WASHINGTON, D.C.—While the numbers remain challenging—for example, only one-third of practicing attorneys are women, despite making up more than half of law school graduates—there are champions in the legal profession working to make a positive change for women in the law.

gender equity

Those champions include attorney/author Susan Blakely and the Women of Womble (WOW). Blakely spoke to the firm on April 28 in a presentation organized by WOW and attorney Cathy Hinger.

After a 25-year legal career that began in 1979, Blakely has authored a series of books dedicated to mentoring women throughout the various stages of law firm careers.  Her latest publication, "Top Down Leadership for Women Lawyers," focuses on building successful paths for women to achieve promotion to leadership in law firms.

“We all need to continue the tradition of building bridges for the women who come behind us in this profession,” Blakely said.

While she said many men helped her become a better lawyer (including her father, who practiced law for 50 years), she encountered systemic stumbling blocks in her career. Unfortunately, some women attorneys today still face challenges to advancement in their law firm careers.

For example, child care responsibilities still disproportionately fall on working women, making it challenging for them to keep up with firm metrics. Women also face unintentional biases that may result in them being excluded from opportunities or overlooked for tough assignments.  Blakely observed that firm cultures focused on values of competition, money and power conflict with the values women traditionally embrace—teamwork, fairness and inclusiveness.

Finally, she called for progress on the number of women attorneys in top leadership positions at firms, noting Womble Carlyle is a leader in the law firm industry in this area.

Blakely said smart law firms actively find ways to include, promote and retain women lawyers. These solutions benefit both women and their law firms. She said men, as well as women, should play a role in finding answers that work for attorneys and firms.

 “Squandering the talent of women lawyers come at a high cost and is not good business,” she said. For example, she said the price of replacing a single senior associate can be cost a firm as much as $300,000.

“I’m not looking for handouts for women,” Blakely said. “I’m looking for fair and equitable treatment.”

Blakely’s discussion took place live in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and was streamed to the firm’s other offices.