By Elise Elam • August 10, 2018•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence
When I was a girl, I was told countless times that I should become a lawyer because I just loved to argue. This unsolicited career advice turned out to be well-placed. But I had no clue what lawyers actually did. Eventually, I was lucky enough to shadow a newer associate to get a small taste of the day-to-day of a litigator. I decided to go to law school which, fortunately, was a great choice for me.
Fast forward several years. I was asked to speak at my high school's career day. About 30 high school students - both boys and girls - listened to my presentation on being a lawyer. When it came time for Q&A, one young woman asked, "How could you defend someone you knew was guilty?" (Keep in mind that I am not, nor have I ever been, a criminal lawyer.) I think this question weighs heavily on young minds who are thinking about becoming a lawyer while they are still forming their own personal sense of right and wrong. I also think young people imagine all lawyers as either prosecutors or criminal defense attorneys - good vs. evil. Of course, as a practicing attorney, I know this is not the case. In fact, I often tell non-lawyers that there are at least as many different types of lawyers as there are doctors! It's easy to think about doctors specializing in different fields, but, for some reason, I find that people - especially young people - don't see all the possibilities available to someone with a law degree.
I truly believe that if we can educate young people, girls in particular, about the different types of lawyers, more of them will pursue a career in the law. There's a specialty for every interest out there: You're athletic? Go into sports law (yes, that is a thing!); You like technology? Become a patent attorney or cyber insurance attorney. You like kids? Become a Guardian ad Litem. You like to travel or speak other languages? Become an immigration attorney! And the list goes on!
Many people - not just kids - think all lawyers have to go in a courtroom. (My son thinks we sit and stare at computers all day, which, sometimes, is not completely untrue.) It's like there's this black box of mystery surrounding the profession. And the only way to see in is to join the unknown. But, if we reach girls earlier, we can show them that they can pursue their passion within the law.
To that end, Ms. JD created an amazing event titled "Ready to Rise: Law and Leadership Academy" to introduce middle school girls to the legal profession. (I'm serious, if this had been around when I was that age, I would have been there in a heartbeat, even if I had to hitchhike.) The one-day event included sessions titled, "Becoming a Supreme Court Justice: Mock Confirmation Process," "What Can I Do With a Law Degree?" and "Path to Becoming a Lawyer," among many others.
Ms. JD has also partnered with Legal Kid, a Miami and D.C. based non-profit with the goal to empower every kid to know the law. Since 2017, Legal Kid has helped more than 13,000 kids get an idea of the law and how they can be conscious citizens. They do this through their Kids at Law magazine, their monthly subscription titled "The Little Lawyers," as well as other programs focused on girls and LGBTQ youth.
Other programs with similar goals include the National Youth Leadership Forum: Law & CSI, which allows high school students to select either the legal or forensic path. This program provides an in-depth look at the "entire judicial process, from the discovery of a crime, through collecting and analyzing all of the critical evidence, to preparing for the courtroom process and taking part in the criminal trial." The Junior National Student Leadership Conference on U.S. History and Government provides a behind-the-scenes look at the judicial and legislative branches of government, including mock trials and mock congressional sessions.
Getting kids, especially young girls, involved in these types of programs is so vital to ensuring high-quality and diverse professionals in the legal field. These programs give young girls a true idea of what a legal career could look like, getting them excited at an early age to join our great profession. And I truly believe that connecting with these girls early on will help women in the legal profession later on. Establishing a passion for the law and for empowering young women will create an atmosphere of collaboration and support that we need in order to continue being strong members of our profession.
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