Ms. JD — An Organization For You and About You

Spotlight! is being expanded.  It is time that Best Friends at the Bar spotlighted organizations that are promoting women lawyers as well as the women lawyers themselves.  With this new platform in mind, there could not be a better group to spotlight than Ms. JD, a group with the official description of “Women of the legal profession standing together, rising together.”

I am wild about this group of young women lawyers and law students and the success and visibility it has gained in a relatively short time.  I support this group through my permission to reprint my blogs on the Ms. JD website, and I attend and contribute to many of the valuable programs that Ms. JD sponsors around the country.

In the interest of full disclosure, I also was the recipient of the Ms. JD Sharing Her Passion Award at the 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco.  The picture is of me giving acceptance remarks at the awards ceremony.  I am so proud to have Ms. JD recognize the value of the Best Friends at the Bar program to its members and all young women lawyers.

Here’s the Ms. JD story from the website:

Ms. JD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of aspiring and early career women lawyers. Ms. JD is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors comprised of law students and recent graduates and supported by a small group of independent contractors. Founded at Stanford Law School in 2006 by a group of female law students from Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley), Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, UT Austin, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and Yale, Ms. JD is a 501(c)(3) incorporated in California.

Serving as a unique nexus between the profession and the pipeline of diverse attorneys, Ms. JD’s online community provides a forum for dialogue and networking among women lawyers and law students. With campus chapters throughout the nation, Ms. JD is also home to the National Women Law Students’ Organization. Ms. JD celebrates women’s achievements, addresses remaining challenges, and facilitates continued progress by bringing legal practitioners and law students together to share in an ongoing conversation about gender issues in law school and the profession.

I am also proud that my law school, Georgetown Law, was one of the schools that helped launch Ms. JD.  Go Hoya Women Lawyers!

So, hat’s off to Ms. JD and all the wonderful work it is doing here and across the globe with its new international programs.  Read about it on the Ms. JD website.


Career Counselors, Spotlight | Comment

Brooke Tansill, Attorney, Frederick J. Tansill & Associates, Attorney At Law

What interested you about going to law school?

I was definitely not one of those people for whom law school was a default choice.  Attending law school was always in my game-plan.  I have a temperament well-suited to the practice of law.  I always have been empathetic, passionate, responsive, and conscientious, and these “soft” skills drew me to a career as a lawyer.  Law school provided me with the requisite training and knowledge, i.e. the “hard” skills, that I needed.  I also come from a long line of lawyers, so I grew up with a favorable opinion of them and the work they do.  I knew that a career in the law would play to my professional skills and strengths, but also would satisfy me on a personal level.  I feel proud when I tell people my profession.

Was your experience in law school what you expected it to be? 

In some respects, yes.  I attended an academically demanding high school and college, so I was used to being surrounded by highly motivated and competitive students.  But in other respects, no.  Having attended a liberal arts college, I could largely elect to take whatever classes appealed to my interests and strengths and avoid those classes that were outside my comfort zone.  In law school, you have less control over your curriculum.  Some classes were quite interesting and really captivated my attention, and consequently I performed well in them; other subjects seemed totally foreign and I really struggled to stay engaged.

Describe you law firm and  your practice.

Our core area of expertise is estate planning (fixed fee, not hourly) for individuals, including sophisticated tax-oriented and charitable planning as necessary.  We assist clients with probate, estate and trust administration and disputes.  We provide asset protection planning, international estate and tax planning, including offshore trusts.  We also do pre- and post-marital agreements, and a large amount of closely-held business work.  Our firm is in a unique position in the marketplace because we have the sophistication and expertise of a big firm, but we operate in a small firm environment with only three lawyers.  We answer our own phone calls and emails and respond in real time.  We listen, we are thorough, and we provide high-touch service.  The number of referrals we get from existing clients is the most flattering form of praise.

What has been your most rewarding experience in practice so far?

Estate planning is a field of law that allows me to have an immediate positive impact on clients’ lives.  I am well aware that there are more pleasant topics of conversation than family feuds, death and taxes, and some of my conversations with clients are emotionally charged and draining for them.  I approach my work with a sense of understanding, commitment, and humor when appropriate.  I know that when clients leave our office, they feel better.  I know this because I can see it on their faces, read it in their body language, and because they tell me how grateful they are.  Clients entrust us with deeply personal information, and it is fantastically rewarding to ease some of their concerns and really make a difference in their lives.  Sometimes my job requires me to assume the role of a therapist, and I enjoy that.  Estate planning is well-suited to female practitioners because it plays to qualities possessed particularly by women:  relationship building, compassion, gaining trust, interpersonal skills, a focus on the importance of fairness, diplomacy, and organizational skills.  It’s incredibly satisfying work.

What has been your greatest practice challenge?

