Liz Vaysman

“What I wish I would have known” with author Susan Smith Blakely

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Susan Smith Blakely, author of the Best Friends at the Bar books for young women lawyers, give career advice to a group of eager young professionals, including both men and women at the LadiesDC happy hour.  Susan emphasized the importance of helping all women succeed in business and how the best way to that is to craft Personal Definitions of Success.

During the event, I was able to steal Susan away for a few moments for a short interview on what she wished she would have known through various phases of her legal career.

What I wish I would have known…

Before law school

“That careers are different for men and women.  I went to law school in the middle of The Women’s Liberation Movement , and we thought we could do anything and be anything---just like the men.  There were lots of surprises for us after law school.  Although there was not much of a gender gap in law school, it was different once we got out and practicing.  If I had known, I would have planned ahead to avoid some of the surprises.”

Preparing for the bar

“Understanding that studying for the bar is a marathon, and not a sprint – you have to conserve your energy and pace yourself.  You can’t burn out too early, and you have to continue to maintain balance in your life.  Treat studying for the bar like a job with a routine and a schedule.  But make time for some fun, too.  Also, fight the perfectionist in you.  You can’t obsess over every question you get wrong on a practice test.  Just learn from it and have faith in yourself!”

Beginning my career

“I was the only female in a mid size law firm when I started practicing after law school.  I wished I had realized sooner what challenges that would present.  Women evaluate situations differently and look at solutions and opportunities differently than men.  I also didn’t anticipate some of the really bad behavior from fellow attorneys and judges.  They were struggling with the gender issues, too, but we women put up with a lot in those days.”

Starting a family

“The incredible bond that exists between a mother and child.  You just don’t realize it until you have the experience. It causes cosmic shifts in the way women evaluate their responsibilities and their careers.  How women handle those responsibilities depends on the individual woman.  There are no rights and wrongs.  It all depends on individual circumstances.  That is why I emphasize Personal Definitions of Success and having respect for the choices that you make.  If you respect your choices, others will, too.

A big thank you to Susan for sharing her wisdom with us! Susan is a regular contributor to Ms. JD’s blog and has her own blog at

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