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Stronger Together: An interview with Ashley Overhouse

Ashley Overhouse, the founding member of UC Hastings NWLSO chapter shares her law school journey of being a female law student and how building a successful network of mentorship has inspired her to give back to the legal community.

Tell me a little bit about yourself?

I’m a California native, born and raised in San Jose. I recently graduated from UC Hastings with my juris doctor, and in the process of completing my LL.M. at SOAS, University of London. I specialize in international environmental law, and will be looking at environmental issues within California after I take the Bar Exam in February 2017. I love singing, traveling, bad puns and good wine. I’m dedicated to my incredible family and friends, and feel very privileged to live in the beautiful golden state.

Why did you decide to go to law school?

I decided to go to law school because I wanted to have a degree that would make a permanent, lasting difference in people’s lives – on a local and national level. Advocating for individuals through the legal system is one effective way of achieving that goal.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered while in law school?

There were numerous challenges in law school, ones that were (and still are) difficult for a variety of reasons, and are therefore hard to compare. However, one of my main personal challenges was finding the right “group” to associate with within the UC Hastings student community. Within that issue was facing my own insecurities, professional and academic. I was having issues feeling generally comfortable on campus, and during my law classes. Law school is an extremely competitive environment, one that plays on your strengths and weaknesses. Within my first year of law school, those insecurities were brought out in a number of different ways. Comments from the first week of classmate introductions ranged from “smiling too much”, judgments based on my undergraduate GPA, to my blonde hair. I only had one female Professor, and by the time I was allowed to speak to a female career counselor, I had already encountered severe gender discrimination amongst my own classmates and in the broader legal community. It was only at the end of my 1L year that I realized I needed a female mentor, or at the very least a group, a space where I could not only support myself as a female attorney through this difficult experience – but support others who were experiencing the same kind of gender discrimination in the professional, and in this case, legal world.

What was a positive experience you encountered during law school?

One positive experience in law school was discovering my academic and professional law school mentor.Over the course of my first year of law school, I reached out my Torts and Environmental Law Professor, David Takacs. He encouraged my participation, offered to review my work, and was willing to offer career and academic advice outside the classroom setting. I finally felt a little more comfortable in the legal world, UC Hastings, and in the classroom. That jolt of confidence at the end of my 1L year gave me the momentum to work on Ms. JD and pursue my legal interests my second year, and finally move to London to complete my concurrent degree program.

How did you learn about Ms. JD?

I learned about Ms. JD from one of the other founding members of the UC Hastings’ Ms. JD Chapter, the External Vice President Sarah Winfield. We attended an Environmental Conference together, and discovered we were passionate about similar issues. She turned to me and asked if I would be interested in starting a chapter of a woman’s group on campus. I was very enthusiastic. In a couple weeks, we were meeting with a group of UC Hastings female students about creating a NWLSO chapter the following year.

What inspired you to join Ms. JD?

In addition to the reasons I listed above, I have incredible female role models in my family who are teachers, social workers, Professors, lawyers, mothers – the list goes on. They are inspiring individuals in themselves, and have always pushed, supported and encouraged me regardless of my current academic or personal endeavors. Additionally, my parents always stressed gender equality since I was really little.I felt, and still feel, that Ms. JD embodies those values, and in turn provides the support for other women in the legal world to be the best they can be.

What motivated you to be the founder of the NWLSO chapter of Ms. JD at UC Hastings?

I was actually one of many founders of the NWLSO chapter of Ms. JD at UC Hastings, including Sarah Winfield, Megan Blass, and Snehal Desai.However, I was lucky enough to serve as President the first year the chapter was founded. My conversation with Sarah as well as my numerous experiences of gender discrimination on campus or in the workplace inspired me to start the NWLSO chapter on campus. I feel Ms. JD as an organization, has so much to offer law students as well as professional women. It is not only an educational resource, but a support network I can rely on for the rest of my career. Behind every strong legal individual is an invisible network of people who have supported them to help them get where they are today. Ms. JD is part of that integral network for me. Ms. JD is an organization I know will advocate for me and serve other women in my community.

