Susan Smith Blakely

STILL MORE on the Georgetown Law Women’s Forum

I do go on and on about the Georgetown Law Women's Forum, don't I???  But there is a reason for that.  In its 23rd year, it is one of the oldest women's forums around.  Georgetown Law was caring about opportunities for women lawyers long before most other great law schools.  Kudos to the Hoyas!  I am proud of the efforts from my alma mater, and, if it shows, that is OK with me!

Today I want to share my thoughts on the panel "Becoming a Leader in the Private Sector." The panel was moderated by Regina Pisa, Chairman Emeritus, Goodwin Procter LLP (the first woman head of an AmLaw 100 firm), and the panelists were:  Elizabeth Abdoo, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Host Hotels and Resorts; Linda Myers, Partner and Global Executive Management Committee Member, Kirkland & Ellis LLP; and Leslie Turner, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, The Hershey Company.  If that is not power-packed, I do not know what is!  Hoya lawyers rock!

Be bold, be adaptive and take risks were the major themes of this panel.  The panelists also emphasized the need to acquire a variety of skill sets to keep your professional options open.  On the theme of being bold and taking risks, I especially liked the following contribution from one of the panelists:  "Men don't ask whether they should take the corner office.  They just take it!  Women should do the same."

The panelists also emphasized the need to be persuasive.  Recommendations were to be adaptive to the people you are talking to and learn how to "read the room."  The message was that it is not enough to be right ... you have to convince others that you are right.  Often that involves a lot of listening, watching and reading people's body language, and modeling effective behavior.  You also need to find your own authentic voice and style to carry it off.

The need to delegate was also discussed.  It was no surprise to hear that women do not delegate well .... and they must learn to do it.  Women lawyers are not superwomen, and time is a precious commodity for most of them.  Delegation empowers others, builds a stronger team, and reaps benefits for the leader.

All of the panelists agreed that it is still a tough road for women in the private sector, but they also agreed that today women lawyers are getting some help from client corporations that value diversity.  Corporations understand diversity because businesses need a realistic worldview to appeal to shareholders and consumers.  In addressing diversity, law firms must understand that networking for women through efforts like Women's Initiatives and other mentoring programs is important to developing esprit de corps and giving women a "safe place" to share ideas and seek help.

As a last message, the panelists encouraged women lawyers to STAY!  They agreed that law firms do not want to lose talented women and encouraged audience members to explore every opportunity to find an acceptable way to stay in the profession.

Listening to this panel was like hearing an echo in the room.  The themes lined up perfectly with the messages of Best Friends at the Bar.  It is good to be validated by such powerful women!

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 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 www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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