Law as a Second Career

There are some people who have known that they wanted to be lawyers since they were kids, or perhaps met a lawyer in high school or college who encouraged and inspired them to apply to law school. However, that’s not always how life works out.

I didn’t personally know any lawyers growing up. Even though I had always loved to read and write, I never had anyone put those pieces together for me and say that I should consider a career in law. It simply never posed itself as a viable career path. I went through college, studying communications and political science, and ended up at the University of Glasgow in Scotland to get a Master’s Degree in International Politics. It was during my graduate program that I ended up in an International Law course, and something sparked in me every so dimmly.

I moved back to the States and began a career in international higher education. I worked with international students who came to the United States on F-1 visas from up to 40 different countries, and I loved it. I loved helping students sort out complex issues with their immigration status, or just talking to them about adjusting to life in the US. On a different plain, I was doing the sort of work that lawyer’s do for their clients every day: I listened to them, I assessed their options, communicated those options, and advocated for them to USCIS. It was through this job that I also began working with immigration attorneys, whom I frankly realized I was just as smart and capable as. With some deliberation, I decided to take the LSAT and apply to law school.

This was the best decision I could have made for myself. The law opens doors to career paths I could have only imagined having access to prior. It expands your mind in new and exciting ways, but it uses the building blocks of your past education and former career to strengthen those skills. Coming into law school with prior experience allows you to contextualize what you’re learning in deeper ways and makes you appreciate the work you have already done in a new light.

All that to say, is that it can be scary to leave a job or consider taking a huge leap in changing your career path. Three years sounds like a big commitment. However, not only does three years fly by in an environment like law school, if you really want what’s on the other side, there is nothing more worthwhile.

Finding Your Practice Area

Have you ever felt like everyone else knows exactly what they want to do career wise and you are the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out? Avoid panic; you’re definitely not the only one who doesn’t have a clue, and that’s okay!

I have always been someone who was interested in so many subjects, careers, and areas of law that is too hard for me to choose exactly what I want to do. If you find yourself in a similar situation, my advice is to try as many different classes, internships, and other experiences as possible so you can begin to eliminate what you DON’T want to do.

I went into undergrad as an undeclared student. It took me over a year and a half to finally declare my major and I narrowed down my choices by trying out classes in different subject areas, talking to professors about their careers and interests, and testing several campus jobs and internships. I eventually landed on political science as my major and later decided to apply to law schools. Once I started at Widener, I found myself facing the same problem that I had faced in undergrad. I had no idea what type of law I wanted to practice after graduation.

It was frustrating at first because it seemed like every other student I spoke with knew exactly what they wanted; for example, that they wanted to be a criminal defense attorney or that they wanted to be a family law attorney and specialize in divorce. It seemed like I was one of only a few students who didn’t have anything figured out and it was overwhelming. To narrow my choices, I first visited with Widener’s Dean of Career Development who was able to help me realize that there were quite a few areas of the law that I already knew weren’t the right fit for me. For example, I had interned with a small private family law firm after graduation from undergrad and that experience helped me determine that family law isn’t a fit for me, but it also helped me realize that perhaps transactional work would suit me best. I also had an internship with a local county collections department and that experience helped me determine that I wasn’t interested in criminal law. Once I realized what I didn’t want to do, I focused on finding an internship for 1L summer that would expose me to something completely new, so I could determine if it may be a fit for me.

During the summer of 2022 I interned with the Office of General Counsel: Department of Environmental Protection. From this experience I learned that government work is really interesting to me and that may be something I want to pursue in the future, and at the same time I learned that environmental law is also not my strong suit.

The moral of my story is to try as many things as possible if you aren’t sure where you want to end up. Every experience I’ve had has been extremely valuable to me, even if after that experience I decided that that job was totally wrong for me. It is sometimes better to determine what you don’t like before you settle on a career path. If you ever feel lost or overwhelmed about finding an internship/externship that will be beneficial to you, reach out to professors and the staff at Widener to help you narrow your choices.  It’s OKAY to not know what you’re doing! You’ll find the perfect fit eventually!

My Summer Internship with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps

After a stressful first year of law school, I was looking forward to summer; having a change of pace, relaxing, and being able to gain real-world experience in the practice of law. When I was applying for summer internships, I decided to apply for the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps internship thinking this would be a perfect time to test the waters for a post-Widener career path. Around the February timeframe, I received an email offering me a position to intern with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in Washington, D.C. I was elated with the news because it finally had felt like all my hard work was paying off. 

