Susan Smith Blakely

Young Lawyers Need to Protect Their Careers

I currently am counseling a young lawyer about changing a focus in the law.  In that work, I am reminded of the importance of future vision and developing career plans.  A career plan and the research involved in developing one are essential to protecting your ability to exercise options in time to remain true to the career you envisioned when you entered law school.

I know that it is difficult to change courses midstream.  Lots of anxiety and insecurity is involved.  I have been through it myself, and I have helped others through it as well.  One thing is common to all those experiences.  Staying in a practice that does not suit you and makes you unhappy will be a whole lot more stressful in the long run.

Job happiness is complicated.  It is a bit ephemeral and different for everyone.  First you need to figure out what interests you most about law practice and what gives you feelings of satisfaction.  It may be defense work or it may be on the prosecution side.  Or it may be plaintiff's work.  It may be private practice or practice in public service or in the not-for-profit world.  Or big firm, smaller firm, or in-house practice.  Or urban practice, more suburban practice, or even a country practice.  

The good news is that there are so many interesting choices open to you.  The profession is broad, and the chances are that you will be able to find a place that suits you.  Unfortunately, many young lawyers are leaving practice each year without examining their options and making earnest efforts to find where they belong.  A dedication of three years or more of law school and significant student loan debt deserve more research before abandoning ship.

Talk to as many practitioners as possible about their practices.  Those resources are available through mentoring programs in bar associations, and you need to take advantage of those confidential conversations.  There also are many helpful resources on the Internet --- far too many to list here.  You are smart and very tech savvy, and you will find them.

Do it early enough and at a time when you do not have a lot of baggage that interferes with your mobility and opportunities that may come your way.  If the result of that effort is that you still cannot find your place in the law profession, you at least will know that you did your best.  And then you need to consider your options outside the profession.  With a law degree and some practice experience, you should have many interesting opportunities.

Be true to yourself and avoid asking for input from everyone around you.  It is YOUR professional life and no one else's.  Treat it like the valuable thing it is.  

The truth is that you either choose or you lose.  Just choose to do it!

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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