Rachel is an American lawyer and experienced litigator who worked for many years at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, DC. As a member of the District of Columbia Bar, Rachel donated her time to help those in need of legal services at the Bar’s Advice and Referral Clinics, the Employment Justice Center and the Legal Counsel for the Elderly. Since arriving in Singapore in 2015, she has been actively involved in outreach activities involving migrant workers and served as a volunteer coordinator for the Law & You program that trained foreign domestic workers on their rights and responsibilities while employed in Singapore. More recently, she completed a one-year secondment from Ashurst LLP as a Pro Bono Officer at Justice Without Borders. Rachel clerked for the Honorable Sidney Thomas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School. Without the advice and prodding of a good mentor, Rachel would not have gone to law school and would have regretted missing out on all of the interesting policy discussions in and out of class.
This Letter is addressed to her younger self after she completed her undergraduate degree and right before she started law school in the United States.
Choices are going to be hard for you. You care A LOT about your choices. You (of course) want to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled and to make choices that will help you be these things. But you also care about the effect your choices have on others, whether they be the people immediately around you or the people who made the product you buy. This is a good thing, but it is also something that causes you some amount of anxiety and probably will throughout your life.
My advice to you is to embrace the values you care about, and to let them inform your choices. Accept that choices may be hard for you and often require you to expend a lot of effort on them. This is who you are. But it is very important to also keep in mind that having choices is not a given, and you are lucky to have choices to make.
Let self-knowledge guide you. Right now, you are probably still sulking a little about not getting into your first choice law school. But you will get over this initial disappointment and discover that this was a blessing in disguise; you ended up at a school that, by all accounts, is more collegial and less cutthroat. Law school will end up being much more enjoyable that you imagined, due in no small part to the conducive environment in which you found yourself. Given that you are quite sensitive to your environment, you are unhappy when the people around you are unfriendly, difficult, or do not appreciate you. Knowing this, to the extent you can tell upfront and where possible, you should value and choose supportive environments over almost everything else when making decisions about school and jobs. It will make your decisions a bit easier.
I can assure you that, to a large extent, you did this. During and after law school, through good choices and good fortune, you will end up in several work environments that are very supportive, where you make many friends and mentors.
Get advice before you make a decision, but filter it. You love advice. You love getting the views of others. It is tied to your love of gathering information before making a decision. When you do a training course later in your career, you get to take something like five personality tests! Tons of information and advice for the taking. But there comes a point at which you will need to sort through all of that advice and information, figure out which is sound, and then take action accordingly. In so doing, it is always a good idea to consider the perspective of the advice-giver. Is the advice-giver trying to be helpful and taking into account what they know about you?
Here’s a good example. At the beginning of your legal career, you will have a mentor who reminds you not to get overly anxious about work. In particular, she advises that most on-the-job mistakes can be fixed. Pay attention – this is very good advice for you. But also notice how it is not universally good advice. For lawyers, mistakes can also be colossal. So why was this very good advice for you? Because at the start of your career, you will be so petrified of making a mistake that, without taking this advice to heart, you will perform poorly. And you will notice that other people will give you this advice, or some variation thereof, for a lot of your life.
And for those times when a choice does not feel right at the beginning, remember that you dislike getting started with things, but often enjoy experiences once you are more settled. If you keep this in mind when you are “getting started” at something new, it may help reduce the stress you feel about your new circumstances and forestall any sort of “decision remorse.”
When you start your first job as a lawyer, you will pretty much hate the whole first year. There will be tears. You will feel you are in over your head. And yet, after that first year, things will start to change. You will stay for almost 15 years. Try to remember that you do not like beginnings, but trust that, more often than not, you will have made a good choice. Good things come from caring about your decisions.
You know that saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”? While there is truth in the statement, I have never really liked it (“the opposite of a great truth is also true”). It always struck me as a bit of a cop-out, an opportunity not to carefully consider a decision. I was reminded of a more apt saying the other day. It said that who we are is the result of all of our decisions, large and small.
So, happy decision-making!
Ps: Oh, and take your time finding a life partner. He’s worth the wait!