CHARLESTON, SC—More work remains to be done to achieve gender equity and fairness in the legal profession. But women attorneys have made tremendous strides toward increasing their inclusion, and women who entered the profession in the 1970s blazed a trail for others to follow.
Womble Bond Dickinson Partner Susu Smythe was one of those trailblazers, graduating from law school in 1976. She and other colleagues who began their practice in the 1970s are on the cover of the 2020 edition of South Carolina Super Lawyers and share their professional journeys inside the publication.
“I came of age during a feminist wave. I knew I wanted to have a full-time career, but not a traditional woman’s job,” Smythe tells South Carolina Super Lawyers. “My father was a lawyer, and we’d have dinner-table conversations about his cases. He’d lay out the facts, and I’d get to argue my position and then he’d change the facts. I never won an argument with him, but he trained me how to think legally.”
Smythe said even her own parents didn’t want her to attend law school, but she persevered and graduated to enter the practice of law. In those early years, she was one of just 10 women attorneys in Charleston. While that may have been a hurdle in some ways, Smythe also found ways to use it to her advantage, in that the men on the other side of the table often did not know how to work with a woman.
“Strategically, having them be off balance is great. Being underestimated is fabulous—it really is,” she said.
Smythe—who was the first woman in Charleston to make partner—said one of the disadvantages of being a trailblazer is that she had few women mentors when she entered the profession. That’s why she has made mentorship a part of her practice.
“My ultimate goal when I mentor others is to help them be successful,” Smythe said.
Click here to read “‘Being Underestimated is Fabulous: Six Attorneys Recount the Then-and-Now of Women in the Law,” the cover story of the 2020 edition of South Carolina Super Lawyers.