The Legal Content Curator: Encouraging Advice from the Women of the Supreme Court

With final exams upon us, it can sometimes be hard to keep sight of the reasons why we're at law school in the first place. What am I doing here? Where will my next career move take me? Will I be able to succeed?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a New York Times article from October of last year, offers some "Advice for Living." She reminds us of the importance of work-life balance in providing us with "a sense of proportion" that others, focused on one thing alone, will likely not find.

[My father-in-law gave me advice] during my gap years, 1954 to ‘56, when my husband, Marty, was fulfilling his obligation to the Army as an artillery officer at Fort Sill, Okla. By the end of 1954, my pregnancy was confirmed. We looked forward to becoming three in July 1955, but I worried about starting law school the next year with an infant to care for. Father’s advice: “Ruth, if you don’t want to start law school, you have a good reason to resist the undertaking. No one will think the less of you if you make that choice. But if you really want to study law, you will stop worrying and find a way to manage child and school.” And so Marty and I did, by engaging a nanny on school days from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. . . .

My success in law school, I have no doubt, was in large measure because of baby Jane. I attended classes and studied diligently until 4 in the afternoon; the next hours were Jane’s time, spent at the park, playing silly games or singing funny songs, reading picture books and A. A. Milne poems, and bathing and feeding her. After Jane’s bedtime, I returned to the law books with renewed will. Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor agrees, asking students in a visit to University of Chicago Law School, “Do you stop and breathe? Do you stop and talk for the sake of talking? Do you even see a movie?” It isn't about filling your schedule with activities that will make your resume look good, according to Sotomayor - it's about passion, and taking the time for casual interactions with classmates.

Justice Elena Kagan reminds us to remain open to new possibilities, too. She speaks of the importance of serendipity, in her comments to students at a career fair in Crystal City, Virginia:

I’ve found in my life that the best opportunities are the ones that you didn’t expect. I’m a huge believer in serendipity in life and in careers and especially in legal careers, and think that what young people ought to do, and not-so-young people as well, is to just sort of keep their eyes open for opportunities. All the most fun things that I’ve done in my life, I didn’t really expect to do.

Justice Sotomayor emphasizes how important it is to think more about what appeals to us on a personal level, and less about the form that work takes.

Worry a little less. In the end, find some form of work that satisfies you, that makes you feel good about what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter what kind of law you practice. Just make sure that it appeals to some part of your personality—whether it’s intellectually, emotionally, spiritually.

From finding work-life balance - and stopping to breathe - to remaining open to new opportunities in the search for deep personal satisfaction, Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor all stress the importance of stepping back.

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