadership skills for those below you and around you as well as above you to assure that someone "has your back" as you are climbing the leadership ladder.  Great advice.

Tamika Langley Tremaglio, Principal, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services Practice and both a lawyer and an MBA, talked about Deloitte's proven methods for developing talent in women as an important part of identifying the next generation of leaders.  It is widely accepted that Deloitte has been a leader in the promotion of women and is considered to be a model for law firms, so Tamika's perspective is a keystone to understanding developing women leaders and managers.  Tamika explained that the Deloitte approach involves planning and execution, strategy, communicating effectively, and building capacity in individuals to take your place as you move to the next level of responsibility.  It also involves a strategic effort to identify and utilize sponsors, which is too often left to trial and error in law firms.  Tamika said it all comes down to the "PIE" analysis.  Good leadership is about:   Purpose, Image and Experience.  Write that down!

Lisa Horowitz, the founder of Attorney Talent Strategy Group, stressed that leadership requires empowerment, including positive and effective body language, and she cited to Amy Cuddy's TED talks on the subject of non-verbal behavior.   She also stressed that leadership can be both natural or learned, but she noted that women often are not perceived as leaders because they do not look and act like the leadership selectors.  She advised young women lawyers to attend as many leadership programs as possible (even though it is not billable time) and read about leadership on resources like the Harvard Business Review to overcome those perceptions.  As an attorney and a talent manager, Lisa has a lot to say on the subject.

Ellen Moran Dwyer, Managing Partner of Crowell & Moring LLP, had sage advice -- as you would expect.   She stressed that women, who aspire to leadership, must overcome the reluctance to delegate (often based on their need for perfection) to free themselves up to achieve greater things. Ellen also said that women must learn to take risks and that reluctance to take risks is often based on women's lack of self confidence and the fear of "being found out" to be phony or incompetent.   Ellen encourages women to work to improve their self confidence and willingness to stretch themselves to the next level so that others will perceive them as leaders.  She used her own example to say that sometimes it means asking for a title to increase the focus on what you are accomplishing.  I love it!  Ask for a title!  It worked for Ellen, who rose from associate to managing partner at Crowell.  Now, that's a title worth talking about!

The panel moderator, Ellen Ostrow, Founding Principal of Lawyers Life Coach LLC, did a masterful job of challenging and steering the panel, and she also contributed her own memorable nuggets.  Her comment that women are typically relationship-oriented and natural leaders, who can be strategic without being seen as opportunistic, particularly resonated with me --- and you have heard it from me before.  She also stated that becoming a leader can be an identity change and an uncomfortable transition, which involves navigating unfamiliar social and political waters.  That transition is made easier by enhancing communication skills, expanding roles as motivator and influencer, understanding new professional environments, building alliances, cooperating with others, and effectively utilizing Emotional IQ skills.  She also noted that all of these skills are the same ones that are needed to develop a book of business, something you also must learn to do.  So, put your efforts toward doing both and get a positive double whammy!

Lots to think about!  Stay tuned for more nuggets from NAWL in my next blog.

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 taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches.  She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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