I am one of the most indecisive people that I have ever met in my life, but if there is one thing that has stayed somewhat constant in my life, it is the consideration of entering the legal field. Not only have I been unsure of whether or not legal advocacy is the career path that I wish to pursue, but I have always felt uneasy about even entering the path due to its stereotype of being cutthroat and highly competitive. Although the legal field has always seemed to be my dream job, I have also never had a concrete idea of how to pursue the career field or what it takes to be successful while doing so. Knowing my passion for the legal field as well as my hesitations and reservations, my dearest and most encouraging advisor suggested that I attend the PLEN Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar. The moment she explained to me the premise of the seminar, I was convinced: it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me.
When I initially signed up for the conference, I was not afraid at all. I was not concerned that I would be flying alone for the first time, nor was I concerned that I did not know of anyone else from my school attending the seminar. My excitement to go to Washington DC and to be surrounded by other like-minded women my age had taken away any room for doubt of whether or not I would enjoy the conference. While these interrogations did eventually cause me to develop slight feelings of apprehension, with the exception of initially missing my flight from Knoxville to DC, those feelings of apprehension were gone the moment I met arrived to the hotel and met my roommates.
My late flight resulted in a late arrival, which then resulted in me only getting a few hours of sleep before the seminar officially started at 8 AM that next morning. However, I was soon awoken: although the coffee and bagels provided to us by PLEN had a great role in helping me fight off my sleep deprivation, the kind and uplifting women that I met that morning continued to dispel any doubts I had about the conference. After listening to Allyson Perleoni’s presentation about networking, I soon began to understand the topic from a completely different and more pragmatic point of view; Ms. Perleoni helped me realize the importance of tenacity and confidence in networking, and how self-reliance and hard work can go a long way. Soon after, not only was I blown away by Krish Vignarajah’s speech about her experiences and successes as a woman of color, but I was also impressed by the sole fact that she, too, had taken the time out of her busy schedule to speak to a group of young women in seek of advice for entering such a competitive job industry. I believe she later explained to us that she had essentially came all the way from Yale to speak to us, despite the fact that she was going to have to be back afterward.
The aforementioned speakers were only the first ones that came to speak at this three-day seminar. I soon learned that there were numerous women who were willing to take the time out of their days to give advice to a younger group of women who were interested in pursuing a career in their own sector. From panels with topics ranging from voting rights, cyber security, and immigration law to others about the legal field itself and working on the Hill, it was very uplifting to be spoken to by other women whose intent was to help me and the cohort of young women surrounding me. My favorite experience was visiting the Supreme Court and listening to a full panel of female clerks who were working for the justices. Not only did we have the opportunity to listen to several clerks talk about their experiences at once, but we also had enough time to get into smaller groups or three or four women to one clerk to discuss their experiences and provide advice more intimately. I realized how lucky I was to have the opportunity of attending this conference. Not many people can say that they had the opportunity to have an intimate conversation with a Supreme Court law clerk. My experiences had exceeded my expectations.
Not only was I impressed with the speakers and the clerks, but I was also impressed with all of my peers: everyone I met was friendly, encouraging, and accepting. Not only that, but they were brilliant, unique, and extremely driven. I came into this conference alone, but I came home having made a plethora of great relationships with strong-willed, like-minded women from various campuses in the country and various countries in the world. Many of the women I spoke to had reported leads on internship opportunities from various speakers, and I could only feel great happiness for everyone as they were beginning to find leads to help them enter their dream career field. While I personally did not benefit in this specific way, I had the opportunity to listen speeches and advice from women working in the private and public sectors, as well as the opportunity to make great friends while doing so.
This conference exemplified the importance and capacity of woman empowerment. It helped reinforce the idea that, as women, we should not be competing against each other, but rather, we should be encouraging and supporting one another. We should be working with each other instead of against each other because there are enough opportunities for all of us to succeed. Although most government and law careers are male dominated, this does not mean that women have to compete for a few select seats. Instead, it means that we must work together and help one another to change this statistic. In the case that there are no chairs at the table for women, we must work together to pull up them up.
Vedrana Vujic attended the PLEN Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar with a scholarship sponsored by K&L Gates. She is currently a sophomore at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and she plans to graduate in the spring of 2021.