Please tell me a little bit about this chapter of NWLSO, such as what this chapter is known for, what the mission of the chapter is, what types of activities you produce, or functions you would lead?

This coming year will be our NWLSO chapter’s third consecutive year, and I’m proud to say it has been a roaring success. Our chapter’s mission is the same as the national organization. However, my favorite line of the mission is “Ms. JD spreads the word: women’s victories are everyone’s victories.” I feel the events we hosted reflect that. We hosted the Ms. JD 2015 National Annual Conference, “Stronger Together.” We also hosted activities throughout the year such as career mixers, student panels, and established an attorney mentorship program as well as a fellow law student mentorship program for new 1L students. We had incredible 1L representative volunteers that helped work and run fundraisers as well as meetings or other events in conjunction with other student organizations on campus. We also helped found the Women of Color Committee, which is now another thriving student organization serving UC Hastings’ students. At the end of the year, we had around 100 active members and were voted Student Organization of the year by UC Hastings Student Services. The second-year NWLSO chapter officers, Hitomi Heap-Baldwin, Tiffany Ku, Ariana Mota, Brooke Murphy and Serena Aisenman are incredible individuals, and continued the legacy through their tireless efforts in the 2015-2016 academic year.

What made you decide to represent the Ms. JD colors at your graduation?

There was a point at the end of my 1L year where I considered leaving UC Hastings. Discovering and working with other women to found the NWLSO chapter at UC Hastings inspired me to continue on this path. I therefore credit the fact that I was able to graduate from UC Hastings to Ms. JD. I wore the colors to symbolize my gratitude, and to serve as a visual reminder to myself and others that Ms. JD, and our NWLSO chapter, is an integral part of the UC Hastings community, hopefully for many years to come.

What does being a member of Ms. JD mean to you?

Being a member of Ms. JD means being a woman that supports other women, not just in the workplace, but in the overall legal community. Being a member of Ms. JD means being a confident woman, one that is aware of the issues women face in the work place: whether that be sexual harassment, gender discrimination, unequal pay, etc. With that awareness comes a duty to advocate for change, and to inspire others to do so as well.

How do you help motivate and inspire women law students?

While at UC Hastings, I tried to remain active on campus, and by doing so become a familiar face for students.By becoming a presence on campus, I wanted to motivate and inspire other women law students to feel part of the community, and hopefully become the best attorney they can be. Taking the time to get a cup of coffee with someone, offering a study guide, a contact or even just a smile, can go a long way. However, I know I can do more and look forward to inspiring and supporting other women when I enter the professional world as a certified attorney.

What is one piece of advice you can give to aspiring female attorneys?

One piece of advice I would give aspiring women attorneys is: never let anyone dictate your potential or value. Sometimes being a professional advocate means being an advocate for yourself as well, and the best way to do that is to be an advocate for all women.

2015 National Ms. JD Conference “Stronger Together”

Another positive moment in law school actually occurred at the National Ms. JD Conference in 2015, “Stronger Together.” Anyone who has attended the Annual Ms. JD Conference knows what an incredibly busy event it can be. As the President of the hosting chapter, I was running around behind the scenes with about 25 other national Ms. JD members trying to make the event as successful as possible.During this chaos, I received an email notifying me I had been accepted into the concurrent degree J.D./LL.M. program at SOAS, University of London through UC Hastings. I was ecstatic, and let out a small scream. The Conference committee members in the nearby vicinity began to hug and congratulate me. Later, organizers of the conference such as Julie Silverbrook, Katie Larkin-Wong, and Heather Field all separately took the time out of their incredibly busy day to separately congratulate me, and encouraged me to do the program. I was previously very unsure about moving to London, pursuing another legal degree, and taking a significant professional risk. All at once those fears subsided with the wave of support and love I received that day. In that moment, and for the rest of the year, I truly felt that as women attorneys we were “Stronger Together.” Though they may not remember those moments, I do, and it made a vast difference in my professional career and my confidence as a woman attorney. I can never thank Ms. JD enough.

This post has been brought to you by the Ms. JD Journalists. If you have suggestions for any topics that you think should be covered on Ms. JD, feel free to email your suggestions to contentdirector@ms-jd.org and the Ms. JD Journalists will get right on it.

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