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Ms. Pre-JD: Reflections on Becoming a Ms. JD

Now that we are so close to the year’s end, I thought it might be time to reflect on what I’ve learned about becoming a woman with a JD this year. Through conversations with attorneys, both candid and hyper-professional, personal experiences, and discussions with other pre-law students, I’ve found that the personal is often the political, and many of the things I’m struggling with now are not unique to my path.

Some of the best advice I’ve gotten this year from other women with JDs…

  • Plan for where you want your life to go, both personally and professionally – that may mean planning for where you’ll be at 45, or planning for where you’ll be at 25. Either way, you can’t achieve a goal you don’t know exists, so make sure you are aware of what that goal is and points of failure on the way. This includes goals like having a family, or other things that we usually write off as irrelevant to the workplace. In reality, your work will directly impact these personal goals, so be able to articulate how they will interact.
  • Use gender politics to your advantage. Capitalize on assumptions that you know people are going to make about you. Surprise them, and destabilize their stereotypes. Network with women who have already succeeded – chances are they would be happy to talk to you.
  • Stand up for yourself, but don’t win the battles and lose the war. Pick and choose where it’s important to voice frustration with gender disparity, because there is no greater victory than achieving a goal against those odds. This, of course, doesn’t mean abandon your values, but rather choose how to apply them so that your career is allowed to be a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Build a personal network of people willing to vouch for you. Not specific things you have done or projects you worked on together, but rather advocates for your character and personality. Let those people speak to your accomplishments and ideas as much as possible.
  • Have the courageous conversations and be straightforward about what you mean and need in the workplace.
  • Trust your gut, and use your network, especially with the wave of news about sexual violence recently. Be aware, check-in with your own intuition, and, if you still aren't sure, verify your feelings with friends and people you trust.
  • Be really good at what you do, and look for opportunities to expand what you do.

Share your own reflections in the comments below! I'd love to have a chance to learn from everyone's greatest lessons this year.

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Nikki Datta is a junior at Columbia University in the City of New York. She serves as Executive Editor of the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review and is currently an intern at the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY). She is also the founder and President of Columbia University Women in Law and Politics (cuwilp.weebly.com). Connect with Nikki at: www.linkedin.com/in/nikkidatta

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