Susan Smith Blakely

Speak Up!

Several years ago, the Yale Law Women reported survey results in an article titled “Yale Law School Faculty and Students Speak Up About Gender:  Ten Years Later." Reported there, among other things, was a finding that women law students were not speaking up as much in class as their male counterparts.  You probably are not surprised by that, and I know I am not.

Most of the women students in my law school were content to listen in class to find out which students were prepared for the lecture, which ones spoke intelligently when called on by the professor, and, as a result, which ones would make good study partners.  In fact, most of the young women I can remember were not motivated by having their hands in the air all of the time just to hear themselves talk.  I do not think that was because they were afraid to speak up, but I understand the possibility. I think that kind of attention just did not matter so much to women then, and maybe it does not now.

Although, some of that has changed today, it has not changed enough for young women lawyers.  Young women today are less likely to remain silent in most settings, but that does not mean that they are speaking up enough at law firms.

For many women, unfortunately, the decision to remain silent does not end in law school.  It often continues once the young woman lawyer lands her dream job and at a time when having opinions and answering questions with a strong voice and in a convincing manner are more important than a check mark on a professor’s roll sheet.  So whether it is a conscious decision or a reluctance based on fear, it needs to be addressed.

Public speaking and advocacy is difficult.  You have been exposed to it in law school through moot court and appellate or trial practice clinics, but that is not enough.

Jezra Kaye, the founder of Speak Up For Success, has a lot to say about this.  Jezra is a consultant to law firms and other businesses on public speaking, and her website is a wealth of information on this subject.  Here are a few hints on public speaking from my friend, Jezra:

Using the right words is not that important.  You need to focus on ideas, and the words will come.  Then you need to tune into your natural speaking rhythm—the one that you use when you are in relaxed conversation.  That is the rhythm that you are comfortable with and the one that will be most successful for you in public speaking;

Open your mouth.  This is no time for your introverted self.  Your words and your rhythm will not count for much if you are not heard.  And, you do not want to incur the wrath of the judge because he or she cannot hear you.  Judges tend to lose patience fast and revert to uncomplimentary monologue under those circumstances; and  

Practice, practice, practice.  You never can practice enough.  Speak up at every opportunity where you think you have something of value to add --- that has not already been said.  (The parrot will always be exposed, and you do not want to be a parrot.)  It will get easier with time.

So, go forward and speak up!  You know you can!  (Save the silent treatment for that guy in your life who refuses to take out the garbage or clean up the dishes!  He deserves it!)

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.  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 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.

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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