1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am an Assistant Director at The George Washington University Law School’s Center for Professional Development and Career Strategy (Career Center). In that role, I advise JD students on a variety of career-related issues, including self-assessment, resume and cover letter reviews, networking and informational interviewing, and job search strategies. I also advise students specifically interested in public sector opportunities in the government and nonprofit sectors and state court judicial clerkships. In addition to counseling students, I help to coordinate a variety of programs in these areas throughout the year. Before joining GW Law’s Career Center, I was a Career Counselor at the George Mason University School of Law. The work that I do now is a wonderful bridge between my coaching background and prior legal experience.
Other prior experiences include working at a national healthcare advocacy organization where I primarily assisted in the management of funding to state-based health care advocacy organizations and practicing law as a legal services attorney at Maryland Legal Aid. In the five years that I was at Legal Aid, my practice focused on public benefits and elder law. I also worked on issues related to Limited English Proficient individuals and health care reform and co-chaired the Elder Law Task Force, which comprised elder law practitioners throughout the community who regularly met to discuss legal issues relevant to an elder law practice. Immediately after graduating law school in 2005, I clerked for the Honorable John M. Mott of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
2. What are you working on right now?
Most of our students have either started their summer internships or are getting ready to graduate so the summer is the perfect time to reflect, re-energize, and start planning for the next school year. In terms of advising, I am mostly counseling students who are still seeking summer or post-graduate employment. I’m also starting to respond to inquiries about our Fall Recruitment Program.
Many of my colleagues and I recently returned from the 2015 Annual Education Conference in Chicago that was hosted by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) and I’m also working to put together proposals for public sector programming at next year’s conference.
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?
I have been a member for about two years. I had identified Washington Council of Lawyers as an organization that I wanted to get involved with given my commitment to public interest law, and I thought that serving as a mentor in the mentoring program would be a great way to get more active. This is my second year participating in that program;. I firmly believe that a mentor is really just anyone you can learn from and I have tremendously enjoyed my participation in that program.
Through my participation in the mentoring program, I became more familiar with the organization and very quickly realized it is an incredible community of public-interest minded individuals. That insight, along with my increased familiarity with Washington Council of Lawyers programming, prompted me to get even more involved as a member of its Board of Directors. This is my first year serving on the Board of Directors and I am currently co-chair of our Membership Committee.
4. What has been most valuable about membership and participation in Washington Council of Lawyers?
There have been many valuable aspects about membership and participation in Washington Council of Lawyers. First and foremost is the opportunity to meet and interact with public interest minded law students and lawyers in the community. Whenever I attend an event—be it a happy hour or a substantive program—I walk away feeling reenergized and eager to support law students and recent graduates interested in public interest and pro bono work in my day-to-day job counseling GW Law students. Another tremendous benefit is the extensive programming that takes place throughout the year, including practical skills trainings, post-graduate public interest fellowship programs, and the upcoming Summer Forum that draws law students from throughout the country who are working in DC for the summer.
5. How has legal practice/the DC legal scene changed since you’ve started practicing?
I think it’s a tough legal market and it’s definitely more competitive than when I graduated from law school in 2005. Disadvantaged communities continue to remain in dire need of legal services, so the work is out there, but employers and organizations don’t necessarily have the resources to hire people. Meanwhile, DC has 7 area law schools with many graduates interested in establishing their legal careers in the area. If you’re a law student or recent graduate seeking public interest employment, it is critical to demonstrate a commitment to the issues and to build relationships with practitioners in the field, and Washington Council of Lawyers provides the space to do both.
6. Any advice for law students/new lawyers?
I will preface my response by stating that much of my perspective stems from my health and wellness coaching background and a blog series I’m currently writing. Generally, I think it’s critically important for law students and lawyers to engage in an ongoing process of self-reflection and discovery in order to identify their values and strengths, areas in need of improvement, what they enjoy doing, the kind of work environment suited to their personalities, etc. We’ve all seen the articles about unhappy lawyers and I think it’s possible to create a new reality by engaging in this type of thoughtful reflection that will, hopefully, lead to meaningful and authentic professional satisfaction.
Also, a legal education provides an incredibly powerful skill set. There are countless people in our society in need of legal assistance and I firmly believe in the importance of giving back to one’s community. I’d like to remind law students and new lawyers that it’s possible to engage in public service in many different ways; working full-time in a public interest position is one option, but it’s not the only option. If you’re at a law firm or working in-house, you can seek out opportunities to engage in pro bono work or support the public interest community by sponsoring events. There is no one model for giving back and there are ways to do it in a way that works best for you.
Thanks to Jaya for answering our questions. You can follow Jaya on Twitter at @thezenlegalmama. And if you’d like to join Jaya and the other wonderful members of Washington Council of Lawyers, you can do so here.