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Staff Attorney, Catholic Charities
Where did you work/do prior to entering law school?
First I did the Public Allies Americorps program in Chicago for 10 months, doing adult literacy tutoring and job skills training, and teaching computer skills to teens at an alternative high school. I then worked at the Center for Conflict Resolution for 3 years, doing court-based and community mediation. Finally, I worked for 3 years as a doula (childbirth assistant/advocate) for teen mothers.
Why did you decide to go to law school after being away from school for so many years?
I felt like I needed new skills and a new credential to take my work to the next level. Law school felt like it would be a good challenge, and would position me to do similar types of work in a new way.
What skills that you developed throughout your pre-law career do you think were helpful and most transferrable to your summer law jobs?
Extensive experience working with clients, strong professional communication skills (oral, written, email), ability to manage time and workload independently, self-awareness/self-knowledge to know when and in what ways I needed supervision or training, ability to work with wide range of coworkers in varied work environments
How did you handle discussing your pre-law school career experience during a summer job interview? If you had a real change in direction, how did you handle it?
I tried to weave a narrative in which my past experiences led me--directly or indirectly--to this next step in my career. Where such a narrative was more difficult, I would focus on the skills I had developed and how those could transfer to new situations. More often than not, though, I was able to explain how my past work dovetailed nicely with the new challenges I was seeking.
Did you find public interest employers were concerned about or liked your non-linear career path?
My sense is that the employers liked my non-linear path; it made me more well-rounded, more interesting on a personal level (employers are people, after all!), more of a "known quantity"--someone with a track record of working successfully in public interest settings. Also, because all my past work experience was public interest, it made my commitment to the work very clear.
Did you include or exclude anything on your resume or elaborate on areas of past work experience so potential employers would pay attention about your past experience or avoid questions regarding it?
I did try to highlight the tasks and skill sets in past jobs that would be most relevant to the jobs I was seeking. There was nothing that I categorically excluded, but because I had so many past work experiences to choose from, I did pick and choose a bit according to what job I was seeking. I don't think I ever felt the need to hide anything I had done in the past.
What suggestions do you have for other non-traditional students that might help them throughout the course of their time at HLS?
Find community--whether friends, mentors, social groups, etc--who understand and support your path and don't make you feel like you have to explain yourself. You may find that community within the law school, or may need to find it outside the law school (I found community in a meditation community outside the school, and getting involved in the Parody within the school). If you find you're constantly surrounded by people who don't "get it", it's time to find some who do, so you don't start doubting yourself.
Also, remember that your past experience makes you really stand out in applicant pools for summer positions (and positions after law school), which means you can take risks and go for creative, unusual, or hard-to get positions.
Finally, if you're someone whose non-traditional path grew from a spirit of experimentation, adventure, and learning by doing (as in "hmmm, maybe I'll try that!"), don't give that up just because you're now in a very traditional, structured environment. Keep looking for opportunities that sound exciting and fun, not just ones that sound like they would be a good idea to try. If you're not pumped about it, don't do it. That's SO hard to remember at HLS, but that would be my biggest advice. I don't regret any of the jobs I took or activities I got involved in that made me feel excited or inspired; I do regret things I did that felt like "shoulds".
Do you have any suggestions on how they might get involved at HLS? Were there any resources that are/were particularly helpful for you during your time at HLS?
The staff at OPIA are fantastic, and really helped guide me during my time in law school. As far as getting involved at HLS, my one suggestion would be to have at least one activity that you do just for the pure love of it--not to build your resume, not to position yourself, not to create a more seamless narrative--just because it's fun. Staying connected with joy is the single best thing you can do to ensure you're headed in the right direction.
Keep looking for opportunities that sound exciting and fun, not just ones that sound like they would be a good idea to try.
Annie Levin '10
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