Susan Smith Blakely

The Gap Year and How It Affects Women Lawyers

The recent announcement by the White House that Malia Obama will be taking a year off after high school graduation before starting at Harvard University in the Fall of 2017 has drawn fire from critics, as you might expect --- because everything that is remotely connected to politics draws fire these days.  The critics are lined up on social media either asserting that "gap years" are for the wealthy only and, therefore, should be shunned or that Malia is failing to get on with adulthood.  Both arguments seem crazy to me.

For one thing, taking a year off before starting college --- or before starting law school, which is why I am addressing the issue --- has a lot of merit in a world where too many students drop out of college when they have no idea what they want to do when they grow up.  Secondly, after eight years growing up in the White House, I only can imagine that Malia may have been forced to grow up too fast and assume too many adult-like stances.  She probably needs a break.

Taking time to get some practical experience in the real world is a good idea before embarking on the pressures of a highly-competitive university or law school.  That is why my husband and I asked both of our children to take at least two years off after graduating from college to work before starting law school.  Yes, it is true that they both had graduated from the same highly-regarded undergraduate university and had worked hard majoring in competitive programs, but that was not the primary reason for our request.  Rather, it had more to do with them facing challenges like having jobs they did not like and dealing with bosses who were unreasonable and difficult.  That IS the real world, and we wanted them to have that experience before undertaking a very demanding experience like law school.  We wanted them to understand their options and to choose well about their futures.

The "gap year" serves the same purpose.  In our current environment of uncertainty about so many things in a global community, taking time to consider the options and gain some practical experience is particularly important.  One of the commenters quoted in the LinkedIn coverage of Malia's decision stated that "life is not linear."  No, it is not.  There are many jumps and starts and stops along the way.  That why life is such a beautiful learning experience.

Don't be so afraid of falling behind in your quest for success.  Take whatever time you need to be as certain as possible about what you want your life to be 45 years into the future.  That is approximately the amount of time that you will work to be able to afford retirement.  It is not an easy decision, and it should not be rushed.

"Gap on, " I say.  Or not.  Whatever works for you.  That is the point.  It is your decision, and it should not be open season for the critics.

 

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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