Being a first gen lawyer/law student

Today I was on a King Hall First Generation alumni zoom panel with Alex and John, who were also first-generation college and law students (and now lawyers). It's great that UC Davis is setting up this group to help first-gen students, and I myself got valuable advice from Alex and John and also got the chance to reflect on my own challenges as a first-gen lawyer/law student. I forgot to advise the students to take advantage of the deals at the Davis Grocery Outlet, Bargain Market, but hopefully still was able to share some tips based off my experience working for state government.

Below were some of my reflections:

  • What do you wish you knew in law school that would have prepared you better for your work and in general as an attorney?

I wish that I practiced legal writing more/tried to enter more legal writing essay contests/scholarship competitions. I also wish I used Westlaw more to read sample pleadings/briefs/cases in certain areas of law. 

My colleagues gave advice on networking and maintaining work-life balance, which are also important aspects of being a lawyer. Networking as a first gen lawyer is tougher since we have to form our own connections, but King Hall helped facilitate joining local Bar Associations, and groups like Inn of Court to help meet folks from a variety of practice areas. 

  • What is the culture like at your workplace for first-gen lawyers? Is there a space present for those who are first gen?

I'd describe the state agencies I've worked in as diverse- with people of different races, age, and work experiences. The space is actually ideal for a first gen lawyer because I have access to many mentors and I don't feel too much pressure asking others for help. 

As a first gen lawyer, I feel like it's part of my duty to work on issues affecting immigrants/make space in the legal field, which is generally dominated by white male hegemony. For example, for my interview for my current position as enforcement counsel for the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, I interviewed with a Deputy Commissioner and told her that I wanted to work in government that protects immigrants since my parents immigrated to America as refugees of the Khmer Rouge. Since joining DFPI, I have been assisting on a case where the state is attempting to stop a scheme that violated state securities laws and targeted Filipino, Chinese and Spanish-speaking communities.

  • As a first gen, is there anything particular about your job that is more challenging or took time to adjust and if so why?

In general, working for the state sometimes there is a lot of bureaucracy and things are done a certain way and it takes time to figure out, that may have been easier to figure out if I had lawyer family members. Although it is sometimes difficult to figure out these processes, ultimately I try to take advantage of having multiple eyes review my documents and improve my work product.

Overall, participating on this panel affirmed that first gen attorneys can be trailblazers in their own way, even if it means family members will constantly ask for legal advice. Especially in these crazy times of COVID, more than ever the legal system needs diversity and first gen attorneys to shed light on overlooked issues and help the underrepresented.

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