Susan Smith Blakely

Lessons from the 2014 NAWL Conference

Last week I was in NYC attending the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) Annual Conference. I always look forward to this event, but this year's program was particular meaningful to me. The conference theme of "Leading with Confidence and Courage" is one that is very close to my heart, and, in fact, my new book will address that theme as well. I am happy to say that I sent the manuscript for that new Best Friends at the Bar book to my publisher weeks ago, so it is on its journey to help all of you achieve leadership in the law profession and also help you know what to expect from the leadership at your firms and other employers.

There were some very informative breakout sessions at the NAWL Conference this year and inspiring speeches by the award recipients during the lunch program. One of those recipients, Anita Hill, who became famous when she accused US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during the Senate confirmation hearings in 1991, held the crowd spellbound and received a standing ovation. Her remarks and the plenary session where she served as a panelist were particularly valuable and thought-provoking.

I hope that some of you had an opportunity to attend the conference. If you missed it, here are some lessons you would have learned. 

  • There is a tenuous connection between being confident and being right. People who say they are 100% confident are wrong 20% of the time;
  • Speaking up is often hard for women. Practice is the key. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Always remember to be succinct and put a period at the end of your contribution;
  • Women lawyers must learn to self promote. It is who you know "who knows what you know" that will make the difference in your career rise;
  • Confident women are not always well-received. Learn to pick your battles. It is a judgment call when to make a public statement calling out someone's behavior or when you confine that to a private conversation. Use good judgment and make sure it is worth it if you choose the public setting; and
  • Use humor to your best advantage. It is a great ice breaker.

I hope that you will put the lessons of the NAWL Conference to good use.

I know I will!

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a 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.  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.

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

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe