Just like most careers, the field of law is changing in this fast-moving and increasingly complex world. For women, the change in the practice of
law has been even more dramatic.
Never again will the experience of my first trial as a newly minted attorney be repeated. The judge, having never seen a female lawyer before, looked down from the bench in a courtroom full of spectators as I took my seat at counsel table, and kindly stated, “Honey, you can’t sit there – that table is for laaaaawyers!”
Good thing I won that case, or I might never have progressed beyond that day. Going to Richmond Bar luncheons in those early times and finding myself the only woman among 200 men was daunting, but it certainly gave me a chance to stand out. I always realized that the way I conducted myself was going to make a difference in the way other women were received in a male-dominated world. Finally, when there were four of us, we co-founded the Metropolitan Women’s Bar Association, a tiny organization that we were certain would eventually grow into the large organization it is today, providing a means for women to join together for camaraderie and a chance to influence the development of the legal profession.
Today, we often hear that half of all practicing attorneys wish they had chosen a different field. Well, if that is so, that means there are 50 percent of us who love the profession and would do it all over again! I guess we entered the field for the right reasons and found the right niche.
Here are the top five things I love about being a lawyer:
1. You get to help people and make a difference in their lives.
2. You never get bored. You are always meeting new people, learning, growing, and keeping up with the important things that are happening in the world. (Admittedly, it has its small drudgeries – as anything does – but the rewards are extraordinary.)
3. You get to use your capabilities. You get paid to think, read, talk, write, strategize, problem-solve, advise, and advocate. You get to mentor and be mentored.
4. As a lawyer, you are taking part in shaping the life of our nation and of the world, and helping to uphold the values of our society. Our country is founded on the rule of law.
5. It’s a flexible career with diverse opportunities. There are many ways to work in the field of law or to use a law degree in the professional world. You just need to find the places that are the right fit for you. Importantly, you can do different things at different stages of your life, so there is a great deal of freedom to follow the path or paths of your choice.
In my family, there are four women who have chosen career paths in law, yet each of us is on a different journey. One is self-employed in private practice in a small law firm, one is a career paralegal working for a wealth management company, another is a staff attorney at the Virginia Supreme Court, and still another is the banking commissioner in another state. All of us are mothers. Each of us has found the right niche for our individual needs, skills, and interests, and figured out how to balance an interesting and rewarding career with a family and a meaningful personal life.
Recently, my young niece, aware of all the lawyers in the family, looked at me and exclaimed, “You know, a girl can be anything she wants to be!” I smiled and nodded wisely in agreement. Then she added, “Yes, she doesn’t have to be a lawyer – she can be a princess or anything at all!” I knew then how far we had come, both in life and in the professional world.