Susan Smith Blakely

Women Lawyers:  Welcome to the Practice!

So many new law graduates started jobs in law firms within the last few weeks, and many of them are young women.  They are enthusiastic and energetic, but they know little about the jobs they are being asked to do.  Law school teaches a lot of substance, but most law schools are still very short on practical application and hands-on experience.  This can lead to a lot of insecurity within the throes of new lawyers who walked into the hallowed halls of law firms in the last few weeks.

That is to be expected.  If you are one of them, please know that you have lots of company.  Also know that people try to hide their insecurities in different ways.  Some of them overcompensate by being boastful and constantly calling attention to themselves.  You know them --- you met many of them in law school.  You also will recall that, for the most part, they did not end up at the top of the class.

Others compensate for their insecurities by withdrawing into their offices and hoping that the waves of insecurity recede rapidly.  Although this is tempting and does not require much in terms of effort, you do not want to be one of them.  Unaddressed insecurity breeds more insecurity.  You need to get up and get going.  You only get one opportunity to make a positive first impression.

Here is some of my best advice to you in these early days of your chosen career.

You have been given a great opportunity. Yes, you earned it, but you also have been fortunate. Do not ruin it by expecting too much too quickly and over-analyzing the meaning of these early days within the context of what will be a long career. Be positive and take advantage of every opportunity to learn and to grow. You have no idea where it will take you, but you need to have faith in your decisions. Keep an open mind on the work that is given you and don’t prejudge. Use the power of your personality and personal skills to get out of your comfort zone to make friends and create alliances. It will take a conscious effort, but you can do it.

Game on!  Being happy in your work is important to your life.  Your first career choice is not necessarily your ultimate choice, and your trajectory in the law profession is likely to follow the current pattern of being somewhat dynamic.  Make every experience count.  Get the most out of where you are in the moment and consider everything as valuable to your next experience.  Regrets are a useless waste of time.  Avoid them by being strategic about the value of your experiences.

Also remember that your work is not your life.  That is why it is called "work."  There is so much more to your life, and you have to protect your non-working life as well.  It is true that in your first years of practice you must toil especially hard to create value and set up options for your future.  But, do not put your non-working life so far on the back burner in terms of priorities that you will not be able to resurrect it.  You need both a satisfying working and non-working life to be happy.

You also may enjoy this article from The American Lawyer about what makes midlevel associates happy.  That is the next step for you.  Here are some of the things that were identified as adding to the happiness of associates in firms around the world:

  • Their average salaries, bonuses, and hourly rates increased faster than their billable hours;
  • Their firms have lockstep compensation systems for associates, which create collaborative environments;
  • Interesting work, effective mentoring, good relations with partners, support for pro bono work, expanded training programs (including presentations on law firm economics), emphasis on personal skills as well as technical ones, more in-office get-togethers with partners and associates, 360-degree associate performance review processes; and
  • Some also reported $1000 technology allowances to help associates work more easily from home.

That's a lot to think about.  Good luck to all of you.


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 Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist. Com, Daily Muse 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" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.

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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