Is Being a First Generation Lawyer a Detriment?

Faye Gelb

Do First Generation Lawyers Face Insurmountable Obstacles?

My answer to both of these questions is no and no. It is not a detriment to be a First Generation Lawyer. We bring a wealth of knowledge and experience that enriches the legal professions that we join. By including a diverse group of people we increase the depth of our profession and widen its parameters. That diversity has value, significant value, and it is all ours to own; only we can contribute these experiences and backgrounds.

Who is Included in a First Generation Lawyer?

That raises the question, who is a first generation lawyer? Many people assume that First Generation Lawyers come from less privileged backgrounds because we are the first in our families to enter this profession. Some definitions of First Generation Lawyer include the first to enter any profession. Professions in the family being the key to defining you.

But is that really true? There are shades of grey here that shouldn't eliminate the role of those who have to forge a path where no family member has paved the way -- specifically in law. If our parents are teachers, denturists, professors, engineers, etc. are they really sharing a common path with us? Their experience is not the same, the pressures aren't the same, the reality of our roles are very different.

A New Definition for First Generation Lawyers

I believe we should not limit the definition of First Generation Lawyers. If you are first in your family to enter the legal profession, that makes you part of the club. Why such a broad definition? Because when we limit it, we are excluding those who belong and isn't that what inclusion is really about?

I believe a big part of the problem for First Generation Lawyers is how that title is being defined. I believe First Generation Lawyers are blazing a highway, not a path. We are not defined by being "less" of what others bring to the table. We are defined by the value of who we are as individuals because it is us, and only us, who are leaping into this profession with resilience, determination and passion.

Do First Generation Lawyers Face Insurmountable Challenges?

As a First Generation Lawyer, I believe that we definitely face challenges that others, who have family members in the legal profession, simply may not experience. For example:

  • we may not have anyone to guide us;
  • we may feel out of place;
  • we might not know how to strategically plan our careers;
  • we might not have the same connections to get summer and articling positions;
  • we might face greater financial pressures;
  • our families may be conveying worry about our ability to succeed;
  • we may feel intense pressure to be the answer to our families pride and dreams;
  • we might be jumping from working class to middle class norms;
  • we might see ourselves coming from a detrimental position;
  • we can feel different socially and or economically;
  • our families may have no idea of what we are going through;
  • we may carry our families mindset about lawyers forward despite what we are learning; and
  • so much more!

But are these insurmountable? Absolutely not! I believe we should see ourselves from a position of strength. No one brings to the table what we bring. If we place value on ourselves every day, the challenges of being a First Generation Lawyer will be seen as part of the journey, not detrimental baggage that we bring along. Challenges are, after all, an expected component of everyone's journey.

Below are 4 Easy Steps to Incorporating recognition of your "Value" into your day, every day.

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4 Quick Steps for First Generation Lawyers to Incorporate Value into Their Day

1. Schedule your non-negotiable tasks into time slots every day. 

Why? Because when you complete a task that you want done, it is an immediate confirmation of your skills, abilities and determination. It helps strengthen your efficiency while getting stuff done. It allows you to check off a task and give yourself positive messages. Scheduling rather than stating means it has a much greater chance of being completed and sets you up for success. 

2. Focus on Quick Wins

Sharlene Lynch, International Speaker and Business Coach, teaches us that quick wins allow us to take on a challenge immediately and succeed right away. Think of a quick win as something like saying "no" to an interruption or sticking with a task you didn't want to do. It can be bigger, but the concept is, it is something you can do and succeed at immediately. This teaches your mind to see your successes immediately.

3.  Personalize your definition of Success

It is important to remember that when we define success for ourselves and don't focus on predefined definitions like wealth, power and prestige as THE goals, we are able to achieve recognition of successes in the journey. We are able to recognize, and appreciate the successes that occur every day.

It is a huge stressor to continually feel like we are not measuring up to a predefined definition of success, that we might not even necessarily want in the first place, if we take the time to think it through. 

When we focus on goals that society places upon us, we forget to be in touch with who we are, what truly energizes us and what we want our purpose to be in life.  Her Legal Global podcast with Amanda Armstrong on How to Define Success sets out a clear path to defining success in a way that will allow you to value you during your legal journey.

4. Say No.

A Harvard Review in 2019 identified that women who are highly successful at networking learn to say "no". Women who excel at networking know that saying yes to one activity means in effect "no" to another, we only have so much time to give. And this concept also applies to men.

If you are like me, you didn't really think about saying no as a way to succeed. It is difficult to turn down requests for help. However, keeping in mind the yes/no repercussions helps us prioritize where our energy will go. But it also does something bigger. It helps us:

  • define our value; 
  • establish that our time is worthy of our attention; 
  • acknowledge that our time is not unlimited; and 
  • confirm that we have choices where we put our energy.

4 Steps to Putting Your Value into Your First Generation Lawyer Journey

Putting all these points together is a path to valuing you and demonstrating in a clear, confident manner what you bring to the table. Your value will always be there and it won't be situation specific.

Confident, empowered first generation lawyers convey through their presence that they know who they are, what they bring to any situation and they know that they can move forward; they are clear on their value and their valuing of themselves.... and it shows.  

We are challenging ourselves to be the best we can be often with fewer supports and less familiarity with our prospective journey. And that is something to be damn proud of no matter where you are in your legal journey.

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Lawyer, Faye Gelb, Founder, Her Legal Global

About The Author

Faye Gelb, founder of Her Legal Global is passionate about empowering lawyers to have a career that makes them smile when they wake up in the morning. Lawyer, Entrepreneur, startup cofounder, front end web developer, photographer and business consultant. Her goal is to help you learn skills. We don't just talk about issues, we provide solutions! Listen to Her Legal Global Podcast for expert interviews providing you with immediate support and actionable information!