Susan Smith Blakely

Best Friends at the Bar: Women Lawyers Do Not Need To Be Perfect!

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 July 18, 2011.

Laura Stiller Rikleen, author of Ending the Gauntlet, Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law, has this advice for women lawyers, “Be aggressive but not strident.  Be sure to look good, but do not call undue attention to what you wear.  If you are a working mother, be the perfect role model while walking the tightrope between commitment to the job and caring about your children.  And do it all perfectly, because you will be judged to a higher standard.”

There is a lot in that one quote.  She is talking about your demeanor, how you dress and how you balance personal and professional responsibilities.  I agree with her on most of it, but I am much less likely to tell you to be perfect.  In fact, I think that is too high a standard for most of us.

Rather, I would like you to check out a new book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood by Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple (Apr 19, 2011) to get a different perspective.  Although the book is not limited to women lawyers, you will find a lot of good advice in the book.

In Good Enough Is the New Perfect, the authors take the position that women can have it all—at least all that they love—-and that letting go of the little things and focusing on what is really important is the key.  The authors see a paradigm shift from the “never enough” attitude in favor of “good enough” to become more confident and more successful.  I think this is the better approach, and it is one that I take in my new book that examines achieving the balance in our personal and professional lives.  That book will be out in 2011-2012 so keep an eye on the web site for news of the release date.

I was reminded of all of this when I spoke at the Washington, DC office of DLA Piper last week.  The turnout for the event was impressive, not only in the DC office but in the other offices around the country where it was received by video conference.  The audience was a combination of female partners, female associates, female law clerks and summer associates and also included a few men thrown in for good measure.  In fact, one of the most senior male partners in the firm, a famed Watergate prosecutor, joined us, and I attribute his interest to a combination of his genuinely equitable persona and the gaggle of daughters that he has!

As you can imagine, there was a lot of talk about demeanor, dress, balance and all of the things that were included in Laura Rikleen’s quote.  It was validating to me to see how attentive the young women were and how much the senior women value the kind of information that I share in my book and in my speeches.  When I told the audience that they ALL need to read my book, I meant it, and I was neither aggresive or strident.  I did not have to be.  They know it, and they are primed to get as much good information about planning their professional futures as they can—and as early as they can.  You should be, too!

Take a page out of the DLA book.  Get moving on your career plan.  Or better yet, talk to your firm about having me come to speak with you and your colleagues.  I guarantee you that it will be an hour well spent. (Please consult the “Speaking Services” information on my web site to learn more about my availability to speak.)

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