Susan Smith Blakely

Young Lawyers Should Reach for Their Dreams:  The Example of Belva Lookwood

This blog post is not only for women lawyers.  It is for all young lawyers.  It just happens that Belva Lockwood is one of the best examples of reaching for dreams of practicing law --- because of the lack of opportunities for women during her lifetime.

So, you say, "Who is Belva Lockwood?"  If you attend or attended George Washington University Law --- where she graduated from a predecessor law school there and where the Belva Lockwood Society is very active --- you would know.  If not, it is much less likely that you ever have heard of her.

I am fortunate to be a guest at the Belva Lockwood luncheon from time to time (yes, they do let Georgetown Law grads attend!), so I have heard her story told by those who know it best.  Here is that story for those of you who have not heard it before.  

Like Belva Lockwood, all young lawyers need to follow their dreams.  It is more important than ever because the profession has changed so dramatically so quickly:

  • Technology now has such a prominent role in law practice that young lawyers spend hours and hours each day in front of computer monitors isolated and doing work that does not feel remotely like what they thought was the promise of a hard-earned law degree;  
  • Today there are so many layers between partners that control clients and entry level lawyers, especially in Big Law, that young lawyers are denied the mentoring experiences which are so meaningful to them and so important to developing talent and future law firm leaders; and
  • Today young lawyers in large private practice venues are being managed by associates more senior to them --- associates who have no experience in management, supervision or positive reinforcement/motivation.  Instead, those more senior associates are competing with more junior associates for the prize of partnership, which makes them unlikely and ineffective in mentoring roles.

Young lawyers deserve more.  They deserve interesting work and helpful feedback to make their work as meaningful as possible.  My recent blog makes that clear.  If you missed it, I suggest you read it and know that there are people who understand your dilemma and are on your side.

My advice to you is:  Don't settle.  If you are not getting what you need in your current practice setting, look beyond it.  Get a copy of my book about balance where I explore a wide variety of practice settings and include examples of lawyers, who have left law firms and successfully transitioned into new venues.

To define your professional dream, you will have to value your talents and the best place to use them.  Sometimes taking the long view requires getting the critical experience you need before moving on, but that does not mean that you should give up on your dreams.  During that learning experience, remember that you deserve to have a professional life that satisfies you and also allows you to have a satisfying personal life.  It is hard to be truly satisfied in either your professional or personal life without that kind of balance.

To keep your options open and follow your dreams, you also need to keep your spending in check.  Make good business decisions and save money for a rainy day that may come while you are figuring it all out.  That savings also will give you the flexibility to take a lower paying but more satisfying job at some point in your future.

Use the example of Belva Lockwood and her grit and determination.  Don't take "no" for an answer any more often than you must.  "No" is discouraging.  "I will find a way" is exhilarating.  That should be your goal.

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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