Staff Attorney, Equal Justice Initiative
Where did you work/do prior to entering law school?
After college for about 3 years I worked as a waiter & bartender and for a temp agency in North Carolina and traveled quite a bit, taking advantage of a flexible work schedule. Then for about 4 years I worked for Duke University in computing support (first as a temp, eventually designing web sites for academic departments). Then I moved to NYC for a year during which I did odd jobs and applied to law school.
Why did you decide to go to law school after being away from school for so many years?
I had always thought I’d want to go back to school, but was enjoying other parts of life. I got to a point where I didn’t really see a future in what I was doing and felt like I needed skills/credentials to open up more interesting career options.
What skills that you developed throughout your pre-law career do you think were helpful and most transferrable to your summer law jobs?
I would say: (1) just basic judgment about how to interact with people professionally, the importance of reputation, and the need to reflect before offering ideas/questions; and (2) pride of craftsmanship – waiting tables there are a million small details and I got very into doing things right for the sake of doing them right; same with websites and coding. I think that skill is useful in practicing law (though when taken to extremes of perfectionism, it can sometimes also be a handicap).
HLS Spotlight: Alumni
“Pride of craftsmanship - waiting tables there are a million small details and I got very into doing things right for the sake of doing them right; same with websites and coding. I think that skill is useful in practicing law.”
— Ben Maxymuck '06 Staff Attorney, Equal Justice Initiative
How did you handle discussing your pre-law school career experience during a summer job interview? If you had a real change in direction, how did you handle it?
I don’t remember exactly. I didn’t shy away; I had it all on my resume. I think I focused on my academic record and the fact I had gone to law school not out of some reflexive impulse to credential/stay on the high-achiever treadmill, but because I actually wanted to practice law in specific areas, in order to help people.
Did you find public interest employers were concerned about or liked your non-linear career path?
I think it was generally a positive with those I talked to, but that may have been a result of self-selection (i.e., the places I got interviews liked me for some reason).
Did you include or exclude anything on your resume or elaborate on areas of past work experience so potential employers would pay attention about your past experience or avoid questions regarding it?
I didn’t have much explanation for waiting/bartending jobs; I just listed the jobs and dates. I did what I could to make the computer work seem relevant, emphasizing problem-solving, detail-orientation, and the fact that I was ultimately promoted to a position managing others on my team. I think I also noted somewhere that dates were non-continuous on my resume because of extended travel, so they’d know I wasn’t in jail or sitting around doing nothing during those times.
What suggestions do you have for other non-traditional students that might help them throughout the course of their time at HLS?
Don’t get too sucked into the pressures of HLS conformity (journals, OCI, clerkships, grade competition, anxiety about standing vis-a-vis other students). Keep up whatever interests/contacts you had pre-law school. By all means engage fully with HLS, but take precautions to make sure you don’t lose all perspective or waste time with unnecessary anxiety.