Lawyering Phenomenally

Maya Angelou said, "A woman who is convinced that she deserves to accept only the best, challenges herself to give the best. Then she is living phenomenally." This is the way I approach my legal career.

"Funny business, a woman's career: the things you drop on the way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. It's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted."

Joseph L. Mankeiwicz, All About Eve

As I enter the legal profession and embark on this journey in my life, I feel a confidence and satisfaction in knowing that I have an opportunity to do what women in generations me before could not do. Women in history could not go to school, could not become educated or have careers, and certainly were unable to sit in a room with both women and men and have a discussion about the law. In today's world women have the opportunity to study the laws of this country and to embark on a career in the legal field. Women in my generation are generally afforded the respect and dignity they have fought for with such passion. Yet while we are fortunate to have the opportunity to go to class and to participate in the justice system, women today are facing new challenges our foremothers never imagined.

I have seen the way women attorneys struggle for recognition, especially in private practice. There is still a notion that a man will go out and fight harder with a heavy hand to win a case for their client. I have had people tell me "Good for you for going to law school, but I wouldn't call a female attorney if I could have a male." I think this is a very misguided conception, but I know where it comes from. When you drive down the street you see the billboards with male attorneys plastered over the side of a bus shelter or on the bus itself. "We'll fight for you," "Attorney So-and-So, the Strong Arm," etc. These advertisements convey the attitude that your attorney must be strong, hard-nosed, and just a little bit of a bully. Women are not thought of as any of these things, and for that they struggle. As long as society still holds on to this notion that women are weak and timid, women attorneys will continue to struggle in this field.

As an attorney I want to demonstrate to people that women are effective attorneys and effective litigators. An attorney needs to be competent, knowledgeable, and dedicated above all. Attorneys won't win cases by being bullies and engaging in courtroom antics. Attorneys win cases through hard work, preparation, and devotion. Women can do all of these things.

The other issue I have seen with women of my generation in the legal profession, as well as many other professions is that they have lost sight of their womanhood in an effort to get ahead in a world that is still largely male-dominated. Women have made incredible strides toward achieving equality with men, but I have to wonder if some of our gains have not been achieved without some losses along the way. In many ways women had to prove they were "just like men" in order to finally receive the attention and respect they so deserved. But in so doing, we have lost some of the most beautiful aspects of being a woman. So many career women I have met in the last few years confess that they do not plan on having children, or starting a family soon, or ever. While I respect every woman's right to choose whether or not she wants a family or children, my suspicion is that many women are giving up the idea of a family for their careers, because they know children could make them lose everything they have worked so hard for. I worry about this in my own life. I want to have a successful career as an attorney, but I also value having a family and children someday. I worry that my career will get in the way of starting a family sometime after law school. What if I am still fairly new to a job and need to take some time off to have a baby? What if my children get sick and I have to take more time off? If I wait to start a family until my career is steady, will I be too old? I have talked to several women in my law classes and many women worry about the same issues. Some women simply have said, "Well, I am just not going to have children. My career is too important." This deeply saddens me. I do not want to see women give up want they want or value because they worry about a setback in their career. Women face unique challenges now that they have "proven" themselves in the workforce. We continue to struggle to demonstrate that we can be valued as a worker in our career, and still retain our caretaking function.
Maya Angelou said, "A woman who is convinced that she deserves to accept only the best, challenges herself to give the best. Then she is living phenomenally." This is the way I approach my legal career and also my day-today life. Women in generations past have fought hard to give me the unique opportunity I now have to go to law school and enter the legal profession. They have demonstrated that women deserve the best, and will accept only that. We have challenged ourselves in the past, and as we continue to face new battles in our careers, women will continue to fight the issues that threaten to set us back. I am excited to embark on this journey of entering the legal profession and I vow to challenge myself and to always remember who I am and where I came from.

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