Estate planning requires clients to share very personal and private details of their lives, and it can be difficult to avoid getting emotionally involved.  Sometimes I hear stories that are so heart-wrenching or outrageous that my first reaction is a human reaction, not a lawyer’s reaction.  I must remind myself that clients engage me to identify and explain the legal issues to them and to provide them with an appropriate solution or outcome.  You want to show clients sympathy and compassion, but, at the end of the day, you cannot let your emotions blur the legal issues and relevancies.

What is your best advice to young women considering careers in the law?

I would emphasize that the benefits of a career in the law, particularly for women, are tremendous.  It is not only an opportunity to support and promote the interests of other people, but also an opportunity to advocate for your own interests.  A career in the law teaches you to speak up for yourself and to make your own decisions, it allows you an opportunity for financial independence and stability, it hones communication and interpersonal skill, it strengthens your intellectual skills, and it gives you a sense of confidence in understanding the law and current events.  It is a career that is well-regarded and well-respected, and, undoubtedly, the abilities that you gain in your professional life will empower you in your personal life.



Career Counselors, Spotlight | Comment

Mitka Baker, Associate, DLA Piper LLP

1. What interested you about going to law school, and what was your experience there?

I knew I wanted to become a lawyer when I was a little girl. So for me, going to law school was just the next logical step. When I first started law school I found it to be both challenging and fun. I especially found the second and third years to be enjoyable because I was able to pick classes that really interested me.

2. Was law school different than what you expected? If so, in what way(s)?

Law school was a bit different than what I expected in the sense that I felt like I was learning a new language and way of thinking during that first year. Learning how to read and properly analyze case law for the first time was very different from any of the critical reading and analysis I had done in the past.

3. What do you do as a lawyer at DLA Piper?

I am a white collar associate at DLA Piper in the Litigation group. During my time at DLA Piper, I have worked on an assortment of litigation cases ranging from Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (“FCPA”) investigations, antitrust cases, and product liability litigation.

4. What has been your most rewarding experience as a practicing lawyer?

Some of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a practicing lawyer have been through DLA Piper’s local and international pro bono programs. Working on these cases has allowed me to have an immediate impact on people’s lives who may not have otherwise been able to procure legal assistance.

5. What has been the biggest surprise for you in Big Law—good or bad?

One of the biggest surprises for me when I first started working at a “Big Law” firm was the size and length of the civil cases. I think it is a common misconception among people who do not practice law to think that all litigation results in numerous court hearings and trials. However, many of the cases at “Big Law” firms can go on for years and are heavily focused on e-discovery and settlement.

6. What is your best advice for women considering law school?

For women considering law school, I would recommend that they get as much exposure to the law in practice as possible. Law school is great for teaching you how to “think like a lawyer;” however, it does not really prepare you for the actual practice of law and what the day to day life of an attorney is like.

Career Counselors, Spotlight | 1 Comment

Dede Potts, Law Student

1. What interested you about going to law school?

My grandfather was a very passionate lawyer who cared deeply about the profession. As a result, I always toyed with the idea of going to law school. As an economics major at the University of Virginia, I took a course called Law and Economics that the professor designed to resemble a law school course. In a nutshell: we read cases rather than material from a textbook. I loved the process of digesting a case and then discussing it with classmates. I wanted more! Upon graduation from UVA I went straight to George Mason University School of Law, where Law and Economics is an integral part of the curriculum.

2. Has your experience in law school been what you expected it to be? If not, what has been different than what you expected?

Law school has brought a few surprises. I am consistently surprised (and pleased) with the number of exciting extracurricular activities available to a law student. I imagined that I would be chained to a library desk! Instead, there are so many great clubs and events that allow a student to develop practical skills and network with local practitioners. I did take the opportunity before school started to talk with my 2L mentor about what to expect from a law school exam. Her advice was very honest and very helpful throughout that first semester, when the “unknown” (an exam worth 100 percent of your grade) can be very daunting.

3. What has been the most challenging thing for you about your law school experience?

Law school is a juggling act. On a given day, you might need to: finish two reading assignments, write a first draft of a memorandum, attend class, meet with the Moot Court Board, and still make it home in time to watch the new Modern Family. In order to make it all work, I have to map out a detailed plan for my day before the day ever starts. This was not a skill that I mastered in college. And it’s a skill that does not come totally naturally to me. I have to work at it. The upside of becoming more organized and time-conscious is that it reduces a lot of stress and makes everything feel more manageable. Sometimes just writing a to-do list down can feel good! And less stress makes moments of relaxation feel that much sweeter.

