The First-Generation Lawyer
I recall one of my first thoughts when I was accepted into law school: “what am I getting myself into?!”
Being born in another country, and having a non-English first language, has in many ways enriched my perspective on life and the human experience. On the other hand, it’s brought some unique challenges. It has catapulted an array of “firsts” for me (and my family). In this blog post, I provide a glimpse into my experience being an immigrant, and the first lawyer in my family.
My family arrived to Canada as immigrants. In addition to the challenges of settling into a new country with a different language and culture, no one in my family had obtained higher education past a bachelor’s degree, let alone a law degree. Did I know what the practice of law looked like, or what to expect? Absolutely not. I did not have anyone in my immediate circle to talk to about the experience of law school, or the legal career. I did not have anyone from whom to seek guidance or tips to be successful. When I was accepted into law school, my approach was that of “let’s see where this goes!” and off I went on a new journey into the unknown.
Understandably, my family didn’t know how to support me apart from being there for me, particularly when I was on the verge of throwing my hands up in defeat (which happened from time to time). It was through the law school experience that I really grew to appreciate the support and encouragement from those around me.
The legal world took me some time to adapt to and understand. While balancing law school, students are often considering their career options – including the infamous On Campus Interviews, alternative career paths, and at times, careers outside of law altogether. Learning about law firms and how to land a summer job and articles was overwhelming. Who do I talk to? How do I know which law firm will be a “fit”? Will I even enjoy the practice of law? Where will I land a job? These are just some of the questions I had, and surely many others too.
Navigating these decisions alone was hard; particularly in contrast to some of my peers who had relatives in law who could, perhaps, provide more personal insight and guidance. My solution was to speak with as many people as I could and at times, to cold call lawyers to request a coffee meeting to discuss their career experience. I also attended as many law school events as I could in order to meet practicing lawyers and to build my professional network.
Throughout school I couldn’t help but to feel like a bit of an “outsider”. When interviews came around, it was hard not to notice the conversations around relatives at law firms in town, or personal connections. In some ways I questioned whether I was at a significant disadvantage, having no such personal connections myself. Did I belong here? Did I fit in? Inevitably, doubt would creep in, and the only antidote was to remind myself that it was up to me to carve out my future and what that looks like, regardless of where I’ve come from. What I found to be helpful was reaching out to friends or colleagues who have gone through similar experiences. I would encourage anyone who might be navigating through any doubts to do the same.
In closing, this process has taught me immense gratitude and humility. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of seeking mentorship and coaching no matter the stage of your career. It is equally important to see women from all walks of life in this profession. We don’t know what we are capable of unless we push ourselves to reach for our goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leyla Salmi is an associate at Harper Grey and practices with the firm’s Construction and Engineering Law Group. Leyla takes pride in giving back to the profession and her community. She currently acts as a Beedie Luminaries Mentor, providing mentorship to students as they complete their post-secondary education.