Kate’s Counsel: Finding Your Way in the Legal Profession

Kate McGuinness - Terminal AmbitionBig news! Kate McGuinness, author of Terminal Ambition and a legal trailblazer in her own right, is going to be a regular writer on The Girl’s Guide, which I couldn’t be more excited about.

Kate has a wealth of valuable experience to share about navigating as a woman in the legal profession, and she’s open to questions. So — if you need advice from someone who’s been-there-done-that — don’t be shy! Leave your questions in the comments.

Now, without further ado, here’s Kate!

The reality of practicing law may seem remote when you’re in law school. It certainly did to me. I went to law school before I’d even met a lawyer.

I knew I was smart and was certain law school would present better job opportunities than the one I had when I enrolled — being a receptionist for plastic surgeons.

I envisioned myself spending my days in a courtroom after graduation. After all, that was what I saw lawyers do on television. But with the exception of a brief internship stint, my legal career played out in board rooms and conference rooms as a corporate lawyer.

That may seem a strange result for someone who didn’t know finance or accounting. However, I trusted the advice of my mentor and dutifully read The Wall Street Journal every day. Gradually, complex commercial concepts and terminology sunk in.

What Type of Law Do You Want to Practice?

Although my legal career blossomed, I think I would have been much less anxious along the way if I had prepared myself better in law school.

I hope you consider the type of law you want to practice long before graduation.

You should view gathering information about different legal practices as part of your class load. Don’t neglect this vital part of your education even though there’s no exam! Identifying your career goal will help you make class selections.

First-hand experience through clerking or clinics is definitely best. Another often over-looked resource is law school faculty. Visit them during office hours and learn about their areas of expertise. Don’t be afraid of looking like a suck-up to your classmates. You’re plotting a career for the next 30 or 40 years of your life.

Using Faculty in Your Job Search

In addition to providing information, your law school faculty can help you in your job search.

If you’ve been terrorized by the Socratic method, seeing your professors as supporters may be difficult. Some faculty members may not be particularly caring, but their self-interest is served by burnishing the law school’s standing. Improved employment statistics is one way to do that.

The faculty of my law school certainly came through for me.

I attended what was then a third- or fourth-tier law school in California.

At the time, I thought I wanted to return to my home-state of Massachusetts to practice. Cornelius Moynihan, a retired state judge and trusts and estates expert, was a visiting professor. His introductions got me in the door at Ropes & Gray and Hale & Dorr.

I had planned to take the offer from Ropes & Gray when I got the chance to interview at O’Melveny & Myers, one of Los Angeles’ leading firms.

A spontaneous recommendation to an O’Melveny partner from an attorney I’d clerked for generated that opportunity. That reference earned me a half-day try-out interview while the firm decided if it wanted to invest two interview days in a student from a marginal school. What clinched the invitation for the two-day audition was the recommendation of my Torts professor when he was contacted by another O’Melveny partner who’d been his law school classmate.

Ultimately, I decided the Los Angeles legal community would be more receptive to a woman lawyer in the 1970s. My intuition was correct and I made partner seven and a half years later.

My career options were geographic. I hope yours will be more substantive.

Think about what you want and identify those who can help you get it. Don’t be shy. Faculty members want to help.

I’ll be writing regularly here at The Girl’s Guide in an effort to help as well.

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Thanks, Kate! Very exciting to have you on board as a guest writer.

Feel free to leave a comment if there’s anything you’d like advice on!

More about Kate:
Kate McGuinness is a lawyer who spent 17 years in BigLaw before becoming the general counsel of a Fortune 300 corporation. She is an advocate for women and tweets as @K8McGuinness. Her blogs about women’s rights have appeared in Forbes Woman, Women’s Media Center, Jezebel, The Frisky, Role/Reboot, Fem2pt0 and Ms. JD. These essays are collected on her website: WomensRightsWriter.com.

She has created Pinterest boards illustrating issues of concern such as advertisements objectifying women. You can find her on Pinterest and LinkedIn as Kate McGuinness and on Facebook as Women’s Rights Writer. After leaving the corporate world, she studied creative writing and is the author of a legal thriller Terminal Ambition, which is available on Amazon.com. Information about the firms, characters and locales in the novel can be found at Terminal-Ambition.com.

If you missed our initial interview with Kate, check it out here: The More Things Change….

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