Practice Advice For the Law School Graduate
The legal profession poses a multitude of challenges to female attorneys and the women profiled in this series lead the way by example, in effecting change and working to shatter the glass ceiling. In doing so, they’ve experienced a great deal of change in the industry throughout their careers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has served to impose a new set of challenges to the legal environment, and especially to recent graduates from law school. The American Bar Association (“ABA”) stressed, in a recent webinar, the obstacles facing new law school graduates and rising 3Ls due to the newly depressed legal job market and unanticipated issues surrounding licensing and the bar exam. To add to the mounting pressures, law students graduate with around $148,000, on average, in student debt. To put that into perspective, according to a 2019 Zillow report, the average price of a home in America is $226,800. Comparatively, most law students in the U.S. are starting their careers under substantial financial stress.
“Take care of yourself,” is a phrase we hear now more than ever, in this strange time of COVID-19. The global pandemic has escalated the notion, both physically and mentally. The word “pandemic” generally alludes to physical illness, but mental health repercussions can in some cases be felt just as strongly as the potential physical effects of illness, as people learn to live with this new sense of isolation from each other.
Organizations across the globe—from the World Health Organization to the CDC—have advised as to the importance of mental health during COVID-19, as people continue to be inundated day and night by an endless 24-hour news cycle and by constantly accessible social media surrounding the spread of the virus. The CDC has advised Americans to “be kind to your mind” during this unprecedented time and offers tips for coping with the resulting stress.
In recent months, there has been no shortage of distressing news. An inspiring story on beating the odds from someone who was able to rise above an extraordinarily difficult start to life is a refreshing change. This edition of Women in the Law profiles an extraordinary female attorney who faced hardships that many of us cannot imagine and has come out the other side with an intense determination to succeed.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few short months ago, the thought of American life grinding to a halt seemed unfathomable. And yet, here we all are. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home, a “new normal” has developed since the time that stay-at-home mandates threw us into a chaotic new reality. This new normal has blurred the lines of our work and home lives, as many of us now juggle Zoom meetings from our living rooms in between home schooling children and checking in on our families and friends.
What is a key component to becoming an effective attorney? If you ask people who aren’t attorneys, they will say a love of arguing makes a good lawyer. And how many times have you encountered a proud parent who insists their child is destined for the courtroom because they argue with their parents constantly? But is that what makes a good lawyer in reality? Most lawyers would say that, while being able to formulate a strong argument is a crucial part of the profession, being empathetic to the issues facing others and effective listening are the best traits for a strong client advocate. So, while a love of debating is what often draws students into law school, it is a love of justice and the desire to help others that makes them into successful counsel. Attorney Kelly Reed embodies all of these points of view.
In today’s world of social media influencers and so-called self-help gurus, it has suddenly become trendy to be focused on self-care, meditation and mindfulness. However that same world, combined with constant communication, has made our lives busier than ever often resulting in relegating self-care to the bottom of our to-do lists. This can be especially true for working mothers who want to give their all to both their career and their family, often putting themselves last in the order of importance. But self-care isn’t just a passing fad—it is an important part of modern life and is crucial to living a well-balanced life. In this edition of Women in the Law, we profile a successful attorney who has made self-care and meditation central to her day-to-day life.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that most people have, at some point in their lives, felt pressure to conform to an expectation that society has arbitrarily levied upon them. This is especially true for women. As women, we are constantly bombarded with contradictory representations in the media and on television of how the perfect modern woman should look and act. When it comes to the idealized image of the female attorney, generally the message is the same—she is aggressive, she is loud and she is always impeccably dressed and coifed. This image seldom bears any real resemblance to the actual women who spend their days tirelessly fighting for their clients and trying to change the tides of gender inequality in the legal field. This month, we spoke with attorney Brenda S. Fulmer to get her perspective on the challenges facing the modern female attorney—her answers were refreshing and hopeful for the future.
In today’s world of the 24-hour news cycle and the instantaneous publishing power of social media, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge what is fact from mere conjecture. At times, it feels like we live in a culture where jumping to conclusions and making broad generalizations has become de rigueur. The subject of this month’s edition of Women in the Law, San Francisco attorney Lori Andrus, is of the opinion that in order to succeed and to make strides, women need to be aware of this potential pitfall and become the most prepared and knowledgeable person in the room.
Fielding a litany of questions when sharing what you do for a living is a familiar situation for many. The day-to-day grind of life as an attorney often does not reflect the excitement portrayed in television legal dramas. For attorney Karen Beyea-Schroeder, however, the early years of her career played out like a well-paced episode of the late 1990s legal program, JAG.
Don’t be afraid to be who you are—a sentiment often promulgated among young people by teachers, parents and ad campaigns hoping to encourage confidence in one’s own skin. But sometimes that is easier said than done. As we get older and more experienced, we may consciously, or subconsciously, temper our personality to fit societal expectations, particularly in a professional setting. Women have an especially fine line to tread in the professional arena, most notably in male-dominated professions such as the law. When you meet a woman who stands out from the crowd and who is unapologetically herself, you can’t help but admire her for the trail she is blazing for all women in the legal industry.
“Our voices are stronger together.” We’ve heard this phrase time and time again, but over the past two years it has taken on a life of its own. From the moment thousands gathered for the Women’s March on Washington in early 2017, there has been a shift in the collective consciousness and solidarity among women in America. Recently, it seems, each passing month brings a new challenge and along with it a new cause to rally around, both of which serve to bond women together in their quest for genuine equality.
The path of the female attorney is not always easy nor is it the same for every woman in the legal industry. When trying to find a place in a profession such as the law, which is still for the most part considered a “boys’ club,” many lawyers believe that they must adhere to antiquated ideas of how a lawyer “should” act. However, our latest profiled attorney in the Women in the Law Series, New York and New Jersey attorney Debbie Gough, decided to turn her back on such preconceived notions and chose instead to embrace what makes her different. For Ms. Gough, mantras of truthfulness, passion and empathy have guided her to become a zealous, top-notch litigator as well as a more discerning human being.
When this series of interviews first began on the cusp of 2018, we reflected on the momentous events of 2017. It was a year that began with women taking to the streets to show solidarity for one another in protesting for equal rights, and ended with a multi-industry whistleblowing initiative to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. As we move forward in 2018, it seems like this will be a year of no excuses.
Since this interview series began, we have brought to light many common issues that affect women in the legal industry. We have discussed the myth of “having it all,” the need to find your inner strength to fight for those who have none and the desire to find your voice in the crowd. All of these themes have individually touched on the professional challenges that women attorneys face in order to succeed. However, in honor of the month of May, a month in which Americans take time to honor their mothers, this edition of Women in the Law will discuss a different kind of challenge, one many women in this country face—the challenge of being a working mother.
With the rise of social media and constant communication, it seems that we live in a world of relentless peer competition to prove who has the most fulfilling life. Images flash along an Instagram or Facebook feed showing well-behaved children, beautifully decorated homes and expensive vacations to exotic locales. These images are used to project a version of a life that may not match up with day-to-day realities. The posted pictures do not show an exhausted child’s meltdown in the middle of that expensive vacation, that beautifully decorated home when it is a cluttered mess at 6:30 pm on a weeknight, or a weary woman who has returned home from a long, aggravating day at the office to face a second shift of domestic chores and childcare.