Georgetown law student Rachel has always had an interest in civil rights and constitutional law but the need to pay off her school loans and other considerations made her accept a highly paid summer position at a major corporate law firm. In this interview, she talks about how hard it was for her to make such a decision and shares with us her fight to finish school after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and deciding to register as a disabled student. Rachel’s many interests and ambitions has made her a “go-getter” in the truest form, but her recent experiences has also led her to realize the importance of maintaining her own health while balancing life, career and family, something that was not always at the top of her agenda.
Places you have lived: DC and Philadelphia
Places you want to live: I am in love with DC and Chicago.
Job: Law Student at Georgetown. I started part time while working for a nonprofit and then moved into the fulltime program.
Having done both, do you prefer to be a part time or a full time law school?
Despite the large amount of work (I attended class 5 days a week at night and spent all my weekends studying), I really enjoyed the evening program because it was not competitive and the class was a great collaborative environment. I really enjoyed being part of a group where some of my fellow students were older than me and had been working for years or had families. It really enriched the conversations and I actually enjoyed every single class, which was surprising, but it difficult to balance work with school because I felt there were only so many hours in the day that you can dedicate to such critical thinking so, I moved into the fulltime program. When I switched, a lot of the students came straight from undergrad and there is just a huge difference between someone who has actually experienced working versus someone who has been writing essays since they were six. People who have been able to experience the world versus people who have just written about it; you just realize that a lot people are still trying to get an apple from the teacher! I can’t imagine going straight to law school and then getting your first job ever, it seems so backwards in my opinion.
When you graduate do you see yourself doing legal aid work or working at a big firm?
You just hit the crux of my quarter-life crisis! My entire life I have been invested in the nonprofit world. I grew up with it as my dad is a director of a nonprofit and I worked in many incredible public service internships. When I entered law school, I wanted to work in civil rights policy or constitutional law and I believe that is something I would like to do long term. But recently I was offered a job at a major firm for next summer and because it is a very prestigious opportunity, I was really happy about it, but I never considered working at a law firm. However, through advice from my old boss whom I really admire, I realized that in order finish your legal education and learn to exercise your muscles in the right way, you need to be part of a law firm for some period of time so that you learn the way the system works before you move on to start your own thing. The paycheck is also absurd and while my dream job would be to work for a civil rights job that pays 30,000, I think learning about the private sector first is very appealing.
Are you at all worried about the intense work schedule ahead of you when you start at a larger firm?
Well in the interview process they always say that they want you to have a work-life balance where you can spend time with your family, resting, exercising in order to stay healthy, but I think that for any first year associate at a law firm, there just isn’t time for any of that. You are at their beckon call. A lot of people I meet in their firms call their blackberries tethers because they are tethered to them due to the workload. You are very low on quite a high totem pole when it comes to the legal system.
Was there ever a situation where being a woman has helped you or hurt you when it came to interviewing and getting a job in a law firm?
Despite any recent changes, there are still more white males in law firms, because it is still very much an old hat industry. When I interviewed for a number of law firms, during one of my callbacks, I interviewed at a firm where there wasn’t a single female lawyer working there. For the first time during that callback I felt like a woman becoming a lawyer, not a student becoming a lawyer. I couldn’t help but think, could any of these people answer my questions about maternity leave, going part time in order to raise a family, or even do I need to wear pantyhose in the summer all the time? Not that I would necessarily ask that in the initial interview, but it made me think is this somewhere that I want to be in the coming years. It definitely turned me off much more than I thought it would.
Prior to law school, you have also been quite active politically. Can you talk about this experience? What do you think stands in the way of women becoming political leaders?
By no means did I win every year, but I ran relentlessly for office every year since I was five. I was the representative of the student body in kindergarten, mayor of the second grade, active in student government throughout high school, student body president in college, and after college my first job involved helping campaign donors decide where to put their money to help the progressive agenda while volunteering for the Obama campaign. That being said, I think women’s toughest critics will always be women, because who knows them better. When I think of Hillary Clinton running for president, she was herself and presented an image of a strong woman so of course with that came a lot of stereotypes. However she showed that despite the many barriers, she could knock them down without making it look very hard and I believe that is a testament to her. Nonetheless, I think the main obstacle has to do with the work-life balance issue and the issue of how does one raise a family while campaigning for years. The stigma of being a bad mother is something women have to deal with and men don’t have to consider. All and all I think there are a lot of obstacles, but I believe they can be overcome.
Are you still involved in politics or in any particular cause?
I recently had mono and had to withdraw from my two classes. I am registered as a disabled student at the university because I thought it would help me with this exact kind of situation – my doctor said that my compromised immune system probably played a big part in my getting mono in the first place because I was so worn down from working full time and taking classes at night. I appealed to the University to ask them if I could just make up the six credits by taking them in addition to other classes during the regular school year, and they straight up said no. As a graduation requirement, they do not allow any exceptions.
Of course, me being me, I was not about to just roll over. (Also, they’re wrong!) I figured out which faculty committee made the decisions on the issue and got myself appointed as a student member.