Last month in our training session we had our first discussion about ballot designations. When our presenter asked what kinds of designations should be avoided we answered, seemingly in unison, “lawyer.” The moniker elicits a remarkable mix of admiration and disdain in the political field. Even though a legal education provides much of the training necessary to be an effective lawmaker, the public perception of lawyers is sometimes limited to the small subset of unscrupulous and greedy practitioners of the law.
I say this not as a lawyer, but as a burgeoning law student. After graduating from Emerge this year, I will be enrolling in law school in the Fall. (Yes, I have already been accepted to several schools. No, I have not yet made a final decision.) My decision to pursue law school came about in large part due to my political ambition, in small part due to being a woman, and in every way because I had the benefit of growing up with progressive and empowering parents.
When I was 9 and learned that the United States had never had a female president, I was genuinely confused. Until that point in my life, it had never occurred to me that some people believed in “women’s work” and “men’s work.” I had no idea that there had been a time when women were not allowed to vote, and I was appalled to realize that I might one day be passed over for a job or award or educational opportunity because of my gender. Even at that young age, I knew my parents expected to me to graduate from both high school and college, to establish a meaningful career, and accomplish the goals that were important to me, whatever they might be.
So, at age 9, I decided I wanted to become the first woman president of the United States. My parents whole-heartedly supported me, opening discussions about American history and current events with me, and even suggesting that I might want to attend law school.
I am happy to say that in the 15 years since then, I have refined my career objectives. Perhaps surprisingly, I still intend to become a lawyer and to pursue elected office. However, I am interested in elected office not for the novelty or notoriety, but because I am committed to becoming a lifelong public servant. Throughout high school and college I volunteered and interned in a courthouse, the U.S. Senate, on campaigns, and in other areas that helped me understand the complexities of our legal system and public policy. Realizing that the guarantee of a fair judicial system, educational opportunities for children, access to public goods, and countless other rights and privileges are available only through the dedicated work of public servants inspired me to join their ranks.
My experience also helped me realize something that would later be solidified by my participation in Emerge: There is no one right way to become an elected official. I know that I will personally find practicing law a rewarding path to politics. I look forward to addressing social issues on the individual level as I work with clients one-on-one, and know that these experiences will help me tackle the same issues at the policy level one day. I anticipate that my analytical bent will be augmented through a legal education and this perspective will be valuable to a legislative body or executive office—though, only in as much as it is combined and contrasted with the perspectives of other policymakers, voters, and community members.
Today, I aspire not to be the first woman president, but perhaps the second, or third, or fourth…