Rethinking Law School Leadership: Beyond The Law Review, Clerkship Path

Law school is all about opportunities – taking engaging courses, networking with peers and professors, and finding opportunities to prove your leadership potential so that by the time you’re ready to apply for jobs, you’ve got a proven record.

The problem: discrimination doesn’t stop at the law school doors.

Bias is so prevalent in law school environments that in 2013, the Harvard Law Review began factoring in gender when selecting editors for the next board. The prior year, only 9 of 44 editors were women. Four years later, the majority of the board was women for the first time in history and a black woman was named the review’s president for the first time.

The sad reality is that women – especially minority women – are given fewer traditional opportunities to lead, and that means learning early on to shape our own journeys. Luckily, there are countless ways to demonstrate leadership and there’s no reason not to show your skills on the road less traveled.

Clinics And Conferences

There are plenty of reasons to skip out on law review and high profile clerkships – maybe you don’t want to practice law in a traditional firm or you’re overwhelmed by the stress of these competitive activities. But more than anything else, you should opt for other activities because they drive you and let you build on your interests.

What does this look like in practice? Jessica Butler, a young attorney at Gruber Law and admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 2009, served on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Unemployment Appeals Clinic, laying the foundation for her future work in civil litigation and workman’s compensation.

Other law students spend their time attending and organizing niche conferences, such as Nikki Datta, who volunteered with the MCCA Pathways conference. She describes the opportunity as allowing her to set specific networking goals, like obtaining two professional contacts during the conference, and it gave her a chance to think about the many different directions a law degree could lead.

Mentor For Pre-Law

Few law students make it to the hallowed halls of legal education without support, either from parents, professors, or community organizations, so why not use your time completing the circle? Many law students demonstrate their leadership skills, while also spending some time reflecting on their path and volunteering by mentoring pre-law students at their university.

At the University of Michigan, the Pre-Law Society pairs current law school student with pre-law students at the undergraduate level for one-on-one mentoring and guidance. Pre-law students have the opportunity to learn more about their educational path and law students can offer advice on courses, the LSAT, and other aspects of pursuing a degree in law.

Mentoring is a particularly valuable way for women in the legal profession to show leadership; if pre-law students only ever see white men in that position, it reinforces the idea that law school is no place for women and minorities. When women step up and lead, though, they have the opportunity to share their experience with female students who want to follow in their path.

Law students and lawyers have an incredible track record when it comes to leadership, volunteer work, and community service, and we each have an opportunity to participate in that legacy.

Don’t let the constant message that trying to get a clerkship with a Supreme Court Justice or be selected as president of the law review deter you from following your passions. Being you and leading in ways that suit your future goals is more important than doing exactly as you’re told.

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