Birthday Wisdom for Future Lawyers
Tomorrow (or today, depending on when you get this) is my 38th birthday. I share this so that the parents of my clients will stop reacting to my pictures on Facebook by saying, “That 25 year old is the person we hired to help you???” (Yes, this has happened, despite the fact that I remain – for now – Botox-free.) Too much sharing on a law school related blog? Let me then get to the point:
I’m at a place in my life where I have wisdom to share, and not just related to how you can get into your dream law school. I find myself giving my clients and blog readers advice about relationships (how to maintain them while in law school), fashion (what to wear when visiting law schools or on job interviews), finances (how much to spend on law school), family (do they plan to work throughout their thirties or take time off to raise a family?) priorities (balancing school, work, family, fashion and relationships), and so many other topics. As I look back on the past 38 years, here is a little sampling of what I’ve learned that I hope interests you more than it bores you.
1. Applying to Law School. For those of you wondering, I did it all wrong. This is NOT where my expertise on law school admissions came from. I decided to take the LSAT one month before the June 1995 test. I had to call LSAC to register on the very last day and was on hold for something like 72 minutes – paying LONG DISTANCE rates. I was so irate when they finally picked up that they agreed to send me a check to cover the cost of the call! (See, I really am ancient). Then, I studied on my own, while working and going to summer school. I wrote a personal statement that included pretty much everything from my resume and had a high school AP history teacher write a letter of recommendation. OY VEY. I chose 3 schools to apply to: University of Miami (where I was attending college) and the two public law schools in Florida (at the time there were only two). I applied October 1st and by October 8th I’d been admitted to UM, so I sent my deposit in and that was that.
2. How I Approached Law School. I decided to go part time because I was intimidated by the people from my undergrad school who would be attending full time. I wanted some distance, and to be quite honest I hoped to get out of their shadows. Plus, I was also pursing a career in advertising at the time and wasn’t ready to commit to law. The good news is that I really hit my academic stride as a law student. It is the first time I felt confident in my academic abilities, to be honest, and the first time I really “got it.” Choosing what was relevant, writing and thinking quickly – that was all stuff that fell nicely within my cup of tea. I soon quit my job, transferred to the full time program, and did even better each successive year. My regrets from law school are threefold: (1) that I placed too much importance on grades and expected everyone else to place importance on my grades; (2) that I spent too much time trying to be president of everything and not enough time really soul-searching about my career and networking with attorneys; (3) that I took the jobs everyone said I should take instead of the jobs that would’ve been good fits for my personality and strengths.
3. How I Approached My Career. I should never have landed in BigLaw. But I did. So I should have paid attention while I was there. Instead of worrying about why there were no women partners and why female summer associates were paired with female mentors but the male summer associates got to pow-wow with the male partners, I should have been asking someone the secrets of billing. How do I bill an hour? How long should things take me? How does this whole thing work? I did, however, end up finding two very good (non-BigLaw) careers for myself, and then a third. After law school, I took my skills from being president of everything in school and worked in higher education. Other than the endless brainstorming meetings, I rather liked higher education. I particularly loved working in admissions, promoting a law school I believed in, talking with students and prospective students, choosing which students would be risks worth taking and calling students to congratulate them when they were admitted, when they were selected for scholarships – that was all fabulous stuff. I really did love it. So, what happened? I got married and moved to Santa Barbara – therefore there was nowhere to be Director of Admissions.
This was the opportunity I needed to – finally – become a litigator. It was a small, boutique firm and I’ve got to say that I thrived. It was a casual office environment. I worked directly with sophisticated clients, got lots of good (and manic) mentoring, and learned how to make money as a lawyer. I loved taking depos, arguing motions, it was good stuff. So, what happened? I had a baby. I worked until a week before my daughter was born, even from the hospital when I had preterm labor symptoms. I worked from home for 8 days after she was born and then set up baby-central in my office. This worked for four months, and then – coincidentally – all of my cases settled and there was no more work for me. (I won’t go into whether I bought any of that, but that’s what I was told).
I took my severance and started Law School Expert. I write (two books to date). I help people make their strongest arguments for who they are and where they are going in life. I advise clients going through a stressful time in their lives. I assure them and reassure them. Steer them. I get to know them, I get to help them, I get to follow their careers and feel like I am part of their success and future accomplishments. I got a great card in the mail from a current 2L who wished me a happy birthday and told me how much I’ve meant to her. So I have to say, I’m supremely happy with how things have worked out for my career. I think the point is that there will be bumps in the road. You won’t get the job offer you thought you wanted/needed and you may get a pink slip from a job that you think defines you. And you will be able to pick yourself up – if you decide to do so – and create a life and career for yourself that is greater, more meaningful, and enriched by your past mistakes.
4. Revisiting my Attitude. For the person who reviewed my book and hung it up based on my ‘optimistic’ attitude, let me assure you that I know what it is to be a cynic. I had a turning point in law school where I walked into a professor’s office bitching about my clinical work and walked out seeing the sunshine. Why? Because he told me it was my choice. I could see the negative, I could nag at home, I could complain about what I didn’t have the opportunity to do, I could feel slighted and demoralized by not getting BigLaw jobs. Or, I could see that the sun is shining. (After all, I did go to law school in Miami. Why the hell didn’t I ever go to the beach????) I needed to have fun, to be happy, to be nice. And this realization changed my life. I changed my personal life significantly and drastically. I decided to be different from myself. And I was. And I still am. But I feel more like myself as a result.
5. Choosing Friends. This is important. Surround yourself with people who are supportive. Before law school, during law school, and after law school. Find those people who tell you what you need to hear while acknowledging what you want to hear. Who don’t make you feel “less than.” Who don’t expect you to be perfect. Who give you great ideas. Who stick by you, even when it’s inconvenient. Eliminate people from your life who bring you down without good reason. Unsubscribe from their feeds, texts, calls, and stop taking lunch with them. Walk away. And when you find someone who appreciates you without the fancy credentials and when you still drive a crappy car, that’s a good person to keep my your side. Unless the person has a thing against people with nice cars, because then he won’t be a true friend ten years down the road when you pull up in your BMW.
So, how will I spend my birthday? I’m getting dressed up and meeting friends for breakfast. Then I’m hoping for a little walk on the beach alone, but of course I might choose to shop instead. Then I’ll be with my daughters for the afternoon. For dinner, I’ll probably pick up Mexican food and then be forced to politely pick at the gluten-laden, buttercream frosted cake my mother in law will bring over even through I haven’t eaten gluten or dairy in over a year.
If anyone from ATL reads this post, I’m sure it will become viral drivel. But I believe in this stuff. I’d love to hear if you also believe that we can learn from ourselves and from our elders, and -as of tomorrow- I’m one of the later.