Susan Smith Blakely

In Praise of Independent Women Lawyers

Happy Independence Day!  Yes, it is about small town parades, fireworks and sparklers, burgers on the grill, mountains of ice cream, and being together with family and friends. It only comes once a year, so knock yourself out!  But, during the festivities, do not forget about the "independence" part.

I am not just talking about the Declaration of Independence or what it has meant to the evolution of this country where we all enjoy freedoms and independence unparalleled in the world.  That is the focus, but it goes much further than that.  It is about national independence and also about individual independence.  After all, Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were fiercely independent men --- or there would not be any United States of America today.

As you know, there were no Founding Mothers.  Too early for that, although history has it that George Washington's mom was a force.  But, still, not recognized as having "founding" value.  Today, women have the opportunity to rise as high as men, but the road is rocky and it takes strength and independence to achieve those heights.

So, what does it mean to be an independent woman?  Last week, when our President chose to disparage yet another woman, Mika Brzezinski responded by saying that President Trump's words did not defeat her because she was raised to be a strong woman --- one, apparently, with thick skin and who knows exactly who she is and who she is not.

That is what all women need to be because we will be challenged again and again throughout our lives and careers.  Women have to prove and reprove their worth at every turn.  Achievement for women is a transient state of being.  It has to be done and redone.  There is no value in complacency.

How do you become strong and independent?  Many sage and eloquent writers have contemplated that question.  Today I borrow from the commencement address at Cardigan Mountain School for boys in New Hampshire, as delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this week.  My son-in-law attended Cardigan Mountain School, and I know it to be a fine place to develop strong and independent young men.  However, Justice Roberts' words are equally as instructive in developing strong and independent women.  Here is part of what he said:

Success comes to those who are unafraid to fail.  And if you did fail, you got up and tried again. And if you failed again, you got up and tried again.  And if you failed again — it might be time to think about doing something else.

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to learn the value of justice.

Betrayal will teach you the importance of loyalty.  Loneliness will instruct people not to take friends for granted.  Pain will cause someone to learn compassion.

I wish you bad luck — again, from time to time — so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life.  And understand that your success is not completely deserved, and that the failure of others is not completely deserved, either.

Hear, hear.  Success is most often derived from being strong and independent.  Heed the words of the Chief Justice, and become strong and independent by failing.  Become strong and independent by being treated unfairly.  Become strong and independent by being betrayed, by being lonely, and become strong and independent by having just the right amount of bad luck.

Through all of your challenges --- and because of them ---you young women lawyers are on the way to becoming wildly successful.  Embrace the challenge.  If you fail, just pick yourself up and keep on going.  It is not failure that defines you but how you respond to failure.

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, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist. Com, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business 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, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.

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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