Arriving in D.C. made me feel like I was a freshman being dropped off at college again; a new city, knowing no one, unaware of what the future would hold – it was extremely nerve-racking, and exciting all at the same time. Little did I know my days would be filled with activities such as morning runs, court martials, tours of the Pentagon and the Naval Air Station Patuxent River – just to name a few things. 

When Monday morning rolled around, I was more jittery than ever; I arrived at the Navy Yard and found myself immediately immersed in uniformed personnel and Navy culture. It was overwhelming to say the least, however, I was warmly greeted by my mentor for the summer and the Lieutenant I would be working with for the next ten weeks. She made me feel welcomed right away and helped me to get everything squared away. 

I worked in the Commander, Navy Installation Command (CNIC) for the summer; they are responsible for all shore installations under the control of the Navy. The CNIC reports directly to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). The office I worked in was smaller – three JAG attorney’s and myself. With only two semesters of law school under my belt, going into my first internship was a bit intimidating but the women I worked with made me feel right at home!

My summer spent as a Navy JAG intern was one, I won’t forget, but parts of it are also a blur. I quickly became familiar with the commonly used acronyms, the structure of the Navy, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and the Manual of the Judge Advocate General (JAGMAN).  I was given substantive legal projects which involved various topics including: reviewing Nonjudicial Punishment (NJP) and Administrative Separation (ADSEP) cases and providing recommendations, researching the limitations on the authority of Navy Security Forces (NSF) to issue citations for federal misdemeanors involving unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flying over naval installations, researching policy concerns that may arise if CNIC’s Commander goes to certain events, and helping to draft and execute wills. Further, I was also able to observe oral arguments and portions of an ongoing court martial proceeding. 

I also experienced aspects of JAG life that were totally unrelated to the legal field, such as physical training (PT). During the summer, I was welcomed to join my JAG colleagues in PT – most of the time which consisted of an early morning run, but other times we did other activities such as a group HIIT workout – I even was able to take the official Navy Physical Readiness Test (PRT) with the Lieutenant I worked with. The balance of work and physical fitness was one of my favorite parts of the internship. I was also able to get a glimpse into the balance of working as a JAG officer and how that interacts with having a family. I was surprised how well the work/family balance is in the Navy. Everyone is very accepting of having family responsibilities and offered flexibility when needed. 

The impact that this internship had on me both professionally and personally is vast. I learned how to better step out of my comfort zone, make friends in a city where I knew no one, explore places I have never been to before, and challenge myself by trying new things. Professionally, I strengthened my communication skills by not being afraid to speak up and ask questions when they arose. I learned how much I am able to carry without being overwhelmed while maintaining the best version of myself. Further, I observed how much a positive attitude – both inside the workplace and outside of the workplace – really makes a difference in the productivity of the office.

I am incredibly grateful for having this opportunity with the U.S. Navy JAG Corps. While I do not come from a military background, or family, I was unsure of what this internship would be like because it was as if I was immersing myself in a whole new lifestyle for the ten-week period. However, I was welcomed with open arms and everyone I met was supportive, encouraging, and respectful. The legal work was interesting yet challenging. There was a great sense of camaraderie in the office which in turn made it a positive work environment.

Working Ahead to Find Time for Yourself

Law school is hard, but definitely manageable with great time management and working ahead. While everyone approaches law school and schoolwork differently, I will briefly mention some of the more popular options and what I recommend to provide yourself with a buffer and time for yourself. I want to preface by saying that these approaches may not work for you, and that is okay. Every law school student has a unique background and external obligations such as work or family that makes it difficult to stick to one particular method to get work done on time. Perhaps the most popular option is to stay one day ahead of the class material. This allows you to have the material relatively fresh in your mind in case of the dreaded cold-call and breaks the week down into manageable chunks. However, something to keep in mind is that accidents and emergencies happen. While they may take some of your time away from school, you want to try to avoid falling behind and being underprepared for class because it is difficult to catch up and get yourself back on track.

