AdroitSavant

3 Essential Tips for Women Embarking upon their Law School Journeys

FIND MENTORS OUTSIDE OF YOUR LAW SCHOOL EARLY ON

As a woman, and especially as a woman of color, it is sometimes difficult to trust women within your law school who may be competing for the same opportunities. You may begin to doubt if such women have your best interests at heart, and peer mentoring can at times seem disingenuous. Moreover, 2Ls and 3Ls who may have not been accepted to the firm of their choice or may not have gotten onto the journal of their dreams may unconsciously discourage you from applying to certain opportunities. Since they could not acquire those opportunities, they may superimpose their failures onto you. It will be important to distinguish the good advice from the bad advice. If the advice encourages you, inspires you, and motivates you, it is likely good advice. If the advice recommends that you be cautious and not apply for opportunities that may seem out of your reach, then it is likely bad advice. Another resource you can use to distinguish bad advice from good advice is women outside of the law school who usually are not competing against you and who would like to see you succeed. It is important to seek out such external mentors whether through Ms. JD, your Women Law students association, the PALS mentorship program, etc. These mentors can balance the perspectives of your peer mentors at law school. You may find it easier to confide in and trust these mentors as well, thereby allowing for a more natural and comfortable mentorship experience. Oftentimes, these external mentors are not sought after until your 1L or 2L summer. I would encourage all entering law students to seek out such mentors early, as soon as you start law school. I have had an external mentor this past year as a 1L who encouraged me to apply for opportunities I believed were out of my reach, and she has provided me the advice I needed to succeed.  I think every woman should have such an external mentor who is a recent law school graduate and who understands the struggles you are going through as a rising law student.

DO NOT SHY AWAY FROM CONTROVERSY

This summer I will be doing a human rights internship in Palestine. My law school has encouraged my unpaid public interest internship whole heartedly. At first, I was hesitant to do human rights work in Palestine for my 1L summer. Undoubtedly and unfairly, there is a level of stigma and censorship that attaches to the human rights of Palestinians. Palestine is not the only issue that is controversial in the legal community. Issues such as gay rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and much more can engender binary feelings amongst those who may be reading your resumes in the future. Still, it is important to follow your heart and your passion and to not be overly cautious about perceptions. Those women I know who participated in controversial legal work their 1L summer often fared better in Early Interview Week than those who worked at law firms their 1L summer. This is because, interviewing lawyers are often interested in your ability to analyze, critique, and offer creative solutions more than they are interested in the controversial issue itself. Do not shy away from engaging in controversial issues that you care about deeply, even if you plan on working for the private sector after contributing to the public sector. Some may tell you otherwise – to keep your head down and to avoid controversy which may engender a wide array of viewpoints. But this is not wise. In fact, your boldness and your ability to eloquently and passionately articulate a controversial issue in legal terms will gain the respect of those who may have polar opposite positions on the issue.

BE BOLD YET PROFESSIONAL

You often hear it is important to be professional. Law school is not undergrad, and it is quite different from many other types of graduate schools. This is true. You should try to be professional at all times. Whether this is at a happy hour or in the classroom, your fellow classmates are the leaders of tomorrow, and they will remember your inappropriateness or hostility towards others. You will be judged, especially because you are a woman. Yet, you should not let this reality intimidate you. Women provide a unique perspective to the legal community, and if you do not voice your opinion, out of fear or intimidation, you are allowing others to monopolize the conversation. As such, it is important to be bold yet professional. When you hear a comment that may seem racist or sexist, it is important for you to provide a balancing perspective in the classroom, even if you think the “mob mentality” may have beliefs contrary to your own. Without your critical perspective, the legal community will be stagnant. So contribute early and often and start building the confidence you need now rather than waiting to develop later in your careers. School is supposed to be a safe place for the free exchange of ideas; take advantage of that. If you feel that you do not have the internal power to be so bold, you should become involved in the Women Law Students Association, the Women of Color Collective, or another other student group. In these groups, you can discuss gender realities with other women who are facing similar pressures and you can empower one another to “lean in” along the way.  

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