During my internship in Washington, DC, my professor brought to my attention a seminar program via email. When I saw the keywords “network”, “women”, and “legal career,” I instantly knew this opportunity was meant for me. I didn’t even think twice. Living in Washington, I realized I might as well take advantage. So I did. Immediately I skimmed over the scholarship application to see if I were the best candidate to apply. Considering my financial situation, I was hoping this wouldn’t intervene with my desire to learn more about the legal profession. After applying for the scholarship, the anticipation began. There is always that anxiety that occurs when you hope for the good. A couple weeks later, I received a final email with a scholarship offer. At that moment I knew I was guaranteed to take part in this experience.
Days before the seminar, I had to ask myself why I wanted to participate in PLEN. What exactly am I trying to achieve through this seminar? Will my doubts and questions be answered after PLEN? There were so many things floating around my mind. I had to ask myself if law school was the right thing for me. More so, I was curious to know how a 3-day seminar of women attorneys would convince me to either continue a path for law school or plan a different route. Ever since I was a freshman in college, I always knew I wanted to attend law school and become an attorney. Occasionally I had to ask myself if I knew what I was getting myself into. I heard both positive and negative remarks about law school. Nonetheless, I always gravitated to the positive aspect of law school.
I knew that participating at PLEN would be the answer to my doubts and questions. I’ve always been surrounded by peers and mentors who are either law school students or law school graduates but I never got a satisfying answer about law school. I was hoping that PLEN would be my final resort. And it just was.
The day before the PLEN activities, I was not sure what to expect. Thankfully, PLEN provided detailed biographies of the speakers and moderators. I quickly read through the bios and prepared some questions. The first panel began with a networking training with Allyson Perleoni–she was wonderful! After the training, I did not realize how meticulous networking can be. I think it’s very easy to meet someone, exchange information, and hope for something to happen. But if you want to take your connections serious, then you have to take care of your networking like a homework assignment. You have to send a thank you email and possible met-up within the first or second day of the meeting. Secondly, if an informal interview is occurring, mark your calendar up. Prior to the interview, research the contact and develop questions for them. I also think it’s a good idea to do some research about yourself. I am sure the contact would be happy to learn about you. After the interview, send a thank you and maintain a connection with that person until next time. What I’ve found very helpful is creating an excel sheet with all my contacts. Essentially, I transferred all the information from the business cards I collected. I then keep track of the dates and give myself deadlines to meet.
Another thing I’d like to highlight during PLEN was how broad a legal career can be. We’re ingrained to think about a legal career as draining and intense work law firms for hours on end. This is nothing negative. But all of us have the ability to choose how we want to practice the law. We don’t always have to stick to the law firm setting. You can work for the Department of Justice, the ACLU, ALEC, think tanks, Congress, and other wonderful organizations. I truly enjoyed how broad the topics were. It wasn’t just law firm attorneys. We had women attorneys from a diverse set of careers. This gave me peace of mind that my future legal career could be utilized in different aspects. Like they say, you are what you contribute to your degree.
Very lastly, one of the things I was able to take out was how my perspective about myself improved. I used to have this mentality where I would think very little of myself. I grew to limit myself because of the circumstances I’ve been faced with. Being surrounded by such powerful women empowered me to think better of myself. If I want to aim for top law schools, who says I can’t? If I want to be the next chief of staff, who says I can’t? We as women are taught at a young age to be quiet and always apologize. There is nothing wrong with that. But I think sometimes we forget to put ourselves first and reward ourselves for the amazing things we do. We limit ourselves too much. And I think being surrounded by successful women, proved to me that it’s okay to be loving and nurturing. But it’s also okay to think big about your aspirations and always dream BIG.
Marlen Olmedo attended the 2017 Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar during her senior year at the University of Utah. She attended this seminar with a scholarship sponsored by K&L Gates.