4. What is your best advice to a young woman considering law school?

I would advise a young woman to consider carefully whether a J.D. will add to her sense of joy and fulfillment. The financial burden of going to law school is a very heavy one. I have seen several former classmates decide that the benefits do not outweigh the costs. However, studying law can be very fulfilling and exciting. A prospective law student should absolutely take the opportunity to sit in on a law class to get a sense of the material that makes up a law school curriculum. She might also consider taking a couple of years after college to work as a legal assistant at a law firm or corporation. This will give her a sense of the profession while also helping to bolster her application.

5. What have you enjoyed the most about your experience in law school?

One of the best experiences I have had in law school has been the opportunity to intern with a small firm in the Washington, D.C. area. It is so rewarding to apply the skills and knowledge I learn in a classroom to real clients and real-life situations. I have become a better writer and a better communicator because of the internship. It is also very instructive to observe practiced attorneys who have years of experience in litigation. Plus, watching a case progress from start to finish can be very exciting.

6. How do you expect to use your law school education after graduation?

After graduation, I hope to work as an associate at a law firm specializing in business tort litigation or real estate law. I would love to become intimately familiar with the litigation process and to become comfortable speaking in court. Later in my career, I might consider the transition from law firm attorney to in-house counsel at a corporation.

Spotlight | Comment

Elizabeth Blakely, Law Student

1. What interested you about going to law school? Lawyers run in my family. From my grandfather to my parents, I have been surrounded by the law and its practitioners since I can remember. With that said, my transition into the profession came naturally, but not without serious consideration. Upon graduating from the University of Virginia, I found myself at a crossroads. I knew that I wanted to earn a professional degree, but I was unsure whether I wanted to focus my career in business or the law. As a result, I chose to work as a legal consultant for a large corporation. That experience exposed me to aspects of both professions and, in turn, strengthened my desire to become a lawyer.

2. Has your experience in law school been what you expected it to be? If not, what has been different than what you expected?
Surprisingly, law school has turned out to be exactly what I had expected it to be. As I mentioned above, I have been surrounded by lawyers my entire life, so I had the benefit of knowing what to expect based on conversations with my family members. Additionally, friends of mine who went straight to law school after college provided me with great insight and advice about what to expect and how to best prepare for that next chapter in my life.

3. What has been the most challenging thing for you about your law school experience?
The most challenging aspect about law school has been time management. I have a type-A personality, so I am extremely meticulous and organized. With that said, balancing my schedule in law school still has proven to be a challenge. In addition to attending classes and studying, I also have worked part-time throughout my law school. I take school and work very seriously, so the real challenge has been balancing these experiences with my personal life. Whether it is dinner with friends, yoga, watching my favorite bravo television shows or online shopping, I always strive to have something to look forward to at the end of each day. Otherwise, I would lose a sense of myself, which I know would negatively affect my school and work product.

4. What is your best advice to a young woman considering law school?
I always advise young women considering law school to think long and hard about why they are truly pursuing a career in the law. With student loans at an all-time high, it is very important for young women to recognize the financial obligations that accompany a law school education. In addition, job shortages in the wake of the recession have caused some undergraduates to apply to law school merely based on the fear of unemployment. Law school is more than just a three-year “filler”— it is an enormous financial undertaking that affects students for years to come and must be considered carefully.

5. What have you enjoyed the most about your experience in law school?
My experience as Symposium Editor on Seton Hall’s Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law was one of the best experiences I had in law school. Along with my co-Symposium editor, I was responsible for organizing the Journal’s 2011 Symposium, which was very successful. In preparing for the event, I networked and communicated with esteemed members of the legal community to select panelists for the event. Once the panelists were chosen, I then communicated individually with each panelist and, shortly before the event, organized and led group conference calls. Through this experience, I honed my communication skills, and I will carry these skills with me throughout my career as a lawyer.

6. How do you expect to use your law school education after graduation?
I am pleased to report that I recently accepted a clerkship with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court following law school. I look forward to refining my research and writing skills and observing different styles of lawyering in that capacity. Along with my bankruptcy experience, I will graduate from Seton Hall Law in May 2012 with a concentration in intellectual property. I have encountered various intellectual property issues while serving as a law clerk to the General Counsel of the New Jersey Devils, and I find this work very interesting and rewarding. Following my federal clerkship, I hope to work as an associate in a law firm specializing in either bankruptcy or intellectual property law or, perhaps, as an entry-level attorney in a government agency.

I am pleased to introduce some of my favorite women law students and lawyers to you. Each of them has distinguished herself as a student or a practitioner, and I know that the candid remarks and advice from these young women will be very helpful to you.

The first woman featured is none other than my own daughter, a student at Seton Hall Law. As you see in the Spotlight! on Elizabeth Blakely, she definitely has been listening all along! I am very proud of Elizabeth, and I am delighted to start the Spotlight! feature with her.

Spotlight! will change every few months. If you know someone who you think should be spotlighted, let me know. Maybe it is you!

Spotlight | 1 Comment