By Molly Timko • August 30, 2019•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Issues, Other Issues
As I mentioned in my first blog post, I experienced heightened self-awareness about my blue-collar roots once I entered the legal profession. For this month’s blog post, I wanted to share some of my awkward workplace encounters involving food. I am fully aware that these awkward food encounters are trivial in comparison to larger socioeconomic issues such as structural inequality. However, I think it’s important for us first-generation lawyers to share our personal experiences, frustrations, and lessons learned.
As a newly minted lawyer, I found that the majority of my coworkers appeared to possess sophisticated palates and expansive culinary vocabularies. Casual lunchtime conversations typically revolved around food (in addition to work of course). During these lunch breaks, my coworkers would sometimes critique each other’s meal selections. This was the first time I ever felt judged for drinking soda, eating fast food, or using disposable plasticware. This was also when I first learned about “foie gras." It was actually referenced in a case about avian influenza (aka "bird flu") and I had to Google the term in order to understand the substance of the case. Later, I would overhear a colleague complain during lunch about the quality of her pate.
At the time, I didn’t have much interest in cooking or watching The Food Network, but I certainly had some exposure to diverse foods. Nevertheless, I sometimes felt like an outsider during meals with lawyer colleagues, and I struggled to engage in small talk about food and other seemingly benign topics. For me, these awkward lunches were subtle reminders of my sense of not quite belonging in this new social class.
Notably, my professional experience never included positions in Big Law so I likely experienced a milder form of self-consciousness about class differences at work in comparison to first-generation attorneys during the early stages of their careers at elite law firms. Perhaps you already figured this out because I mentioned taking regular lunch breaks with coworkers.
Fortunately, law schools and law firms now have greater awareness of the unique challenges of first-generation law students and legal professionals, and many have implemented specialized programs and mentoring opportunities for these trailblazers. Below are just a few links to interesting articles and resources for first-generation law students/lawyers:
As for my food-related faux pas, I have since watched countless episodes of Chopped and significantly beefed up my foodie vocabulary (e.g., I am now familiar with the terms balsamic reduction, deconstructed anything, and molecular gastronomy), and I even reduced my soda intake. Also, I have splurged on some bougie meals from time to time, especially during Restaurant Week, but I admittedly still feel a little snobby about it.
I encourage you to share your own awkard encounters and wisdom with me by commenting below. Thanks for reading!