Another method, especially popular among students who work or are in the evening division, is to complete the majority of your work on weekends since you have other obligations taking your time during the week. However, this poses the risk of burnout. Learning law school related material daily without a break is most certainly going to lead to burnout over time. The semester is a sixteen week marathon, not a one hundred meter dash to the finish. The last method that I am going to mention is the one that I personally utilize and has contributed to my success in law school: staying two days ahead. Staying two days ahead allows you to spend the latter part of any given week preparing for the beginning of the following week, thus freeing up your weekends to spend time on yourself. Most weekends I am either traveling to see my family or my significant other or going to some sort of event. I try my best not to do anything law school related from the close of the business day on Friday until Monday morning. This allows me to avoid burnout and stay motivated. Also, staying two days ahead is being proactive in case of an emergency. If something were to happen during the week, you have created a buffer for yourself to take the day off if needed. While these options are similar, they each provide unique benefits depending on your life situation and specific needs. Choose which works best for you or custom fit a method to ensure you can reach your greatest potential!

The Importance of a Good Schedule

Some people are morning people; others prefer to get things done at night. Some people are full-time students and others are part-time. Some people work in addition to attending law school and others don’t. Some people are in multiple student organizations, some are in one, and others aren’t in any. We all have pretty hectic schedules in law school. It’s important to make sure that we are all doing everything that needs to be done. I myself juggle school, work, and student organizations, so it was extremely important for me to sit down and figure out when I’d be getting things done. I had to schedule work around classes, study time around work, and my responsibilities to student organizations around everything else. However, I still make sure to reserve time time to myself away from all responsibilities. I make sure I have time to go to the gym, occasionally visit home, and sometimes just do nothing. Having a schedule for yourself ensures that you stay on track with everything that you may have going on and allows you to make time for yourself. I strongly suggest that everyone makes a schedule that they are able to stick to!

Brain Block? Take a Walk.

Time and time again, there is one point in each semester that I find myself stuck. Stuck in my head, turned around, confused, other thinking, over it. It usually comes after having taken several finals with more in the near future or after spending weeks writing a paper and the due date is in sight. The exhaustion comes from the reading, the retaining, the analysing, over and over again for months. And finally, when I need my brain and focus the most, I cannot do it. At this moment, I start to panic because this is the last thing I have time for. Over the years, I have learned to do the opposite of what feels right in that moment – I stop. I listen to my brain and I take a break. I go on a walk, call a friend, clean the house, whatever it may be, but my brain rests. Sometimes its an hour, sometimes its three hours. And when I come back, my brain is ready and three times as productive as it was when I was trying to force myself to keep going. Time can be your enemy, or you can make it your friend. Things become a lot easier when you allow it your friend!

Life as a 3L

When you are a 1L, being a 3L seems unfathomable. One moment you are jumping into a completely new experience, with new people, tackling more work than you had your entire college career. You are navigating note taking, writing projects, and creating outlines for every class. You aren’t thinking about being a 3L let alone the end of your 1L year. You are present in the chaos and soaking up as much information as you can. As a 3L, I can say a lot has changed since my 1L year. I don’t have class as often which has allowed me to work a part time job and extern at not one, but two placements. I have had more time to network, build connections, and start figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I have been preparing for the upcoming summer which will include nothing but bar prep, making arrangements for the 10 weeks of intense studying that will be happening starting June. I have more time to focus on my mental health and physical health because of the flexibility of my schedule and finally feel like I am caught up on work. I say all of this to say, no matter where you are in your law school journey (whether that is applying, being accepted or starting your first year), it does get easier. You do feel like you’ve got the hang of it after two intense years of schooling and start navigating test taking differently. You know your study habits and understand how to prioritize your time to suit your needs. You’ve made the connections during your first and second year that you are now utilizing while starting to job hunt. You feel more confident in yourself and your decision to pursue a law degree. Although law school is not easy, it gets better. You may feel like you are drowning in work, anxiety, and the unknown, but it all will make sense when the pieces start falling together towards the end of your law school journey. Trust and embrace the process, it will treat you well.

Are Internships Really Worth It?

At Widener it is a graduation requirement that you complete at least 2 credits of experiential learning. These can be satisfied through participation at the clinic, an externship, or practicum. It may seem unnecessary or like extra work for the school to require this, but these experiences are so important to your growth as a student and as a future professional in this field. These experiences teach you things that the classroom environment cannot. They help you build future connections and teach you the real day-to-day aspects about your potential career field.  While the classroom environment teaches you the law and prepares you to take the Bar exam, an externship will prepare you for the real world after the Bar exam.

