October 14, 2022

The Untraditional Route to Becoming a Traditional Attorney

BY: Landy Kates

Growing up, I believed that the pathway to success was linear. I thought that after college and graduate school that life would suddenly become easier, and that all roads would lead to happiness and completion. I was completely wrong, in every sense of the word. After completing my undergraduate studies and going to law school, for the first time in my life, not unlike many other people, I was faced with the reality that I was no longer the smartest person in the room or even close to it. I was surrounded by a multitude of brilliant thinkers who challenged my perspectives and motivated me to increase my own standards and expectations, ultimately achieving more than I thought possible. After three years of pushing myself and studying, it was time for the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). I thought that surely after all of my years of struggle and triumph throughout law school, passing the UBE would be easily attainable. Unfortunately, that was not the case for me the first time around. This shift in my life plan encouraged me to pursue another childhood passion of teaching.

Thankfully, my educational background in English was needed in the classroom, so I enrolled in an online teaching certification program, while managing my own middle school English classroom for almost two years before I received the opportunity to grow in the field of education as an Optional School Coordinator. This role permitted me to utilize my background in Public Relations to further my school’s recruitment and outreach efforts, while also allowing me to build rapport and positively engage with community stakeholders to strengthen my school’s brand and enrollment initiatives. Just as I was finding my stride as an educator, COVID happened. Although I was isolated from the rest of the world, as we all were, I was afforded the opportunity to reflect on my life and what I believed my purpose to be. Through this period of self-reflection, I grew as a person, got married, and moved to another state. Suddenly, I was almost thirteen hours aways from everything I knew and loved, outside of my husband, attempting to study for a third Bar Exam. Ultimately, I successfully passed the Virginia State Bar on my first attempt, and I was fortunate enough to be offered a job as a practicing attorney shortly after learning of my results. Although my path to success as a practicing attorney was realized with two state Bars and a career with room for growth, my journey was not without fear, stress, self-doubt, and uncertainty. I questioned my steps several times along the way, but I finally understood all that I had gained through such a transformative process to becoming a practicing attorney:

  • Flexibility: This is key to the legal profession because there is an abundance of uncertainty in this type of career, but we have to master being able to maneuver through legal matters regardless of the circumstances.
  • Perseverance: Hard work and dedication are required for seeing legal challenges or difficult cases through to the end, learning from mistakes along the way.
  • Importance of Confidence: Believing in yourself is crucial to success as an attorney because it helps to keep you encouraged and provides self-assurance of your own capabilities.
  • Professionalism: Being professional helps maintain mutual respect with other legal colleagues and clients throughout our work in law.
  • Organization: Being organized helps to make heavy workloads more manageable.
  • Support System: Never be too proud to humbly ask for a mentor or communicate with friends and family about your well-being because the legal profession is excruciatingly demanding and taxing.
  • Prioritizing Self-Care: If you are not at your best, you will never be at your best to adequately serve others in our field.

Through multiple Bar experiences, pursuing another profession, leaving the comforts of home and the familiar by moving to another state, and even practicing in an area outside of my natural comfort level, I have cultivated the above skills and tools for my own success as a practicing attorney. I understand and accept that everything that was initially presented as an obstacle to my success as a practicing attorney actually refined my skillset and molded me into a promising young attorney. These experiences have also provided me with a unique outlook on life and the ability to effectively communicate with people from all walks of life, which adds significant value to the work I do as an attorney and the level of empathy I bring to the profession.

Regardless of your experiences or your unique path to success as an attorney, you are here. It is your responsibility to bring your experiences to your role as an attorney, whether that be multiple bar attempts, another career path prior to becoming an attorney, or any life experiences that could make you a more well rounded attorney. Understand that there is tremendous value in you as a person, there is value in you as a new attorney, and there is value in the individualized skillset and talent only you can bring to your office, clients, and the legal profession.

This article was based on my own experiences, but the following link is to a post that corroborates some of the insight gained and provides more context to what makes a good lawyer: https://www.alu.edu/alublog/what-makes-a-good-lawyer/

About the Author

Landy Kates currently serves as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Hampton, VA. She is a graduate of North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, NC. She is originally from Tennessee and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She is married to Taequan Kates, another member of the legal community. She is also a foodie who enjoys movies, shopping, and journaling. She currently serves as the First District Representative for the Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference.