Lessons Learned During Ten Years of Practice
So, in early November I passed the ten year mark. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been practicing for ten years, but at the same time, I’ve been able to pack so much in the past decade. There was so much happening in early November, I didn’t feel like there was space to discuss this milestone but there is no way I can reach this anniversary and not say something!
I thought it would be fun to share some big and small lessons that have made the difference in my career. When I graduated law school, it was at the height of the worst recession (ha!) and no one–NO ONE–in my class was finding work the way we expected. I focused on passing the Bar and by happenstance found an AmeriCorps position at the local legal aid, which developed into a career as an immigration/poverty law/gender-based violence attorney. While it’s also easy to share the highs and victories, there were also a lot of mistakes and missteps along the way. Here are the top lessons I’ve learned:
One. You Are Your Best Advocate. The first lesson I learned was to overcome imposter syndrome and the only way to do that was to step into my power, intelligence, and potential. I had to believe that I was capable of excelling as an attorney and second-guessing my talent was not helpful. In fact, there are already too many that question you because how your skin color, accent, hairstyle, etc. They don’t need more support. Being your biggest and best advocate means that you commit to your craft; this means you push yourself. You look for opportunities to strengthen your skills and reputation and don’t rely on your supervisors to be on the look out for you. Push to attend a training, take substantial CLEs, look for complex cases, whatever you can to hone your skills. Knowing your capabilities means you then can advocate for yourself ($$$) when it’s time to so that you leave no dollar on the table.
Two. Recognize When It’s Time to Go. It is gut-wrenching to realize you’ve reached the limit at your firm. Whether it’s another passed over promotion; one micro-aggression too many; a stark realization they won’t ever value what your bring to the table—it fucking hurts. It hurts because we pour so much into the work and we bring so much value to the firm in terms of cultural competency and lived-experiences. Even when you realize it’s time to go, it’s easy to keep making excuses and stay. Maybe the work is easy, the work-life balance is good, or you think there’s nothing better out there. First, see lesson number one. But mostly, you owe it to yourself to be passionate about your career and to not let the resentment build up so that you stop growing. It’s scary to move on, especially when you’re comfortable, but when you’re young (which apparently is less than ten years), you can’t sacrifice your career for comfort. A lesson I learned a little late in the game!
Three. Success is What You Make of It. Like our Hermana in California told us–we get to define what success means for us. Remember, many of us got to law school after overcoming poverty, personal struggles, first-generation barriers, etc. and despite those barriers, we reached a goal that at one time seemed like a wild dream. Now, with your law license in hand, you can craft a career however you want–be open to new opportunities, practices, sectors–whatever brings satisfaction. It’s easy to buy into the hype that a successful career looks a certain way, but you already learned years ago, when you set the goal to be a lawyer, that you’re capable of achieving beyond your wildest dream and you can’t let others put a limit on that.
I’m excited for the next ten! I know better than to make predictions, but I have some ideas/goals. Ultimately, I hope that wherever I am in November 2030 (!) I’m still helping young professionals because of all the really great things I’ve been fortunate to do, by far, growing this community and helping other Lawtinas is absolutely the highlight and honor! <3