In high school, I played around with the idea of becoming a lawyer. I could picture myself as a lawyer for the ACLU. In the courtroom, I would ferociously represent my client in the biggest civil rights lawsuit of the century. Or maybe, I would picture myself drinking the celebratory glass of champagne after making partner at a big law firm, having closed the huge deal with a nameless Fortune 500 company.
Evidently, I watched far too many law dramas. However, those shows made the law career irresistible. The lawyers on television were always polished, always possessed a perpetual composure and the power to enact change. In my eyes, lawyers were basically superheroes with briefcases.
In high school, I had given very little thought to how I was going to get there. But as I was approaching my junior year of undergrad, I was spending more nights making sure my GPA was law school worthy, hunting down internships, and freaking out about my nonexistent score on the LSAT. I began talking to actual lawyers about a career in law. Some told me that the job market for lawyers was great while others urged me not to pursue it. Doubt constantly crept into my mind. I was questioning if I was capable of successful career in law. The glimmering picture of myself at the top of my law career was often replaced with dog-eared images of long nights studying for the LSAT and even longer summers building up my resume.
Despite my reservations, being a lawyer was something I still wanted. When I attended National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) this summer, I knew that I needed to attend the panel on Law and the Judicial System. This workshop included a panel of women lawyers who would offer advice and speak to their experiences in the field of law.
As I walked into the conference room, I was thrilled to see that the panel included several black women. Before this, I had never spoken to a black woman lawyer, women who looked like me. Now, here were black women who had graduated from Harvard Law School, black women who were immigration lawyers, black women who were corporate lawyers, and black women who were civil lawyers. As cliche as it sounds, I could truly see myself being a lawyer.
Yes, I had Scandal’s Olivia Pope and Insecure’s Molly in my past, but they will never be the tangible role models that these women became for me that day. Until that workshop, a part of my aspiration to be a lawyer felt as fictional as Olivia and Molly.
During the hour-long session, I listened, learned and came to admire what these women had accomplished and the guidance they provided me and others.
About halfway into the workshop, the feeling of reassurance began to slowly dissipate as the panelists solemnly acknowledged their student debt.
Many of the lawyers spoke about their frequent ninety-hour weeks at the office and their heavy workloads. “Think about if and when you have a family,” one lawyer advised when the topic of their workload arose.
“I know a lot of smart people who are unemployed,” one lawyer said. “Think long and hard about this. Evaluate the reasons why you want to be a lawyer.”
“I’m not here to tell you to be lawyer or not be a lawyer,” another added.
As the panel came to a close, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed. A part of me knew I attended the workshop in hopes of being encouraged to go to law school and become a lawyer. However, the honest discussion about the law career was far more valuable than a few words of encouragement. Now, I know that if I want to go to law school, it must be because I want to be a lawyer. Not because my family is pressuring me to go or because I’m trying to find a way to be a student forever. After all, it will be me who will be repaying student loans, working those ninety-hour weeks or possibly unemployed.
The workshop and the conference forced me to reflect on what I wanted for my future rather than what was expected of me.
So, am I going to law school?
Ask me next year.