New Clerk on the Block: Embracing Change

Happy New Year! This is a time to reflect on the old and prepare for the new. What do you have planned for 2016? Maybe you are making the decision to go to law school, embarking on your 1L year, or starting your first job in the legal profession. As young, aspiring lawyers we need to learn to take risks and embrace change during these life transitions. I hope this blog post will encourage you to do just that. After all, growth only happens when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.

I like to think that I am not one to shy away from change. Just three weeks after graduating from college I flew to Ouagadougou—the vowel-tastic capital of Burkina Faso—with a group of fifty strangers to serve in the Peace Corps. I called this amazing country home for two years, and I enjoyed the slow pace of life spent talking with my neighbors over tea, teaching sex education, doing yoga with children in my courtyard, and planting my first garden. 

My backyard in Burkina!

Just when my life in Burkina felt constant and secure, my service was over and I returned to America. A month later, I started law school in Chicago right before one of its coldest winters on record. 

My new backyard: Chiberia icebergs.

The temperature difference was stark, but the lifestyle change was even starker. Law school was a new and challenging experience, and it took some time to find my footing. Eventually I bought a real coat, overcame my impostor syndrome, hit my stride, and made some amazing friends. Now, as a 3L, I genuinely enjoy law school and feel confident in my abilities, even if I don’t know exactly what I’m doing all the time. 

Of course, nothing is permanent, and I am about to experience yet another big transition. In June I will graduate from law school and move across the country to clerk for a federal district court judge in San Francisco. I will be leaving law school, my friends, and the familiar city I love behind. I feel excited, nervous, and (at times) filled with self-doubt. Will I be able to learn quickly enough to keep up? Who will I ask for help if I don’t know what I’m doing? Will I be able to find an affordable apartment that is within walking distance of delicious burritos? These are all important questions. 

Throughout this transition, I hope that I can take risks and embrace change. But like most things in life, this is easier said than done. Lawyers are generally risk-averse people: We adhere to precedent, still keep hard copies of old case files, and often advise our clients to not do anything at all. Sometimes this quality makes us better lawyers, but sometimes it holds us back from potentially valuable opportunities for growth.

That’s why I’ve come up with some concrete tips for those of you who are about to undergo major life transitions in 2016. 

5 Tips for Embracing Change

1. Actively seek out opportunities that will push you out of your comfort zone. Sometimes we are passive recipients of change: Change happens to us, and we have no say about it. But sometimes we have the power to actively seek out positive changes in our lives. Change can be less scary when we have some control over it, so take control! Apply for that dream fellowship, start that law school application, move to a new city.

2. Jump! Of course, you should think—a lot—before you make a big life decision. Make a pros and cons list, consult with friends and mentors, and really dig deep to figure out what you want and why you want it. But don’t overthink it. Trust your intuition, too. Are you excited about this opportunity? Does it just “feel right”? If so, you should probably go for it.

3. Don’t forget to enjoy the view. Major life transitions can spark insecurity, doubt, and hesitation in even the most confident people. These feelings are normal, but they may make us miss out on some good stuff along the way. Don’t get so wrapped up in the panic of change that you forget to enjoy the present moment and the people around you. Relish the new surroundings, new people, and new adventures that await you.

4. Think about how you successfully made a transition in the past. If you need some extra reassurance, think back to a time in the past when you successfully navigated a big life transition. Maybe you moved away from home to go to college, ended an unhealthy relationship, or dealt with the loss of a loved one. Life was difficult for a while, but you came out on the other side as a stronger person, and you may have had amazing experiences and met wonderful people along the way, too.

My first few months in the Peace Corps were terrible. I subsisted mostly on peanut butter, thought I would never learn my local language, and was sent to the medical unit with a stomach parasite on July 4th (Happy birthday, America!). But after a few months I was eating local foods with my hand like a pro, greeting people in my local language with ease, and … well still getting sick. But that’s not the point. The point is that things will not be difficult or feel different forever; you will eventually grow accustomed to this change and adapt. And you will be better off because of it.

5. Focus on the positive. Like everything in life, embracing change is always easier when you focus on the positive. I know that I am lucky to have a clerkship. I am excited to build a mentoring relationship with an amazing judge, observe good and bad attorneys in action, improve my legal research and writing skills, and get exposed to several different areas of the law. I am also excited to do all of this while exploring a new city. I choose to focus on these positives, instead of harping on the negatives—namely, the tricky and expensive rental market in San Francisco and the major FOMO I will have when my Chicago friends hang out without me. Mindset is important, and by focusing on the positives you will get the most you can out of each new opportunity.

* * *

I hope these tips encourage you to take risks and embrace change in 2016, and I can’t wait to share my journey with you this year. Stay tuned for posts about how I made the decision to clerk, the clerkship application process, and more!


Julie Cummings

I love your positive spin on embracing change. You rightly acknowledge the bumpy and often uncomfortable road to change. Yet you realize, and share with your readers, that without taking that leap, the changes you seek will rarely just land in your lucky lap.


Thanks, Julie! Best wishes to you in 2016.


Okay, this line made me laugh!!  “. . .still keep hard copies of old case files . . . .”  I threw all of mine away some time ago, but I did indeed hang on longer than I needed.


Awesome job Marlow.

Sara Hundt

really enjoyed this! thanks for reminder to always embrace change!

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