Before I figured out my post-law life, going to law school alumni events made me queasy. Thank goodness I got over that, so I could bring you some of the wisdom I heard last weekend at the Harvard Law School alumnae fest that happens every five years. My favorite panel was one of two called “My Brilliant but Unusual Career” (seriously, they had so many interesting non-lawyer alums that they needed two panels). Here are some useful sound bites. All quotes are approximate – I didn’t have a proper recording device.
Sarah Hurwitz, a speechwriter for the First Lady, on risk: “When you think about risk, think about it in a big way. Think also about the risks of staying where you are, which can be just as scary.”
On looking down the road to determine whether you should change direction: “If I keep on the path I’m on, I’m going to end up somewhere I don’t want to go.”
On the importance of competing for jobs even when you are not the perfect candidate: “People make impressive narratives out of the half -mess that is their lives. Be wary of being overly impressed by anyone.”
Susan Estrich: On her path from presidential campaign manager to tenured Harvard Law professor to LA lawyer: “Life is a series of decisions and most of us don’t have complete control over all the factors that go into those decisions.”
Silda Wall Spitzer: On the discomfort of leadership: “If you have never been in a position where you’re afraid, where you felt like you had to fake it until you could make it, you haven’t pushed yourself into a real leadership position.”
Jamienne Studley: On choosing what to do when confronted with multiple interesting opportunities: “At a number of my pivot points, I’ve tried to ask, ‘what a the chances that something like this will only exist today?’ I’ve tried to do the things that might not be available later.” Also, “resilient is maybe more important than smart.”
If you, like me, have ever felt uncomfortable about drawing on your network, alumni or otherwise, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to reconsider that reticence. You’d be surprised at the number of people outside of the competitive law firm environment who enjoy mentoring. Many people like to help other people just as much, and maybe more, than getting help themselves. Even law school alumni can help you move outside of law, as these panelists did. Your own networks include people who can offer this kind of guidance and the connections that will help you figure out and succeed in your own life after law. Connecting with potential role models may give you the confidence you need to take your next step toward a better-fitting career.