The Mentor Who Saved My Career as a Lawyer

Salvador Dali

I went to law school in the early 1970s, at a time when women were just beginning to attend law school in any number. There were 33 women in my entering class of 300, and that was considered a big group. There were very few female professors or female lawyers on which to model ourselves; the legal world was still adjusting to the idea that women lawyers could engage in a legal practice that was not family law or probate law or, indeed, that they could be good lawyers at all. My uncle, the first lawyer to set up a practice in Lancaster, PA back in the 1950s told me straight out when I was in law school that he didn’t think women could ever make good lawyers. That sentiment was present everywhere, either covertly or overtly, at the time I started practicing. However, I was luckier than many other women lawyers of that era in that I had a wonderful mentor early in my career who was both my advocate and a huge resource for me as I navigated a male-dominated world – someone who may have saved me from abandoning the law altogether.

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“I scared you, didn’t I?” Stories from the 3rd female reporter at the Wall Street Journal


Today, the discrimination working women face tends to be subtle. A male counterpart might earn more, but he negotiated for it, for example. Gone are the days when women literally were’t allowed in the front door, were refused service at men’s bars, or where their main role is to serve coffee. But in 1969, when Mary Bralove began her career as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she was only the third female journalist on staff.   To give you a sign of the times, she remembers that the day she started, there was an article about a woman who was so big breasted, that crowds of men followed her to work. This story ran on the front page as a light hearted piece.

The pressure was on. “I didn’t want to give them any reason not to hire another women,” she describes. So she bent over backwards to make it work, and to protect her authority once she was promoted to Assistant New York Bureau Chef. Listen as we talk to this journalist about what is was like to work in the chauvinistic atmosphere of the 1970’s newsroom, how she balanced work and family and why- after 14 years- she left.

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Adulthood, Chapter 1: I Think I’ve Made a Huge Mistake


Being underemployed and purposeless is not so much fun anywhere, but in Chicago the city became an agent of my despair. The plains seemed a metaphor for my life: barren and flat, with no variation as far as the eye could see.

It was the fall after I’d finished college, and my boyfriend Lars and I had moved to the Windy City. All senior year I had dreaded graduation, because it marked the day I was flung out to the world without a plan. Once I turned in that last paper, there would be no more assignments to make me count; I could fade into oblivion and it wouldn’t matter. (read more…)

Am I the Boss or the Secretary? A Year of Working for Myself


If you poll Americans, 72% say that they would like to work for themselves. Only 7% actually do. I imagine the remaining 65% sitting at their mundane jobs and thinking, “oh, if only I worked for myself! I could sleep in, take time off whenever I want, and make lots of money!” As someone who worked for myself for a year, I think these people are straddling the fine line between hopeful and delusional.

Before I took my current (full-time, salaried) job, I was self-employed as a consultant. I picked up a few paying jobs, did some work for free and constantly wondered what I should be doing with my life. I had fallen into this at the end of grad school when someone saw my masters thesis presentation and offered me some part-time work. This became my main client, and I looked for opportunities for additional work, not to mention more income. I also spent the whole year worrying about money, cooking a lot, buying few things and generally being cheap.

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Follow Your Passion? Maybe Not


The advice given too often to jobseekers is to “follow your passion.”  Looking back now on my 40+ year career as I approach retirement, it is not advice that I followed, not even when I had the chance to reevaluate my choices mid-career. Nor is it what I would necessarily counsel others.

When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, “following my passion” never even occurred to me.  I majored in computer science partly because I was good in math and not good at writing, and partly because I thought it would lead to a good job out of college.  I was focused on being able to support myself.  Doing the things I loved, such as folk dancing and museums, was for my free time.  And it worked.  I have had a successful career in the IT/business world without a graduate degree. (read more…)