Susan Smith Blakely

What Is REALLY Happening to Women Lawyers in Big Law?

Last Friday I attended another great Georgetown Law program.  This one was sponsored by the Georgetown Law Women's Alliance, and it was a very interesting panel discussion.  I am a graduate of GT Law, and I could not be prouder of the programs the law school provides to support its students and graduates.

The all-woman panel consisted of two Big Law lawyers, a law professor, and a Federal Judge.  The panelists were candid and entertaining and great role models for everyone in the room, from law students to seasoned practitioners.

A comment by one of the panelists, a co-managing partner of the DC office of a Big Law firm, got my attention.  She said that women lawyers are selecting themselves out of law firms and used that statement as a springboard to talk about all of the other settings that are available to women who want to continue to practice, which include in-house positions, not-for-profit organizations, government and academia.  It was a positive spin on a negative problem.

I really liked this woman, and most of her remarks were spot on.  But, I think this one needs a little massaging.

By saying that the women lawyers are selecting themselves out, it puts the burden on the women and makes it sound like it is their fault that they are not succeeding at law firms and staying.  The message is that if they want to remain at law firms, they must "lean in" more.  The implication is that we are giving the law firms a "get out of jail free" card and putting no responsibility on law firm leadership to also "lean into" the problem.

I agree that women are selecting themselves out of law firms and that law firms, as a rule, are not throwing them out.  But, there is a big difference between throwing them out and nudging them out.

There are many ways that law firms are nudging women lawyers out.  The whole culture of law firms can be very unresponsive to the values that most women bring to the workplace --- values like cooperation, collaboration and teamwork, finding common ground, and negotiating for the best deal not the most recognition and bragging rights.  That can be a big problem for women and create uncomfortable working conditions that subtly encourage women lawyers to leave. 

Do you feel the nudge?  Tune into my next blog to learn more.


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, which focused on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was 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 

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