Resist the Urge to Follow to Fit In
When you get out of law school, you know a lot about the law and very little about how to be a good lawyer. As a result, the temptation is to model your professional behavior on lawyers you work with or admire.
Yes, learn from those lawyers and accept their advice. But you’re not them; what works for them may not work for you. You need to take all the lessons you learn and tailor them, just like the clothes you wear to court, to fit who you are. If you try to wear what works for someone else, but it’s not your size, you will end up looking foolish.
Successful lawyers are often portrayed as in-your-face, aggressive, and demanding. But I’ve learned that many of the best lawyers don’t fit that mold. And more importantly, they don’t try to. Just be yourself—after all, it’s gotten you this far.
On the personal side of the ledger, I hid the fact that I was transgender from the world for more than 50 years. I grew up in a very different time and place. People knew very little about being transgender or LGBTQ+ issues more broadly. When I came out in 2008, most people didn’t even know what being transgender meant.
Now, it seems like everyone is focused on transgender issues, including a segment of the population who appear to believe we don’t have the basic human right to be ourselves. So, as someone who hid who I was out of fear of the reaction of others, I understand that hurdles remain for folks in coming out. That said, my experience has been that, generally, the legal community is very accepting of LGBTQ+ attorneys.
My other observation is that, despite what I achieved before I transitioned, it wasn’t until after I transitioned that I fully came to experience the joy of being me. It wasn’t always easy. But I wish I’d known that being true to who you are is essential to being happy, the best person you can be, and the best lawyer you can be.
Take the Route That Goes Where You Want to Be
Being true to who you are sometimes involves following a path only you can see. Not everyone who graduates from law school practices or even wants to practice law. Other times, the practice of law affords opportunities to explore different facets of who you are.
I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I started my first manuscript in 1980. Life came along, and that pre-computer, handwritten manuscript sits, unfinished, in a briefcase in my closet to this day. But the part of me that wanted to be a writer didn’t suddenly disappear.
It took a while, but in 2014, I finished a manuscript. And although it was never published, it did help me find a literary agent. My next manuscript, a legal thriller featuring a transgender criminal defense attorney as the main protagonist, was acquired by Kensington Books and published in 2021. I now have three published novels, and Time Magazine selected my second novel as one of the top 100 mystery and thriller books of all time.
I’m not Pollyannaish. Trying something different isn’t always easy, and sometimes, our fear of failure can hold us in check, convincing us that we’re fine right where we are. But being true to who you are often requires taking a chance on something new or different.
I have no regrets, but perhaps had I known when I graduated law school that it was OK to follow a different path, my career as a writer would have started sooner than it did. It’s never too late to pursue your dream. And, if you do, as the wonderful philosopher Dr. Seuss wrote, Oh, The Places You’ll Go.