Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Monday, April 20, 2015

Single Parenting Through Law School: Career Planning, Interviewing andOwning Your Story #lawschoolmom

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Perhaps more than "traditional" law students, law students with children really need to establish a game plan early for what they want to do after graduating. It does not have to be crazy specific (i.e. "I'll graduate in May XXXX, sit the bar in NY that July, and begin as an associate, practicing ABC law, in a boutique Manhattan law firm by mid-August"). But you should have a pretty good answer to some of the following questions by the time 3L starts:
  • What kind of law work do you find compelling? Litigation? Transaction? Administrative law? Legal project management? Translating legal processes into plain English?
  • What practice areas or subject areas can you see yourself geeking out on? If you have more than one geek-out interest, what one or two areas seem the most underserved by legal services?
  • Who are the major players and rising stars in the practice area and related law work that interests you?
The answers to these questions do not have to be voluminous. For example, my responses to the above are:
  • I really like transactional law for micro to medium-sized business. I am also interested in: clarifying legal processes and business development strategies for clients; applying Lean to my future law work; and developing a visual roadmap to the administrative law related to economic development and social enterprise.
  • I geek out over social entrepreneurship, impact investing, the outcomes-oriented sharing economy, urban agriculture and gardening.
  • Oh boy...that list is long and compelled me to create several custom Twitter lists: La vie en tricoleur; Design Thinking; Socent USA; Socent UK; Oh CanadaLegal Tech & ReInvent Law; Community Wealth; and Washington State (O Leavenworth & Cave I miss thee).
While doing this kind of groundwork is a good idea for ANY law student going into 3L, it is especially important for student parents because despite the fact that much of 3L is an uphill battle against 3LOL ennui, it goes by fast and job searching and interviewing take up A LOT of time. If you put time into answering the three questions above before starting 3L, your job search will be more efficient, and you'll have more time to prepare for interviews and the many ways prospective employers will ask you, without really asking you, "How can you, as a single parent, do the job for which you are interviewing?"

Granted, it is possible that the employer won't know that you are a single parent and a law student. But if you are anything like me, you've had pics of you and your child as your Facebook profile photo, you may even have listed volunteering at your child's school as recent volunteering experience. Or friends and family may have tagged you in play date photos or family events on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., etc., etc. However the prospective employer finds out, they likely will and it behooves you to think through how you will respond to questions like the following (H/T to HR World for these questions):
  • Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel?
  • You'll be required to travel or work overtime on short notice. Is this a problem for you?
  • What is your experience with "x" age group?
  • Are you willing to relocate?
I recently accepted a job offer from an organization I have long admired, for an awesome one-year fellowship with a very good salary, health benefits and a child-care subsidy. During the telephone interview, the interviewer asked about my plans for my child (I had mentioned volunteering at her school in my application) if I were selected for the fellowship program. I told her the truth: I decided to apply to the fellowship after I saw that it offered a child care subsidy because it signaled to me that the company respects its workforce and genuinely wants to develop a diverse community of people at different life stages, but with complimentary skills. I've been a high-functioning single mother throughout law school and I'm sure that the skills I have honed through this experience, coupled with the subsidy provided by the company, will insure that I continue to bring my best self and my best work to work and to my home. Later, during the two-day in-person interview, a different interviewer expressed some concern about my ability to manage the demands of the position. I politely but confidently pointed out that applying project management, networking and efficient resource management is a life ethic for me. I'm not saying that my response sealed the deal for me on that job, but it didn't appear to hurt, because a little over a week later, I was offered the position.

That positive interview experience coupled with a recent unpleasant experience with a university student newspaper really underscored the importance of owning and telling my story. Recently, in his column for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman wrote about Heidi Grant Halvorson’s new book, No One Understands You And What To Do About It. I've not yet read Halvorson's book (it's now on The List), but I was struck by Burkeman's summation of ego bias: "what matters about you, to someone else, is whatever has most meaning for them, not for you." This may not be particularly revolutionary, but it is important to remember.

I recently forgot this lesson, and found my story warped nearly to the point of defamation by a careerist "journalist" who transformed my story and family into a cipher for struggle and drama that landed her the cover story but completely erased the competence, resourcefulness, joy and triumphs that have figured prominently in the life I have built for my daughter and I. It was an annoying way to relearn the lesson that people will project upon me their own preconceived notions about who a single mom law student must be. Rather than be surprised by this, I need to be as ready as I had been in the job interviews to own my story, tell my story and integrate the lessons and skills I have learned into the next chapter of my prospective employer's story.

An employer needs to know that who you will be as a co-worker and/or employee, will be someone who can manage her family responsibilities in a way that does not undermine the work at work. And you need to know the type of work that interests you, and how the skills you have honed finding your school/family life balance will enable you to transition to work/family life. Know your story. Own it. Share it. And make it work for you as you transition out of law school and (back) into the working world.

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