Finding My Niche in Law by Jenni Gate

finding your niche map

We kick off the ‘Finding Your Niche‘ series with a writer who is becoming a favorite on Communicating Across Boundaries – Jenni Gate. Jenni is the perfect person to begin this series. Enjoy and please join the conversation through the comments!

Global nomads are very good mediators. Whenever TCKs move into another culture, they become very good, objective observers. They’re like cultural sponges. Those skills translate into ideal requirements for combating racism and advancing social and refugee work.” ~ Norma McCaig, El Paso Times

If I had to do it all over again, I might have put more thought and effort into planning my career path. But in typical TCK fashion, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after high school.

Being repeatedly uprooted and resettled every few years led me to see a world of endless possibilities. There were so many choices. I wanted to learn everything. I wanted to travel. I wanted to continue to live amongst various cultures. I wanted to help people. I couldn’t settle on a college, and ended up attending three, including one overseas. I wanted to major in art. My parents wanted me to major in business. I compromised by getting an English degree.

After graduation, I married and moved to Alaska. One of my first jobs was as a temporary secretary in a law firm. When the firm got a contract with the municipal Public Defender’s office, it became a full-time job. Soon, I was managing the scheduling, filing, and intake interviews for a heavy case load of DUIs (driving under the influence),prostitution, petty theft, and other misdemeanor cases. When the PD contract came to an end, the law firm asked me to stay on. My case load evolved to include managing felony cases.

The attorney I worked for handled drug cases, DUIs, divorce and custody, probate, personal injury, and murder cases. The most dedicated, brilliant attorney I’ve ever worked with, he was committed to the belief that every individual has a right to counsel. Crazy as it sounds, having grown up as the perpetual outsider, feeling like I was on the fringes of the “in” cliques in every new school, having learned to adapt quickly in each new situation and culture, I found my TCK background helped. I connected with our clients one-on-one, a necessary skill when trying to elicit the details necessary to put on a defense. The ability to relate to people from all walks of life was a definite asset in working with the outcast, the downtrodden, what others would consider the dregs of society. The armed conflict I had experienced in my youth helped me relate with clients who were Veterans.

Every human story has value, and we all share some basic human needs. Observing without judging, and evaluating a situation from various perspectives is an invaluable TCK trait in the legal field.

In time, I trained as a mediator with a community mediation center that worked to resolve community conflicts, parent and adolescent conflict, and to bring juvenile offenders to reconciliation with their victims. Bridging cultures, viewpoints, and opposing positions as a mediator was a natural for a TCK. Juveniles, who were not yet hardened criminals, met face-to-face with the people they victimized, encouraging them to see their victims as people, to step up and take responsibility for the crime committed, and find a path forward. For the individuals and families victimized, it gave them an opportunity also to express emotions not allowed in court, to see the offender as a person, to seek meaningful restitution, and to find a way to put the crime suffered behind them. I was thrilled with our low recidivism rate and proud to be part of a program that worked to steer juveniles back on track and foster positive changes in the community.

Continuing my nomadic ways as an adult, I have lived and worked as a paralegal for nearly 30 years throughout the Pacific Northwest US and England. Today, I work in a small plaintiff’s personal injury law firm that caters to an international clientele. It is a perfect niche for a TCK adult who thrives on diversity, the music of global languages, and the skills required for understanding the cultural needs and considerations of our clients.

The diverse experiences of TCKs, our language skills, flexibility, and ability to relate to people from all walks of life are an asset in the workplace. I still highlight the fact that I graduated from high school in Pakistan on my resumé, and it has always been a topic of conversation in interviews. Emphasize your unique background in your job search, and it will set you apart from the job-seeking crowd.  Do not be afraid to draw on your TCK background in your own career. Our mobile childhoods provided us with valuable qualities for almost any workplace. Good luck finding your niche!

You can read more of Jenni’s work at Nomad Trails and Tales and follow her at Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NomadTrailsAndTales

Would you like to contribute to the Finding Your Niche series? Take a look here and share your story. 

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Third Culture Kid - Grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. Moved to the United States and learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.

12 thoughts on “Finding My Niche in Law by Jenni Gate

  1. This was a very interesting read. The person you described in the first two paragraphs is, indeed, me. I always thought that the “Hindsight is 20/20″ quote was cruel :) , and so in reading this article, I first thought, “oh, but even with this warning, I’ll still stumble hopelessly and drive myself crazy searching for that place to fit in.”
    …but as I read on, I realized that it’s important to pay attention to how we use our skills. I worry about not finding my way, but your story tells me that even as we wander, we are most likely always wandering in the right direction.
    Thanks for sharing your story!

