Ms. JD

The Best Advice I Never Got: Write Your Own Story

Editor's Note: this essay was submitted by Danielle, in response to the 2010 Ms. JD Scholarship prompt: What's the best advice you never got?

The best advice I never got prior to my first year of law school was, "Write your own story."  So often as aspiring lawyers, and especially as aspiring female attorneys, we are told of a clear trajectory of success.  You must get all A's, you apply and accept only prestigious internships and clerkships, you must be on Moot Court Board AND A.D.R. and Editor of the Law Review if you want a job after law school.  If I could go back a year, I would tell myself, "Write your own story." 

I got my first C+ of my life during my first semester, in a 4 credit Torts class.  I was devastated.  I went to Career Services, and Academic Services and probably should have gone to Counseling Services for a severe case of overreaction.  I was told by my school's various offices that as long as I did essentially perfectly from here on out, I would be just fine.  All I had to do was: get an A in every other class I took, apply for and make law review, get a summer position with a prestigious law firm or federal judge, get on the board of either (preferably both) ADR or Moot Court, and find a way to do massive amounts of pro-bono or public interest work.  With that combination, I was told, a single C+ will usually not matter... much.

After some deep reflection (read: a glass of wine and way too many thin-mint cookies), I realized that that my life, and my resume' are mine to write.  The ladies at Career Services, though well-intentioned, simply did not seal my fate as an attorney.  And, if I was ever interviewing for a position where they actually cared that there was a C+ on my transcript, over my ability to learn and grow from the situation, it was not a place I would accept an offer from anyways. 

There was however, one thing that they mentioned that had me very excited: do plenty of pro-bono or public interest work.  There, that was it!  That has always been my story prior to law school, whether it was providing pro-bono bankruptcy paralegal services through my job, being a big-sister through a local program, or volunteering as an Army Family team building instructor.  So why isn't it my story right now?  The answer suddenly became clear, and I finally was excited about law school again.  I signed up to help with a charity auction, and went straight for my career services counselor's worst nightmare: A summer job at the Public Defender's office.  No money, no prestige, and certainly no pat on the back from anyone attempting to increase our law school's ranking or percentage rates for acceptance at big, fancy firms.  For the first time in my law school experience, I felt excited about the law, and about the prospect of making a difference.  Yes, "making a difference" does not bring prestige to me, but it certainly brings happiness and fulfillment.  So, the next chapter of my story is a summer at the Aggravated Homicide Division of the Office of Public Defender (cue Law and Order music), representing those society disdains but none-the-less have a story to tell, a life to be valued, and a right to a fair trial.  I could not be more proud, and more committed.
And, as an afterthought. The professor that gave me a C+ turned out to be my best ally at school. That C+ turned into a fine letter of recommendation from an award winning Professor of Law, and a meeting with the Dean to discuss why law students should not be squeezed into one Type- A mold for success, but rather should be encouraged to develop their own path, their own passions, and their own success.  There isn't just one story to write in law school, but if you don't decide to write your own... then someone else will. 

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