Women lawyers share their insights for law students
It has been a profound and reflective month at New England Law | Boston as we have celebrated Women’s History Month. In 1908, New England Law was founded as Portia Law School—the first and only law school for women. During those early years, the majority of the women who passed the Massachusetts Bar exam were Portia graduates. Today, New England Law is an independent, co-ed law school; 60 percent of our students are women, and our faculty and staff consist of accomplished professors and legal professionals.
Today, to celebrate the last few days of Women’s History Month, we asked some of these women to share advice they’d offer future female law students—and what they might tell themselves if they could turn back time to their first day of law school.
Dina Francesca Haynes, JD
Professor of Law
“Figure out what you love about law, and do it. Figure out what motivates you to persist, and do it. Figure out what keeps you centered, and then do it. Law school requires relentless focus and learning to think analytically. This may well require you to put other things that are important to you on the backburner temporarily in order to succeed. But those other things are also what make you who you are; they are what will carry you forward when the going gets tough. Remember what motivated you to come to law school in the first place, and be willing embrace something else entirely, if you find that it moves you."
Caryn R. Mitchell-Munevar, JD
Clinical Law Professor
“Don’t apologize before asking questions. Male students never apologize before asking a question. Female students should claim their space unapologetically. It’s normal to be intimidated by such an overwhelming endeavor as law school. But you have everything you need to succeed and achieve your goals. It’s not about not being afraid; it’s about learning how to walk through the fear.”
Larissa Brewster, JD
Assistant Director, Career Services
“Keep an open mind while staying true to what you believe in and want to do regardless of what your peers think is the right path. While you’re in law school, you’ll learn about all different areas of the field that you didn’t know existed, so when something excites you find out more, even if you’re the only one with an interest. I would tell my past self not to think so far ahead and get anxious over the uncontrollable and unknown future.”
Natasha N. Varyani, JD
Visiting Assistant Professor
"Be confident and authentic. Whether you have a question or just a comment that you are unsure of, speak up! Have faith in yourself and your experiences, and know that even when it may not feel like it, you have a network of support that is invested in your success."
Lisa Freudenheim, JD
Professor of Academic Excellence and Director of the Academic Excellence Program
“For all students, I would recommend maximizing their experiential learning throughout their time in law school through clinics, internships, and summer jobs. Law degrees open many doors, and students can get overwhelmed in trying to find their paths. These experiences will help you to find the type of job that motivates you—which is critical to happiness and success in the profession. A lot of students come to law school with an idea of what they think they want to do, only to find out that it does not live up to their expectations. Stay open and use opportunities to gather information about the kind of work you actually like to do. I would tell myself to keep reaching for the balance between feeling confident in my skills, intelligence, and potential and humility in what is out there for me to learn.”
Davalene Cooper, JD
Professor of Law
“Don’t be intimidated by other students and how smart you think they might be. Be yourself, work hard, and don’t be afraid of speaking up in class! The practice of law, or any legal career, can be overwhelming in terms of the time commitment it requires. Law school is similar. My advice to my earlier self would be to begin in law school to learn how to create a balance between my work life and my personal life. This balance requires excellent time management skills, and law school provides an opportunity for practice!”
Monica Teixeira de Sousa, JD
Professor of Law
“Be yourself. You don’t need to be anyone or anything other than who you are right now to succeed in this profession.”
Mandie LeBeau, JD
Director of Career Services
“Law school is a journey and not a race. Don’t waste time comparing your experience to everyone else’s. Your experience is going to be unique to you, and you will be stronger, smarter, and better for having gone through it! If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself that attending law school is going to be a life-altering experience, so open your mind to all of the possibilities that your newfound knowledge will bring you. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t succeed at everything on your first try. Success will find its way to you.”
Jocie Coletti, JD
Director of Development and Alumni Relations
“Biggest piece of advice I would give myself is to believe in myself. Don’t get intimated by all of the other smart students in the room and let it define you. Your first year is important academically so invest in and believe in yourself. Also, keep yourself open to all of the opportunities law school has to offer, and don’t shy away from activities that you may not think you would be good at. You don’t know what you are good at until you try it!”
Sara Marshall, JD
Assistant Professor of Academic Excellence
“I love meeting with female law students to discuss the key competencies for personal and career success that I have observed in my experiences as a practicing lawyer and a former project manager of a law firm’s Women’s Leadership Initiative. I encourage students to have a can-do attitude, seek out mentors and sponsors, focus on building long-term relationships, ask for what they need and want, and have a sense of humor.”
Anne Acton, JD
Former Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law
“Remember that you are walking in the footsteps of Portia Law School graduates, some of the earliest female law students in the country. Follow along their history trail while making your own mark today and tomorrow at New England Law. I’d tell myself, ‘Work hard in law school, but keep your life balanced. You can do it. Others before you have balanced law school, jobs, and family, and you can too. Keep fulfilling your law school responsibilities, but make some time to care for yourself.’”
Emily Lospennato is the Associate Director of Public Relations at New England Law | Boston. For more law school advice and news, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.