Role Call is a Petal + Sass blog section featuring interviews with professional young women occupying diverse careers- and their advice to teens.
Name: Erika Payne
College & major: Tufts University, Philosophy
Graduate school & concentration: Columbia University, Law
Past jobs: Highlights include:
- Burrito roller (this may have been my favorite job of all time)
- Library reshelver
- Bus girl (this lasted about 6 days)
- Law firm corporate associate (last, and least!)
Current occupation: Legal Director at a public SaaS company in the Bay Area, San Fransisco.
How did you get involved in law? The age old story! I was a junior in college and had no idea what I would do next. I “liked” arguing, did well on the LSAT, and didn’t give much more thought to the matter than that.
How did your college major influence your career field? It fed into the law beautifully by opening up no other career path, paying or otherwise.
What do you love most about being a lawyer? I like working with lots of different people and doing a lot of different things. I also like that my law degree was a fast path to playing an important role in a company, and working directly with company leadership. From the age of 25, I was directly counseling public company CEOs and directors, which is absurd. Most 25 year olds at my company are making cold calls to potential clients.
Do you feel women are underrepresented in the field of law? “Law” is a really broad umbrella. Like any other field, women are under-represented at the upper ranks of law firms, and probably as General Counsels. However, the vast majority of my team, including my boss, are women. Anecdotally, I’ve heard this is not unusual for in-house legal teams.
What obstacles do you face as a woman in your field? Two things. The first is that I struggle with self-promotion. I’m working on this, but it’s hard. I say that this is something I face as a woman because I think it’s a struggle many women share, for many reasons. The second is biological: I am struggling to be completely leaned into my career now that I have a young baby. At a certain age, biology does handicap you in a physical and very real way. This was one advantage to going straight to law school: I’m relatively young in my field, so can take a few years’ “hit.”
What advice would you give to girls considering a career path in law? Same advice I would give anyone: it can be a great career, but please do research before going to law school, and more than idly searching some message boards online and talking to your Uncle Roger who is a local family lawyer. Do an internship at a law firm. Take practicing lawyers out to coffee (they’ll pay), and ask them what they actually do day to day. Make them answer that question. There are too many unhappy lawyers out there, and 90% of people who go to law school will wish they had done something else.
Also, don’t pay too much for law school unless it’s in the top 14, preferably top 5. Sorry, just don’t.
What would you wear to a job interview? It depends. (Classic lawyer answer). In NYC, always a grey, black, or navy skirt suit. In the Bay Area, you’ll look like an out of touch jerk if you dress like this. Snaz up a suit with a ruffly blouse and fun necklace, or wear a cute (but professional) dress. Corporette has some good posts on this.
Looking back, what general life advice would you offer to your former high school self? Oh god. Things are both as important and less important than you perceive them to be now. On the one hand, you’ll never forget the friends and relationships you have now. The intense, day-to-day closeness you have with your friends now will never be the same, at least after college. I love my life, but, when you’re married with children, this just doesn’t exist. On the other hand, this is just a small sliver of your life. If you’re not happy now, try and have patience. High school is a fish bowl, and is so intense because you have to see the same people and do the same things, day in and day out. This makes it so that, if [Jason] doesn’t say hi to you in the hall, it’s absolutely devastating. Life is not like this, and you will (probably – I’m a lawyer!) become happier and less dramatic after a while.
Any other relevant info or words of wisdom? Don’t wish your time away. I know everyone always says it, but life is so short. I can’t believe I’m 32. I’m still reeling from the second question on this list. Jesus.
And importantly, wear protection. You are at the peak of your fertility, and a baby at this age will change your plans drastically.