Reflections On My First Year As a Lawyer

Rachel Bradley, For Gannett Wisconsin Media

I achieved a lifelong goal when I became a lawyer. Now I’m learning the realities of being one.

The nightmare is finally over. You know the one — it’s the first day of law school exams, and you realize that not only have you have slept through your alarm, but you have also forgotten to attend class, for the entire semester. You wake up as you burst into the exam room, where your classmates have just finished typing their last answers. You have failed. You’ll never be an attorney.

Actually, the premise of this nightmare was my constant companion throughout law school, hanging over me in every large group lecture, study group, and exam. Its affirmation came each time I incorrectly answered a cold-call question, was shown a color-coded 90-page outline prepared by a peer (seriously, who ARE these people?) or found myself completely winging an exam question. But this is all over now. I graduated one year ago from the University of Wisconsin Law School. I am an attorney — a personal injury attorney. Now what?

Unlike the transitional worlds of college and law school, where the end goal was simply making it to the exit door, my new world is the one in which I will remain. Reflecting on my first year, I realize it was spent on three key areas of growth — building familiarity with the fundamentals of a personal injury practice and understanding what is means to be a young woman in this field.

It begins with recognizing the knowledge that I lack. This included the ability to read foreign languages (Pt c/o HA’s & pain in LUE, post-MVA. Ibuprofen & f/u prn) and decode insurance policies, and an in-depth understanding of human anatomy and the proper footwear for surveying the contours of a crumbling driveway (four-inch heels — not a smart choice.)

The great advantage to discovering what I don’t know is the wealth of opportunities to learn about completely foreign subjects in each new case.

My second area of growth came about more unexpectedly. As a millennial, raised by a strong, independent woman, I believed the era of unequal treatment of women in professional realms had ended long before I entered law school. A magistrate judge quickly snapped me out of this illusion during my first couple of months on the job, when he told me during a status conference to go back to my firm and tell the “‘big boys’ to make a decision.” Experiences like that, combined with the frequent remark from clients, court reporters and witnesses that I “look awfully young to be an attorney,” have shown me that together, my youth and gender make it necessary for me to fight to be recognized on the same level as male attorneys and older attorneys in general.

Luckily, I have that same strong independent woman, as well as incredible male mentors, to look to for advice on how to be heard and seen as the J.D. toting attorney that I am, along with a women’s caucus legal support group, where I have found myself rooting for female power in ways I never before thought necessary.

This is my dream — and it is just beginning.

Rachel Bradley is an associate attorney at Strang Bradley LLC in Madison and a member of the Wisconsin Association for Justice. Her mother, Christine Bremer Muggli, is a Wausau attorney.

View the full article at the Wausau Daily Herald.

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