Susan Smith Blakely

Best Friends at the Bar: Young Women Lawyers - Do Not Leave Before You Leave

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 May 24, 2011.

I hope that you all are familiar with Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Google and the current COO of Facebook. She also is the mother of two preschoolers, and she has identified an interesting concept that I include in my speeches to young women lawyers. Although Ms. Sandberg is not a lawyer, the concepts that she discusses with young women in business are equally as pertinent to all young women in the law, especially those who are involved in the work-life struggle.

Her concept of “Leaving Before You Leave” is discussed in this video, http://thecareerist.typepad.com/thecareerist/2011/01/facebook-coo.html, where Ms. Sandberg speaks to a group of women about advancing in business. It is one of the most valuable resources that I can recommend to you. Check it out!

As you will see and hear from the video, Ms. Sandberg is very concerned about the future of young women in business. She sees fewer women than she would like on the path to the corner office, and she provides good, sound advice to increase those numbers. In that respect, she and I are very much on the same page in encouraging all of you to have a plan that works for you and keeps you in the game, in one way or another. That will result in more women in positions of power and decision making on policy issues that are so important to the future of women in business and law. That result depends on YOU YOUNG WOMEN AS THE KEY TO SOLVING THE PROBLEM. You can control the outcome and do not have to leave decisions about your professional futures to others with separate agendas. Women have the ability, through careful planning and good personal and professional choices, to have satisfying and successful careers.

Here is my personal take on the subject of “Leaving Before You Leave” as it relates to all of you.

To avoid leaving before you leave, think about how your future is likely to unfold earlier than you might have expected it to—before the pressure is on. Discuss it with your spouse or significant other, have a plan in mind, become comfortable with that plan and then get it over with, put it on the back burner and continue to throw yourself into your practice until the things you anticipate are on the horizon.

At that point—when you actually are faced with putting a plan into action and after all of your hard work in the first years of your practice—hopefully you will be indispensable in your job and you will have the bargaining power that you will need to work out a solution with your firm or other employer that is satisfactory to you and to them.

The key is for you to accept the responsibility early so that you are not like a deer in headlights at year five of your career and make a hasty and unnecessary departure from practice. It is a process, and it ideally starts long before your first billable hour, particularly for women who desire to have children, women who are devoted to family and home, and women who have responsibilities for aging, ill or disabled family members.

It will take time and attention, but you really have no choice unless you are willing to play Russian Roulette with your career. All of this is discussed at length in my book, Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law. Check it out, too!

Here’s the bottom line: At all costs, be the best lawyer that you can be and do not leave before you leave!

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