As we get closer to job application season for 1Ls and 2Ls, it’s vital to remember that you must use every tool at your disposal to get the job you want.
First, let me start by saying this profession and law school (and this country) does a fantastic job of claiming we succeed through merit. Success is given to those that earn it and deserve it, right?
No. The idea that people get ahead by bootstrapping is a farce. People get ahead because systems are in place to ensure they get ahead. Then when people like us, women and people of color, push ourselves into this system they try to flip the script and either 1) make us feel guilty for ever needing help or 2) strongly imply that we are only successful because people felt guilty or took pity on us. That bootstrap success just never seems to attach to people of color, fancy that…
I mention this because as you start your job hunt you will begin with loads, years worth, of brainwashing that may make you believe that you will only earn your spot through merit. You may feel that strongly. You may even feel a need to prove your worth. So much so that you may opt of programs or opportunities created for POC just because you want to show err’ybody just how strong your bootstraps are.
Don’t do it! That is what people call hustling backwards. In a system that is so dependent on who you know, what you look like, which white man your law school is named after–I’m here to remind you that if you see one opening, one chance at a good position–TAKE IT.
What does that mean?
One. Reach out. It means reach out to alumni of color and your LLSA for support. Get all the gossip and tricks on how to get ahead by those that have been through what you’re experiencing. Take advantage of the outlines they offer, the support, mentorship, etc. because their help is sincere. Also, if something is a foreign concept asking an upperclassmen or alumni mentor for help.When I was a 3L, a 1L asked me to help her prep for a trial team try-out. She didn’t know the ins and outs of trial advocacy yet, but I had gone through the courses. We went over a basic cross, so she knew the points to hit and how to present her case. She made the team :: flips hair:: Don’t hesitate to use your support systems –even in creative ways.
Two. Apply to those specialty programs/scholarships. Some may hesitate to apply to diversity-based scholarships or pipeline programs because we fear we’re saying that we’re not capable. Instead, we want to show we can do it on our own. First, there’s no shame in participating in these programs. People in power have had specialty programs for decades (you know, the whole thing of excluding POC from all types of opportunities). There’s no shame in getting a leg-up, especially when we’re still so far behind. These programs will not only give you the tips and pointers you need to succeed in your practice but will expose you to a community of advocates ready to support you. What is the downside? That Chad down the hall thinks you’re only there because you’re brown? Who cares what he thinks.
Three. Try harder. This is the one tip that is unfair. If things were really equal, it wouldn’t be an issue that everyone starts at base level and needs help along the way. But women, and especially women of color, are presumed to be incompetent. We’re not given the same grace and presumption of potential that are given to white counterparts. This means you really have to do well. Doing well for you means average for others. And that’s not fair. I’m the first to admit it. But I see in the leaders we’ve featured here and we see in our own communities that the key to success is being doubly-prepared. It means mastering your strategy and theory of the case; no half-assing allowed.
Work hella hard on your craft and accept any advantage–big or small–that comes your way. You’ll soon learn that we don’t get that many opportunities to succeed so when there’s a shot, we have to take it regardless of what people may think. And that may be the most important point–there will be many people that think you’re a second-rate intellect because of your skin color. First of all, f— ‘em. But in cases where they have power and influence over you, be ready to show your worth to yourself. As long as you can say to yourself you did your best and took on any opportunity available then you should have no complaints.