I’ve been fortunate enough to intern at the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office for a little over a year, and the experiences that I have gained through this placement is something that a classroom could have never given me. I have learned how a criminal case works from the moment it’s charged to the time the jury gives its verdict. I have been able to successfully handle multiple non-jury trials. I have also become more confident speaking in front of the Court and opposing attorneys. While learning the Rules of Criminal Procedure or Evidence is necessary, the real experience and knowledge comes with being in a courtroom and objecting to questions or writing 404(b) motions. These experiences are how you take what you learned in the classroom and apply it. My biggest piece of advice would be to take these externships and clinics seriously and try to soak in as much information possible because there is no better opportunity to learn. It would be difficult to be a successful attorney based off knowledge and education alone. Real life and first-hand experiences are arguably just as, if not more, important than information learned in the classroom. While our school does a great job preparing us to take the bar, these outside experiences are what prepare us for life after the bar. 

LinkedIn: Is it Worth it?

Today, especially from COVID and on, many people use online networking as a way to make connections and even obtain employment. Prior to undergrad and law school, most individuals have Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Once you “get older” you are told that you need to get a LinkedIn account. For me, I did this around sophomore year of college. Although you are always told to create this account, many have no idea what to do from there. Many people, including myself, would just post their resume and sporadic academic achievements, such as dean’s list.

During my second year at Widener, I decided to get serious about an internship in the field I wanted to be in, in the hopes that I would achieve post grad employment. Internships available through our school resources did not really seem to fit into my narrow specialty I wanted: a boutique firm that solely focused on family law. From this, I went and emailed probably ten to fifteen firms. No luck. Then, I began searching “family law attorney” all over LinkedIn. I found one attorney that caught my eye and sent a message saying something along the lines of I was really interested in her line of work and that I would love to talk to her about how she got to where she is at. I believe the best move that I could have made was that I did not ask for an interview or for a job. Instead, I tried to get to know the attorney prior to asking for job opportunities. The attorney responded to my message inviting me to a lunch and to discuss her career. 

Once I got to know this attorney in particular, I felt an immediate connection and I could not help but be proud of myself and the leap that I chose to make by randomly messaging her on LinkedIn. I was grateful that after our interaction she asked if I was looking for summer employment. Fast forward a few months, I loved every minute at this office and I was given a job offer for post grad. 

From this opportunity, I cannot rave enough about going off on your own and making attempts to network. Although it may sound scary, it is worth the uncomfortableness you may feel for a short period of time.

Trust the Process

It is hard to believe that I will be graduating from Widener Law Commonwealth in a little over two months. I echo the sentiment shared by my classmates in earlier blog posts, your time in law school will fly by. I have learned a lot about the law, obviously, and a lot about myself in the past three years. In August of 2019, when I began this journey, I was worried that law school may not be right for me.

Unlike most of my classmates, my undergraduate degree was in the sciences, specifically biochemistry. As a part of Widener’s 1L orientation you take a pass-fail course called Introduction to Legal Process. I listened to lectures and read materials on the Constitution, the three branches of Government, and so on. Topics I had not thought of or learned about since high school. I wondered if I was in over my head.

Three years later I can say that I do not regret my decision to attend law school. Frankly, I think it is one of the best decisions I could have made. There was certainly a learning curve, but there is a learning curve for all law students regardless of your background. You never know how your background may benefit you when it comes to learning the law.

I found that my laboratory experience gave me a trained eye for detail that I now use to analyze sets of facts. Also, a very important skill in the sciences is asking the right questions, which I believe is an equally important skill to have as a lawyer. Overall, I was able to use my problem-solving skills that I developed in math and science courses to solve legal problems.

Thanks to Widener’s Career Development Office I was made aware of different opportunities to combine the law and sciences. During my 1L year, I was encouraged by my professors and the Assistant Dean for Career Development to take the Patent Bar. I went out on a limb and took and thankfully passed the Patent Bar the summer after my 1L year. The following summer I worked for an intellectual property law firm and now work as a legal clerk for them. I have enjoyed the opportunity to combine my science background with what I have learned in law school by assisting with legal issues surrounding patents for a wide range of technologies.

I don’t know what I expected when I began my law school journey, but I am very happy with the ending destination. The journey by no means was simple, it was arduous and challenging. Something that has helped me along the way is to remember that it is a privilege to be in law school. Rather than viewing all the work as a burden I try to view it as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and accomplish something that will open doors for the rest of my life.