Although practicing law is often highly rewarding (e.g., helping a client obtain a favorable verdict or settlement and possibly affecting a positive change in the law), it can also be extremely frustrating. And exhausting.
Earlier this year, I experienced one of those days (or maybe it was weeks?) where I was both frustrated and exhausted. At this time, I cannot recall exactly what transpired to leave me feeling so depleted. Maybe I had stayed up late reviewing electronic documents after putting my daughter to bed one too many nights in a row. Maybe it was that early Saturday morning when I was revising a brief on my laptop at the kitchen table, still wearing my bathrobe with a soup-bowl-sized mug of coffee in one hand, typing with the other and my baby sitting on my lap. Maybe I had experienced being mistaken as the court reporter at a deposition (again). (You would be amazed to know how many women lawyers experience this! Indeed, according to this article on Forbes.com, at least half of women lawyers report being mistaken for a non-lawyer.) Or maybe it was hearing sexist remarks made by a male attorney (who probably didn’t even realize what he said) or noticing that I was one of the only women present in the courtroom that day or reading yet another article on gender bias in the legal profession. Regardless of the reason(s), my frustration and exhaustion brought me back to the same question I have asked myself many times throughout my career: “Why do I continue to do what I do?
Usually, when I ask this question, I remind myself that I am helping people (something I have always wanted to do). Plus, I actually like being a lawyer and enjoy taking part in all of the “behind-the-scenes” work it takes to get a case from the initial client intake meeting to a settlement or trial (which can sometimes take years, and certainly more than a one-hour episode of a TV show).
On this more recent occasion, however, the first thing that came to mind when I asked why I do what I do was this: “I do it for her.”
I do it for those women who came before me (from United States Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Susan B. Anthony and countless other amazing women who helped pave the way for me to enjoy the job and rights I have today) and those who come after me. I do it for my seven-month-old daughter so that I can be a positive role model and help her grow to believe that she is capable of doing anything she wants to do in life. I do it for my Mom, who did it for me. I do it for my mother-in-law, a woman who did (and still does) “it all” while raising a wonderful son who believes in my ability to do the same. I do it for my sisters and my friends. I do it for my women clients who have lost their spouses and fathers to terrible, preventable diseases. I do it for the two female partners at my firm and female partners at many other law firms, all of whom I greatly admire and respect. I do it for the other female associates at my firm, as well as my many female support staff (upon whom I heavily rely to get the job done and whom I know rely upon me, too). I do it for the other women lawyers with whom I am friends and associate with on a daily basis. I do it for fellow members of the American Association for Justice’s Women Trial Lawyers’ Caucus and the Pennsylvania Association for Justice’s Women Trial Lawyers’ Section. I do it for the women lawyers I have never even met in real life, but follow and learn from through their blog posts and various social media platforms, including those who lead Lady Lawyer Diaries on Twitter, Mindful Return, Mothers Esquire, and GIRL ATTORNEY, LLC. I do it for all of the women law students (who now outnumber the men in law school) and the young girls in school who dream of being a lawyer, doctor, engineer, chemist or anything else they want to be. I do it for the seven-year-old version of me who daydreamed of being an astronaut, the sixteen-year-old version of me who wanted to be an elementary school teacher, the twenty-two year-old version of me who decided to go to law school as a personal challenge, and the future version of me, whom I do not even know yet, but I am sure she will thank the current version of me for doing what I do each day.
Heck, I even do it for the metaphorical “her” and the symbolic “hers,” including the Statue of Liberty and Lady Justice.
The list goes on and my exact motivation may vary by day, but I now believe that the answer to my oft-repeated question of why I do what I do will now always be the same.
So, on this International Women’s Day, I am taking time to reflect and remind myself (and share with the world) that “I do it for her.”
Finally, for those who scoff at and wonder why we need an International Women’s Day, here is an excellent New York Times article and statement from United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women explaining why.