Anna* and the Law School Assembly Line
Law school provides a stringent environment where everybody is expected to fit in just so. Anna* discovered the hard – and expensive – way that this wasn't for her.
Law schools have become cash cows for many universities, tasked with keeping the tuition dollars rolling in, regardless of whether it’s good for the students, the (now wildly overpopulated) legal profession, or society as a whole.
A critical part of the law school assembly line is the career center.
Because campus career centers are usually concerned with what’s best for themselves and their university, not with what’s best for students and alumni, they often give tragically poor (or just plain silly) advice. Insulting fashion advice, for example.
I recall having a couple of top-notch gray suits. Because they fit well and looked good on me, I felt confident when I wore them – just how one should feel going into interviews. At on-campus interviews, however, the career center admonished me that I should never wear gray – always blue.
Why? Because gray is a power color, because the boss wears gray. Blue is a subservient color and tells the law firm that you will follow orders and be a good worker bee.
I’m not kidding – this is what some “professional” human resources person told me. Essentially, her advice was to be the robot that every law firm dreams of instead of being myself.
Too much career advice tells us to pretend to be who we think an employer wants.
And for a long time, I fell for that trap. In the short term, you may get a job, but in the long term, it’s unlikely to be a good fit. You don’t succeed because you can’t be yourself. The company is unhappy because you aren’t who it thought it was getting.
Learning to be true to oneself is something sorely missing from higher education across the board, but especially in law school, where how one pays the bills can easily take over one’s identity.
The best advice I’ve ever heard about deciding if a career path is for you is to “try on the uniform” first. If you want to be a lawyer, that means putting on an itchy wool suit (plus pantyhose and high heels if you’re a woman) and sitting in front of a computer for 14-plus hours a day reading and typing.
Do that for a week or two without internet-surfing breaks, without lunches out with friends, in an office that’s intermittently too hot and too cold.
If you take that test drive and still want to get up in the morning and sit at that desk all day, then law just might be for you.
Had I tried that exercise, I would’ve known in a matter of hours that I want to work with my hands – preferably outside rather than in an office – and that I’d trade the suits and heels for a sundress and flip-flops anytime.
A career isn’t what you see on TV, and it isn’t limited to the function you perform. It’s also very much the actual uniform you wear, the hours you work, the physical and emotional workplace environment, your colleagues, and your superiors.
But not knowing any better at the time, I put on the uniform and tried to fit in. (Though I still wore gray over blue.)
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.