Susan Smith Blakely

Women Lawyers Can Make A Difference

One day last week, I was driving down the beautiful George Washington Parkway on the way from my home in Virginia to catch a train from DC to NYC to spend a few days with my daughter. It was a beautiful day, which included a splendid display of fall foliage mixed with the natural tones and textures of rustic stone walls and dramatic views of the Potomac River below.  The effect was to charm me, comfort me and make me love our Nation's Capital as I always have.

My public radio station was playing in the background, but my focus was on beauty and contentedness. I am a lucky woman, and I know it. But I do not take it for granted.

Then, suddenly, my mood changed. The fall colors turned to greys and blacks, and the beautiful blue sky darkened in an ominous and oppressive way. Content became alarm, and beauty disappeared from my consciousness.

A news story from the BBC had interrupted my blissful moment.  Reports of the awful destruction from distorted and extremist religious and culture beliefs in the Middle East are not unusual today, but this one caught my attention as few others have.  It was about the heinous practices against women, and it made my blood curdle.

The story was about a Pakistani woman, who like many other young women in her country, have been victims of acid attacks. In this case, the parents of the young woman's husband held the woman down while her husband poured acid on her face as retribution for what his family considered an inadequate dowry.

After the attack, the young woman's face swelled to an unrecognizable state, and her burns festered. The family allowed her to suffer for ten days before taking her to a hospital.  She was fortunate to survive.  Many others do not.

Since that time, she has acquired a generous sponsor in an enterprising business woman, who has provided workplace training and helped the young woman to receive over 100 surgeries for her disfigurement. Her facial and body scars remain readily apparent, but she is independent and appreciates the kindness of another woman, who took her in and devoted hard work and resources to making the young woman whole again.

This is both a terrible and a wonderful story.  It should cry out to all women on so many different levels ----as it did to me that day of my blissful drive on the Parkway.  Most especially, it should cry out to women lawyers.

It should validate us as women, who can make a difference, and it should challenge us to take up that calling.  It should speak to the truth that women owe it to other women to "pay it forward" and recognize that, with position and authority, comes responsibility. It should pummel us forward as women lawyers to use our intelligence and skills to break the terrible cycles of abuse and terror against women and other disadvantaged groups at home and abroad.

My wish for you is that you will hear the cries of human need and use your talents to create a better world. As a lawyer, you are able to do things that others cannot. Do not squander this privilege.  The abuses against women is only one calling.  There are so many other causes and so many other ways to make a positive difference in the world.

Make your light shine to guide others to places of safety and comfort. Do it for those in need and despair.  You will discover that you also are doing it for yourself.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a 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.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches.  She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 

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