Susan Smith Blakely

Family First Should Be More Than Just a Goal for Women Lawyers

I am back!  After weeks of family activities, I have returned to the Best Friends at the Bar blog.  I am refreshed and ready to go, and I attribute that to "Family First."

While I was on my annual August hiatus, my husband and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary, my family gathered in Wisconsin to honor my Mom and celebrate her 100th birthday, and I had the pleasure of helping my daughter and her husband unpack and settle into their first home.  It was all about family, and that is the way I like it.

It is not easy to put family first, and sometimes it is impossible.  But, it needs to be more than just a goal.  It needs to be a real commitment --- a commitment that will benefit both you and your family.  Taking time with loved ones is not all about giving.  It is also about getting.  Getting the precious moments together that a camera cannot capture; getting a glimpse of firsts, including first steps, first words, first wins and first loves; and getting time to spend with family members before they are whisked away to old age.  These are the things that bind us together, and we should not take family time lightly or allow it to become compromised at every turn.  Family sustains us.  Family heels us.  Family First is about survival.

You should know by now that you cannot find a perfect balance that will suit all of your personal and professional needs.  You can try, but it likely will not happen.  The law profession is very demanding, and it is easy to slip into the pattern of thinking that billing hours is more important than spending time with family or indulging in other kinds of personal time.  As the sacrifice becomes apparent and too great, however, choosing work over your personal needs will lead to bitterness and resentment.  You have every right to an expectation of satisfaction in both your personal and professional lives, and it is hard to feel good about a career that you resent.  Accept the challenge of finding a reasonable balance and make the most of it.

Most employers are not going to allow as much family and personal time as you may want.  This is especially true for young women with small children and a career to balance.  What you can do, however, is pay close attention to how you are spending your time and be "in the moment" in both your personal and professional lives.  Take advantage of the times that make you feel most fulfilled, and do not let negative thoughts and bad habits ruin the precious time you have with family and the times of professional reward.

To achieve Family First, you will have to put down the cell phones, turn off the fax machines, ignore the texts and concentrate your focus on the needs of your personal life.  You will not regret it.  You also will have to be on the lookout for situations that just do not work for you.  There are many career options available to you, and ignoring a problem will not make it go away.  Know yourself and what you need as an acceptable "balance" in your life, and do not settle for less.

For more discussion on work-life balance, read my book Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2012) and the following article from the Washington Business Journal.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, 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.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in July 2015.

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, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 

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