1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Caroline Fleming, and I’ve lived in DC for the better part of the last decade, most of which I’ve spent at the Department of Veterans Affairs as an attorney for the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Before landing at the Board, I worked straight out of law school as an editor for a legal publication and then—very briefly—as a family lawyer practicing mainly in divorce and custody law. As it turns out, litigation is not my cup of tea! But I do have a knack for research and writing, and fortunately my current position plays to these strengths; I spend my days reviewing claims and drafting decisions for Veterans who are seeking benefits from VA.
2. What are you working on right now in your day job?
At the moment, my plans for a quiet, easy summer seem to have gone happily awry. In addition to my regular caseload, I’m also training a new attorney who just started at the Board. Training is an unpredictable but really fun part of my job; I enjoy teaching veterans’ law, with all its quirks and oddities, and I find that having someone constantly asking me how things work keeps me on my toes!
3. How long have you been a Washington Council of Lawyers member, why did you join, and what are some things you’ve done as a member?
This is a testament to the power of Twitter! In early 2013, my husband and I had just moved to New York, and I was looking for DC legal groups that might let me join long-distance as a way to stay connected. I stumbled upon the Washington Council of Lawyers Twitter handle (@WashLawyers), noticed a call for volunteers, and promptly signed up to help out.
Although I was working with the organization remotely, I was incredibly impressed with the dedication of everyone I came into contact with. One volunteer project led to another, and now I’m editing East of the River Profiles, a blog focusing on pro bono work and legal services being offered to DC residents living across the Anacostia.
4. What has been most valuable about membership and participation in Washington Council of Lawyers?
I’ve made the acquaintance of so many talented, funny, and thoughtful folks and learned about a vast network of DC attorneys who are excited about volunteering—whether through engaging in pro bono work, signing up to write posts for the blog, or just being willing to help others make connections with like-minded individuals all over the District. I very much feel a part of a community, and it’s heartening to know there are so many attorneys who are eager to do what they can for our city, and each other.
5. How has legal practice/the DC legal scene changed since you’ve started practicing?
I thought finding a job was tough when I graduated in 2005. Who could have foreseen the market contraction of the past decade? It seems exponentially harder now to find any legal job, much less one that suits both temperament and skill set, and I’m impressed by the tenacity of the law students and new lawyers I’ve met lately.
6. Any advice for law students/new lawyers?
In law school I took a bunch of the “weird” classes rather than stay in lockstep with my classmates. I’ve never regretted that for a minute—I dipped my toes into all sorts of interesting niches and got to write about some out-of-the-ordinary legal questions. When else am I going to have the opportunity to research girls’ education in Afghanistan, or changing US adoption laws? Taking unusual classes may just lead you to a topic or practice area that you totally fall in love with—or show you that what you thought was fascinating is really not for you.
Along those same lines, don’t be afraid to try more than one type of law practice—or even to branch out into something new entirely, if the first place you land isn’t a good fit for you. In my experience, the type of work you do is more important in the long run than the topic—I’ve found that you don’t necessarily have to be over the moon about the subject matter of your job, but you do need to like what you do enough to want to do it well every day. And definitely sign up to write for East of the River Profiles!
You can follow Caroline on Twitter at @caroline_in_dc. If you’d like to write for East of the River Profiles, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’d like to join Caroline and the other wonderful members of Washington Council of Lawyers, you can do so here.