Anna* Describes The Law School Assembly Line
Law schools have become cash cows for many universities, tasked with keeping the tuition dollars rolling in regardless of whether it is good for the students, the (now wildly overpopulated) legal profession, or society. 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–silly, 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 you will follow orders and be a good worker-bee.
I am not kidding; this is what some “professional” human resources person told me. Essentially, her advice was to be the robot 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. For too long 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 cannot 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 the law, 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 then sitting in front of a computer for 14+ hours a day reading and typing.
Do that for a week or two, without Internet surf breaks, without lunches out or with friends, in an office that is intermittently too hot or 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 I’d trade the suits and heels for a sundress and flip-flops every time.
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 superiors.
But not knowing any better at the time, I put on the uniform and tried to fit in. (But I still wore gray over blue.)
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
Read more of Anna’s journey into 500k of student loan debt here.