Sarah Ferguson

Going Public: Choosing Your Path

So, you’re in law school (or maybe a recent grad) and you’re assessing your career trajectory. Your school hosts lawyers in various fields, your professors discuss their previous careers in practice, your friends talk about their summer internships. There are so many options! How to narrow it down? It’s not easy, but if you think you may be leaning towards public service, there are some indicators that show it may be just the path for you. I know, I know, last month I stated that there’s no list you can check off to determine if the public sector is right for you, and it’s true. There’s no definitive list. However, from time to time I find a good old-fashioned Cosmo-style list can be very helpful for generating ideas or reaffirming decisions you’ve already made. So, here goes:

You're a free spirit

You’ve got sass. You don’t always follow the rules. You like to think outside of the proverbial “box.”  Many women in public service fit this mold, and if you’re considering veering off the “firm path,” chances are you’re a bit of a free spirit yourself.  Transitioning from law school to the public sector is not a common route—it’s an adventure! Going public will likely deprive you of a plotted career trajectory and forging your own career path may require a bit of rebelliousness. 

You’re looking for a job with more purpose

You understand the appeal of private sector work. What’s not to understand? It’s interesting, it attracts driven people, and it pays well. These are all great things. But for you it feels like a private sector job is not quite enough. You want to do work that has an impact on your community. You see issues around you that you want to help fix. You don’t mind putting in the hard work to do it. Cheesy as it sounds, you want to make a difference.

You volunteer

There is an issue in your community that you think is significant enough that you’re willing to devote your time (for free) to help make it better. This may also be an indicator that you are searching for a larger purpose (see above).  Think about what drives you to volunteer, if it’s more than just the “volunteer” line on your résumé, maybe what you’re really looking for is a new direction.

You don’t mind a little blood, sweat, and tears

When you hear the word “challenge” your ears perk up. You jump at the opportunity to take on a leadership role. However, your enthusiasm is tempered by realism and a strong work ethic. You know the public sector is not always going to be glamorous. It’s not always going to be one highly publicized victory after another (in fact, it will almost never be that).  It’s going to be hard work and setbacks for minor victories and personal satisfaction. You get it. And you still want to do it.

You want to advocate

Being an advocate is why you wanted to go to law school. You may not be sure who or what you want to advocate for, but you strive to stand up for something or someone. You want your voice to be heard loud and clear.  You’re a self-proclaimed bleeding heart. For a policy cause. For a group of people who are underrepresented or downtrodden. For a political agenda. You want to put yourself out there. You may not know exactly what your “issue” is, but chances are if you think about your past experiences and interests, you’ll find something leads your towards your passion.

You vote

Whether you’re a student or in a full-fledged career, you always vote, even if that means mailing in an absentee ballot. For you voting isn’t just a right, it’s a civic duty. It demonstrates your commitment to determining the direction of your community and your country. Sometimes you even get a little righteous about voting…

You are interested in and keep up with current events:

You read newspapers, blogs, websites on a daily/hourly/minute-by-minute basis. You keep tabs on policy areas that hold a particular interest for you. You make sure advocates/politicians you admire are still championing causes you respect and check for slip-ups made by the opposite side. Whether it’s domestic or international affairs you generally know what’s going on in the world around you. Some of your favorite websites may include Slate, Daily Beast, Drudge Report, RealClearPolitics, Politicker NY (or your local equivalent) and Gawker (celebrity “news” is important too!). If you’re old school you may even read actual newspapers or listen to the radio. In short, you’re a news junkie.

SIDE NOTE: Having a general knowledge of current affairs is important for all future lawyers. Even if you go into a firm job, knowing what is going on in the world around you and how it may affect you and your practice is invaluable. Plus, it has the added bonus of being great material for small talk with the boss/clients.

 You like a GOOD debate

You have strong opinions. You have issues you are particularly passionate about.You respect the opinions of others and their right to express those opinions. You like a healthy debate about the merits of pending legislation or a hot policy topic. That’s why you’re in law school, for heavens sake! But recently you have been disappointed by the tone of the national/local debate. You find yourself alternately furious at or frustrated by most talking heads. You want to use your JD to help start a new discourse—a civil, rational one. 

So, there’s the list (some of it, anyway). Think about it. Talk to your friends and colleagues. The public path may be the direction for you, or it may not be. Weigh your options. Be honest with yourself. And, of course, tune in next month for more. 




Thank you for this post; it is much appreciated!!!  I am going to law school with specific hopes of working in government, hopefully prosecuting, and seeing this in words (ala cosmo-style list) was really refreshing and helped affirm my purpose. 

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