Susan Smith Blakely

The Intersection of Motherhood and Partnership

A recent edition of in the London-based Financial Times included a very thought-provoking article that is a must read for all women lawyers and those who lead them.  The sources are both UK and US based and there is no single geographic focus.

This is not just the "same old same old" you have read in the past.  Yes, the statistics will be recognizable because the percentage of women equity partners in law firms has not changed in recent history.  But there is much beyond those statistics for you to chew on and some new approaches that you may or may not agree with.

The article starts by taking on a giant, specifically the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, for the way that it frames the answer to the question, "Can you be a mother and a senior law firm partner?"  The Center's emphasis on factors that are impossible to change is disputed on the basis that it fails to recognize the impact of unconscious bias and the effect of that bias on the upward mobility of women lawyers.

The issue of quotas for women partners is also discussed in a very balanced way, giving equal time to the pros and cons of that approach.  Although many women object to that kind of mandate and how it disadvantageously profiles them in the partnership, others argue that less radical approaches have proven unsuccessful.  You will have to decide where you fall on that spectrum.

Also included are some practical steps that firms can take to work out the maternity leave issues with women lawyers, who demonstrate the kind of talent and leadership skills valuable at the management level, and efforts that firms can take to keep women on maternity leave functioning as part of the team during that period of time.

The role of in-house general counsel and clients in reaching a more acceptable percentage of women at the top of law firms also was discussed.  This quote got my attention, "Those who until now have expected to be able to reach lawyers at any time of day or night need an understanding of what requests are urgent and what can wait until morning."  This alone evidenced a new world order!

You also will see some interesting comments on the position of salaried partners, the marginalization that often results, and the critical role of achieving diversity at the top.   According to one source, "I've never heard of a balanced or diverse partnership underperforming."  Amen to that.

Particularly interesting to me was the emphasis in the article that the issues addressed are not just all about women.  It is also about the new generation of young lawyers (millennial lawyers and the generation of lawyers to follow), who have embraced work-life balance issues that require a new approach.  With the additional emphasis in my work on issues related to millennial lawyers, I applaud the recognition of the broader view of what is needed to reform our profession.

I recommend this article for you and for you to share with the leaders in your firm.  The train is leaving the station, and we all need to get on board.

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 third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

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 ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com, Georgetown Law Magazine, Legal Toolkit Podcast, 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" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016”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 is certified as 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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