Truman Burrage, a 2018 JDP admit, reflects on his decision to work in management consulting after graduating from undergrad and how that prepared him for his future legal career.
I spent the summer before I applied to the Junior Deferral Program at a management consulting firm. That summer was my first introduction to the working world. In high school, I had small internships, but nothing that compared to a full corporate workweek. I was impressed with the breadth of industries that the firm represented. I was also intrigued by the diversity of problems I would be asked to solve and the access to higher-level clients at such an early position in my career. To be honest, the perks of traveling and free dinners during the week didn’t hurt either. I figured it would be a good place to build my professional toolkit before attending law school, so I told HLS that I would be a management consultant during my deferral period. However, I didn’t fully know what I was signing up for.
One thing that does not get a lot of discussion during undergrad is the stark transition between being a consumer of information in academia to a producer of information in the working world. Whenever I had any sort of question or was feeling uneasy about a concept during undergrad, my teaching fellows or professors were always one office hours visit or a quick email away from providing me reassurance. However, when I started working full-time, I learned that the expectations had changed. No longer was I only expected to regurgitate information that was presented to me in a textbook or lecture, but instead, I was expected to think for myself.
To say that this transition was tough for me would be an understatement. I was suddenly asked to create presentations for large audiences and manipulate large datasets, neither of which I had done much of in undergrad. In most scenarios, I was by far the youngest person in the room with the least amount of professional experience. Both my managers and clients expected me to be the authority on subject matter that in some instances I had only learned existed a few weeks before. Although I knew all of this was coming, the pressure that came with the transition to full-time work was difficult. I was constantly questioning myself. Why would any business want to know the opinion of a 23-year-old who just graduated from college? I was afraid to voice my opinion because I was constantly afraid of saying the wrong thing. This led to many sleepless nights and a bit too much self-reflection.
I am happy to report that these initial struggles did not last forever. Over time, with a lot of work and the assistance of some wonderful mentors, I developed confidence in both my own independent thought and judgment. I started speaking up when I had ideas and pushing back when I did not agree. This not only lead to some success in terms of solving problems for clients, but also built my professional confidence. Although there were many times when my proposed ideas were not acted upon, I finally felt like I was contributing.
When my time in consulting came to an end, I spent the summer before starting at HLS helping my tribe, the Choctaw Nation, upscale their legal infrastructure and data-management systems to deal with the increased caseload resulting from the McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court decision. This was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I know I would not have been able to provide this support to my community without the skills I developed during my time in management consulting.
So how does this pertain to all of you wondering what you should do with your deferral period? I hope this post will serve as one data point in your internal calculus. I found it extremely valuable to use my deferral period to take my initial professional “lumps” and make the switch from consumer of information to producer. However, there are many ways to use this time to broaden your horizons. Please do not hesitate to reach out at email@example.com if you have any questions.