Susan Smith Blakely

Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Should Look for in a Law Firm

Editor's Note:  Ms. JD is excited to announce that Susan Smith Blakely, author of Best Friends at the Bar, will be speaking at Ms. JD: She Leads on October 5, 2012. This post originally appeared on the Best Friends at the Bar blog on March 28, 2011.

For you third-year law students, soon your biggest challenge will be finding a job after graduation.  That seems daunting, I know, especially in these economic times, but your hard work will pay off and soon you will be looking critically at firms and other employers and evaluating them for your future needs.

When you are considering that job offer—and you will be—here are some suggestions about what should be important to women lawyers in the workplace.  The information is directed to the law firm employer, but it could just as well be a judicial clerkship or another practice type.

Every time I share this information with the students I speak to at law schools, they urged me to put it on my web site so that they will be able to access it easily when they need it.  So, here it is.

Things to Look For in a Law Firm

Pay attention to the dynamics of the firm.

Who controls the conversations and are women included?

Is there a respectful environment for women?

Are women represented at the management level?

Is there a Women’s Initiative and does the firm take it seriously?

Are both men and women mentoring women?

Are women represented at all levels of the firm and not just on “mommy track”?  Are they getting quality work?

Do the women of the firm support each other?

Do the lawyers at the firm appear to be happy and enjoying their practices?

Check out the different work models of the firm and the potential for flexible schedules and reasonable billable hour requirements.  You may need arrangements like that in the future.

Ask yourself whether you got constructive criticism and feedback during and at the end of your experience.

Enhance Your Law Firm Experience

For others of you, you are either already employed or you are about to join a firm as a summer associate.  Here are some useful pointers to get the most out of your employment experience.

Meet and dialogue with as many partners as possible—they will determine your future at the firm.

Get out of your office or cubicle!  You must make your presence known.  Sitting at your desk with earphones on will not help you when your name comes up at the partnership table.

Find both a mentor and a sponsor.  A mentor will teach you the ropes, and you need both male and female mentors.  A sponsor will go to bat for you for promotions.  Both mentors and sponsors are critical to your professional future.

Talk to attorneys about what they do in their various areas of practice.  Ask yourself how you would fit into that practice.

Go to EVERY social event!  Even if you have to go back to the office afterward to finish your work—-that is what the associates do.

Volunteer for committees and become involved in the organization of the firm.

Embrace constructive criticism and accept it as a learning experience.  This is especially difficult for some women when the critic is a man.  Get over it.

AND, if you are an associate attorney, learn how to network and get involved in every networking opportunity you can.  Do not automatically choose billable hours over networking.  Networking is the foundation for generating clients, and developing clients is what upward mobility is all about.

Good luck in putting these tips to work for you!

This entry originally appeared on my web site blog at  For more information about the Best Friends at the Bar project, please visit the web site.

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