Susan Smith Blakely

Best Friends at the Bar: The Law School Decision Tailored for Women

 Recently, I was asked the following question by a young woman considering going to law school:

What do I need to think about or do before applying to law school to make sure that it is right for me?  

This young woman was concerned about the impact of a demanding career on her life, and she wanted some assurance that a law career would be a good fit for her.   My response to her also may be helpful to you.

First of all, I was delighted that she was giving all of this such serious thought before diving into law school.  Too often law school is a default response for recent college graduates, who cannot think of any other career paths that interest them.  Default decisions are not advisable in most situations, and they especially are not advisable when considering law school.  Law educations are very expensive, take three or four years of relentless dedication, may result in a lot of student loan debt, and the market for law graduates is not strong in this continuing weak economy.  So, the thoughtful approach is advisable, and this young woman seems to be on the right track.  Here is a summary of my answer to her.

You are correct in anticipating that law school and the practice of law will be demanding.  However, most things worth doing and having--like going to law school and having a law degree---take hard work and dedication.  If that sounds like a level of commitment that you are not prepared for, you should think twice about spending money, time and effort in law school.  Attending law school, including tuition, books and room and board, can cost upwards to $150,000, and many students will have to take out loans to afford that investment.  However, it IS an investment in your future, and it can definitely be worth it if you have the right amount of commitment and dedication and do some important planning.

You also are correct in asking these questions and addressing your concerns before law school.  I wish more young women would do this, and, for that very reason, I am looking forward to addressing undergraduate women at the National Conference for Women College Leaders in June 2012 at the University of Maryland.  I hope that this experience will lead to many more opportunities to address women in undergraduate schools.  That really is the place to start this conversation.  However, young women also should continue to rethink these issues often as they get closer to the law school decision.  

Planning is the key.  With the proper amount of foresight and planning, you will not be blindsided at some future time during law school or afterwards by unexpected circumstances.  My books, Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Aspen Publishers, 2009) and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Aspen Publishers, expected release date July 2012) are all about preparing for and planning a career in the law and finding the balance that you will need between your professional and personal lives.  The books provide background about the legal profession and give readers an idea of what a legal career entails.  In addition to giving valuable information, I also encourage young women law students and lawyers to anticipate their future needs long before those needs actually arise and to have personal definitions of success---definitions that work for them and not for people with separate and different agendas. 

For instance, if a young woman thinks that she will want to have children and that she will want to participate in their upbringing, her needs are different from the lawyer who does not anticipate that level of involvement with home and family.  A young woman lawyer's needs may also be different from the managing partner of a law firm or a supervising attorney, who see her only as a means toward billing 2200 hours for the benefit of the law firm. 

Having and caring for children is certainly the greatest of the work-life challenges for most women, but there are others.  Educating yourself about those challenges and how to plan and how to choose will help you to prioritize the competing interests in your life.  Nothing is carved in stone, and you will change your plan as your circumstances change.  But, you will have a head start and the confidence of knowing that you are looking at your future with a long lens and at the right time.

Good luck with your decision.  Be assured that you are on the right road to discovering what is right for you.  That discovery will lead to happiness and success in whatever you choose.

This entry originally appeared on my web site blog at www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.

Susan Smith Blakely is a nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers and law students.  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 her second book on the work-life struggle for women lawyers will be released by Aspen Publishers in 2012.  She is the Principal and Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC, the umbrella entity for her writing, speaking and consulting.  Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist and Georgetown Law.  For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com

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