Don’t Listen to Career Services!

When I visited my Career Services office last year, the counselor asked me, "What are your priorities in this job search?" My answer was serious, yet it got a laugh: "To be home by dinner," I replied.

The legal profession is a funny thing. I entered law school to learn how I could always challenge myself while helping those marginalized by what I see as an increasingly polarizing society that marginalizes people based on their skin color, gender, sexuality, and zip code. I discovered very early on that obtaining the tools to do so would be easy; putting those tools to good use would be difficult. Sure, I could try to work for a public defender or a not-for-profit, but how was I to juggle the case loads with a family? And if I went to work in-house, how much would I truly enjoy my work? When fellow students started to happily compare and contrast firm outings, I wondered if I could see myself working at one of the big LLCs. The next thought was frightening: will my family exist at all? Of course it can. But will it look the way I envision, or will it be something completely different?

Being a woman in the legal profession is tough. In a career that often relies on the billable hour, reduced hours are not welcomed, and flexibility often seems to be a four-letter word. I think many women are like me--they want it all: the kids, the career, the friends, and the free time. Some of us, me included, saw our fathers seemingly "do it all" as they found success at work and still managed to win that coveted "Greatest Dad on Earth" trophy year after year. I see myself in my dad, but I realize that we are different. I instinctively know that I will feel more torn between home and work when a demanding, late-night project emerges. I will feel guilt for hiring babysitters, because my husband won't be a stay-at-home dad. Call it biology; call it society. Either way, I am different. The law school experience for me is learning how to use that difference to my advantage. I believe that women are natural communicators, and that we generally organize and multi-task in a way that is different than most men. I believe that, once a parent, a woman's priorities do change to a greater degree than her male counterpart. So the question is: is parenthood really the end of profitability? That counselor seemed to think so--she immediately suggested that I might avoid OCI in favor of a public interest path. I took her advice, and I am grateful that it led me to the U.S. Attorney. However, I think that her advice was dead wrong.

The classic mistake women make is to quickly pigeonhole themselves into neat, socially-defined categories. I see this trend magnified in law school. Just like the counselor (who was female, by the way), I also believed that I could only be a wife, mother, and friend in a very limited number of jobs. Thanks to some better advice I have received along the way, I realize that this is far from the truth. There is still much work to be done, but law firms, government agencies, not-for-profits, and in-house counsel offices are starting to discover that half of law school graduates today are not like the majority of their partners.

Last summer, I worked for a District Attorney. He told me that his attorneys, the majority of whom were women, were too good to lose, so he started a job-sharing program. "Six days of work for five days of pay," he said. "They continue their careers, and the office greatly benefits." Programs like job-sharing, flexible hours, and telecommuting are increasing, but the greatest challenge I see as a woman in the law is to find an employer who is committed to such changes and to pressure others to make those changes. As I enter my third year, I do not know where I will be a year from now, but I appreciate groups like Ms. JD for bringing resources to women that law school career offices sadly lack. It is only through advocacy and a sense of community that we can find our place in a profession that I believe to be so honorable yet often so clueless. I am committed to finding a legal job with honor, all the while being home by dinner.


Legal Eagle

I am really curious where you went to school (read: what career services office you're talking about—is it mine?), but given your candor (thanks!), I understand your preference to remain anonymous. It seems like a lot of people at this site dump on Career Services. Is there some systemic problem with career counseling in legal education? I mean, if this is a contributor to the "pipeline" issues we are always hearing about as explanations for gender gaps at the top of the profession, it would be good to know. I wonder, though, if we might not be displacing more blame onto career services than the offices deserve. Every career counselor I've met (from a couple of different schools) seems genuinely caring about the students, wanting them to succeed in the job market. And—as people have mentioned—all the career counselors are women. So I have a harder time believing that they mean to pigeonhole female law students into sex-segregated, lower-paying niches within the profession. Maybe we should be scrutinizing big law—and how their hiring & employment policies shape the job market—more than dwelling on the (admittedly sexist) guidelines issued by too many career services offices.


I have also griped about the lack of creative thinking going on in law school career services offices (mine really couldn't see options beyond big firms, clerkships and only the most elite public interest fellowships).  That said, I have had a similar experience which I take to heart:
When I was in law school I spent a summer working as an intern in a judge's chambers.  It was an incredible experience-to this day the judge remains one of the most impressive individuals I've ever met, much less worked with-so when she imparted life wisdom, I took it seriously.
One day lunch time discussion drifted to work-life balance, and the judge had this perspective: the legal market is so competetive that finding interesting work is a privilege that must be earned.  If you want to do something that interests you you will have to sacrifice to do it, because if you won't someone else will. 
Not everyone thinks that sacrifice is worth it, but I do.  I want very much to find work that consumes me intellectually, and so I assume it will consume me in other ways as well.


Thanks for the description of one way to work out a system that allows for your various priorities.  Keep pushing for the more complex life that has potential for a most satisfying career.  You are not alone.

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