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Advice for Women Lawyers

Succeeding as a female lawyer is not easy. I understand all too well the challenges facing women lawyers in a male-dominated profession.
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Succeeding as a female lawyer is not easy, and I know all about it. As a former law partner -- but also a former part-time associate, public servant and counsel -- I know the trade-offs that are necessary for women/mothers/caretakers to succeed in our profession.

I also understand all too well the challenges facing women lawyers in a male-dominated workplace.

Even with the advancement on women's issues and today's protections against discrimination in the workplace, women continue to be the ones who have the babies and take the greatest roles in the caretaking of their families. That creates an uneven playing field, but it also creates opportunities for choices that can improve our personal and professional lives.

That is what my most recent book, Best Friends at the Bar is all about. As a two-time author on the subjects of work-life struggle and how to succeed as a woman lawyer, I am pleased to share five tips for a career in the law.

Embrace the novelty of being a woman lawyer in a field full of men but do it right. Even women lawyers can be charming.

There is nothing wrong with using your charm to get the support of people, including men, but there is a fine line between using your charm and your femininity and using sex appeal.

There is no place in the law profession for flaunting sex appeal. You need to be professional at all times.

Recognize that male lawyers and female lawyers think and interact differently.

It is very important that you understand those differences in high-stakes business like law practice.

Women very often can be looking for an emotional response that they simply are not going to get from a supervising partner.

For instance, a young woman associate can do an excellent job on a brief or client letter and be looking for a compliment to bolster her confidence. The male partner can think that saying "Thank You" is all that is necessary.

Support other women lawyers.

Women in male-dominated workplaces and career fields, especially, must support each other. That is the only way that women lawyers will advance to positions of leadership and management.

Senior women lawyers, who have experienced the challenges for women in the law, should mentor younger professionals, and there is absolutely no place for jealousy and petty differences that can derail the advancement of women. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it best, "There is a place reserved in Hell for women who do not help other women."

Create a life balance that includes paying attention to personal needs and health -- even while being an excellent lawyer.

The balance of work/self/home and family is particularly delicate in a demanding profession like law. The success of a workable balance includes understanding that you do not have to be perfect and that "no" is not a four-letter word. You have to draw lines to protect what is most important to you.

Craft your own definition of success in the law.

Many women lawyers will have to throw off the male definitions of success and craft their own definitions. Success can mean full-time and partnership track, but it also can mean part-time practice, public service, public interest, academia, in-house counsel and other practice options that allow for greater flexibility. Law firms need to recognize the investment they have in women attorneys and allow them to "plateau" at certain times during their practices to make these models work.

Susan Smith Blakely is author of Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer.

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