By Carla Laroche • February 15, 2015•Ms. JD, Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Issues, Mentoring and Networking, Other Issues, •Features
Author’s Note: Not Practicing, Running the Game is BACK! I am so excited to continue interviewing and bringing to readers a diverse group of women who have law degrees, but who are no longer practicing law, or never practiced.
NPRG readers are in for a treat this month. I had the pleasure of interviewing Paula T. Edgar, Esq. She has practiced, she has been a trailblazer, and she has succeeded where others have failed. Paula’s hard work, dedication, and positive attitude are truly inspiring.
Read on to learn about how she became who she is, what advice she has for NPRG readers on achieving their own success, and why I am considering renaming this blog to “Shero”!
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t really remember clearly, but I’ve been told I mentioned being a lawyer when I was young. I do know I was ambitious from the start!
Who did you look up to growing up? Did you have role models in the legal profession, and, if yes, who were they?
My mother, Joan Griffith was my role model. She was a finance professional. She was smart, savvy and one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. I also loved Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) from the Cosby Show - she was accomplished, fun, sexy and loving and she seemed to traverse the roles of attorney, mother and wife seamlessly.
Why did you go to law school and did you enjoy it?
I went to law school at the City University of New York School of Law (CUNY) after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. My mother was killed in the World Trade Center and the attorneys who assisted my family after the attacks were extremely supportive. I wanted to embody the “counselor” role of being an attorney and add value to others in the way that my family’s attorneys had done for us. CUNY Law School was a wonderful experience - I was able to learn in a rigorous, yet encouraging institution, and while there, I developed lasting relationships.
Did you practice in the legal profession? If yes, in what area, for how long, and why did you make the transition out of the legal field?
My first job post law school was as an attorney for the New York City Commission on Human Rights. While it was a very valuable learning experience, I remained in the position for less than a year. I realized that what I needed to flourish was to interact more with people and less with paper, so I transitioned to become the Executive Director of PALS (Practicing Attorneys for Law Students Program, Inc.).
Describe what you do currently? How, if at all, has your legal background helped you in your current position?
I maintain several roles! I am the owner and Principal of my own coaching, consulting and public speaking firm, PGE LLC. I am also a bar association enthusiast - I am the President-Elect of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association and the Chair of the Diversity Pipeline Initiatives Committee at the New York City Bar Association. Most recently, I served as the inaugural Chief Diversity Officer at a law school. Each of these roles came from doing good work, developing a strong brand and by being a savvy relationship builder. My legal background has given me the skill set and the network to add value in my professional roles.
Looking back at your career trajectory, what would you say has been the theme of your career?
As a professional, I strive to grow, help others and have lasting impact on the issues I care about. The theme of my career has been, “Do good work. Never Get Comfortable. Keep Reaching. Lift As I Climb and HAVE FUN.”
People who read your bio and learn of you all you have accomplished likely will not realize the obstacles and/or failures you’ve had to overcome. Can you describe a hardship that you have faced?
In 2013, I injured my foot and I was in a boot for 8 weeks, shortly after my recovery from that injury, my infant son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an often fatal type of childhood cancer. During those personal experiences where I was literally forced to slow down and deal with the pain and uncertainty of life, I was still trying to maintain all of the old and new professional roles I had taken on (both at work and externally).
What stays with me from those experiences are these three lessons: 1. Ask for help. When people offer to assist, let them. It doesn’t make you weak, in fact it makes you stronger. 2. Life is going to knock you down sometimes - don’t stay down. 3. Maintain perspective and reflect on what is important - Having a meeting go badly doesn’t really matter in the long run. Being grateful that my children are healthy does.
What keeps you motivated?
I am motivated by the daily reminder that life is short. We have a limited time to make a significant impact. I strive each day to be a changemaker, a coach, and a thought leader, while never forgetting to have fun! My family, my mother’s legacy and my goals lift me and keep me focused.
What is the worst thing someone has ever said to you?
“I am disappointed in you.” As someone who holds very high standards for myself, not hitting the mark really hurts me to the core, especially if I actually feel like the disappointment is warranted. Thankfully this has only happened a few times and none recently!
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
I am launching my new website shortly (paulaedgar.com - sign up for my mailing list!) and I am currently writing a book on law student success strategies. In addition, I will continue to do motivational and informational speeches and workshops for schools, corporations and non-profits. I am also developing a talk show - there are lots of wonderful things on the horizon!
What advice do you have for women of color interested in the law, generally, and/or your current profession, specifically?
My advice is to fully research opportunities and environments, stay focused on your goals, be consistent about building and maintaining relationships, realize that a closed door is often a blessing in disguise, and embrace challenges because they make you stronger. Specifically for those who want to become an entrepreneur, or bar association leader, I encourage you to develop your brand by putting yourself out there. Become active in industry associations and in community organizations in order to develop your network, increase your knowledge and align yourself with the area you hope to go into.
THANK YOU, Paula, for taking the time to share your thoughts with Ms. JD readers!
If you know women who should be featured in this blog, “Not Practicing, Running the Game,” please email me at Laroche@ms-jd.org with their contact information and why you think they would be great NPRG interviewees. I will consider all suggestions!
**Paula Edgar, Esq. is Principal of PGE, LLC - a boutique coaching and consulting firm. The firm provides innovative and strategic solutions on career management, executive/leadership development, organizational diversity efforts, intercultural competence initiatives, networking and social media strategy.
Her professional experiences include serving as the inaugural Chief Diversity Officer at New York Law School, the Associate Director of Career Services and member of the Diversity Council at Seton Hall University School of Law, and as the Executive Director of Practicing Attorneys for Law Students Program, Inc. (PALS), a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing diversity in the legal profession and providing mentoring, academic support, and networking opportunities to law students and junior attorneys of color. Prior to working at PALS, Paula practiced in the Law Enforcement Division of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
For more than a decade, Paula has demonstrated leadership in the areas of diversity and inclusion, issues related to students of color and the legal diversity pipeline. Currently active with a number of organizations and social justice initiatives, she serves as the President-Elect of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association and as the Chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Diversity Pipeline Initiatives Committee.
She received her B.A. in Anthropology from the California State University (Fullerton) and her J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law. Paula has been recognized by The Network Journal Magazine as a “40 Under Forty” Achievement Awardee, and as a Ms. JD “Woman of Inspiration”. Engage with Paula via social media on LinkedIn, Twitter (@paulaedgar) and Facebook.
**Carla Laroche is a Ms. JD Board of Director and a Pro Bono Fellow at Hunton & Williams LLP, where her practice focuses solely on pro bono matters. She holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School.
Note: The statements and views expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect those of any other person or entity.