    Like

  2. This was a very interesting read. The person you described in the first two paragraphs is, indeed, me. I always thought that the “Hindsight is 20/20” quote was cruel :) , and so in reading this article, I first thought, “oh, but even with this warning, I’ll still stumble hopelessly and drive myself crazy searching for that place to fit in.”
    …but as I read on, I realized that it’s important to pay attention to how we use our skills. I worry about not finding my way, but your story tells me that even as we wander, we are most likely always wandering in the right direction.
    Thanks for sharing your story!

    Like

  3. Thanks for sharing, Jenni! That last part is definitely so true for every TCK! Even though it might be a pain listing all the schools you went to in all the countries you’ve lived in – it’s always a great ice breaker in a job interview. I’ve experienced that we ended up talking about nothing else and I still got the job in the end…:) So you never know what other hidden benefits might come from your resumé…

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    1. I’m so glad you’ve had positive experiences highlighting your TCK background on your resume too. It is definitely an ice-breaker, and discussions end up highlighting our unique perspectives on world affairs. It is a nice way to show intelligence without sounding like an encyclopedia. And it’s true that you never know what other hidden benefits may spring forth. :)

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  4. It feels so good to be understood! My mother is german my dad is American and I was born in Vienna Austria. I had moved about 19 times by the time I turned 18 including years spent in Tajikistan. I’m 24 now and working as a nanny full time because I can’t figure out what I would actually want to do forever. The idea of forever scares me. Change is my norm my comfort zone. That’s why getting married was wonderful and terrible at the same time. It’s taught me a lot about commitment and not fearing the things that do stay the same. Anyways I actually thought long and hard about becoming a lawyer to fight human trafficking and such but I was afraid I would get lost along the way – learning divorce laws and handling suing and that sort of stuff. And I want to work one on one with victims. Do you have any advice for someone like me? Thanks!!

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    1. Thank you for commenting!

      It sounds like you are emotionally in a similar place as I was when I headed off to college. I wanted to do everything, and it was paralyzing to think I had to pick just one direction. The great thing about the field of law is that it encompasses so many diverse fields and issues. If you become a lawyer with a goal of fighting human trafficking, you would want to apply for an assistant prosecutor position for a city or county entity. You would handle misdemeanors before being able to handle the felony cases. You would handle many other crimes as well. But you would have direct contact with victims in that capacity.

      Another option for working with victims of crime would be to look into being a victim’s advocate. Most larger cities in the US have victim’s advocates to help walk the individual or family affected by a crime through the criminal justice system, to assist with using local resources such as Crime Victims Compensation programs or support groups for specific crimes. And if you speak more than one language, that ability is in demand. The down side is that these positions don’t tend to pay well and are sometimes volunteer positions. Learn more here: http://www.victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crime-victims/what-is-a-victim-advocate-

      Issues like human trafficking are rare or overlooked in the justice systems of many cities and counties. Another place you target to work on issues like this would be with the UN or a State Department. Otherwise, there are NGOs and charitable organizations that target the issue, such as Called To Rescue, Children of the Night, Children’s Rescue Initiative, Walk Free, and the Polaris Project. Again, your language skills would be an asset to any organization.

      Many law firms are general practices handling a variety of areas of law, such as criminal, family law, and personal injury. I enjoy this type of practice because by their nature, the subject matter of the cases and issues always varies, keeping the job interesting. It is sometimes through working with a client in one area of law that other needs are identified. Don’t be afraid to follow a dream to be a lawyer because you may be waylaid by learning about the fields of law you are not as interested in. As with anything, being well-rounded helps.

      If you do go into law, you will find that there are many areas where people are in need of a lawyer to help them maneuver through the minefields of modern life. I found my niche in a small personal injury firm that caters to a mostly immigrant population, and I feel that my work as a paralegal makes a difference to people in need. I haven’t always felt that.

      Also know that many people with law degrees never actually practice law, but become heads of organizations or politicians where their legal knowledge can still be put to use in a non-traditional manner.

      This is a much longer response than I intended. Please forgive my wordiness. Just know that there are many possibilities within the legal field to develop your interests and hone your skills in a meaningful way. Being passionate about an issue could be a way to find your niche.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, adaptation is a key trait for us. Some of the biggest things that have happened in my life come together with a sense of synchronicity, and that is when I know it’s right for me. Falling into a career in law was like that. I grumble on occasion because I have been in the field for so long, but it has been an exciting area to work in, and I am still always learning.

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    1. Thank you! I’m forever grateful to my parents for the global way my sisters and I were brought up. I go back and forth about whether I would have preferred staying in one place or not, but in the end, the rich experiences and depth of understanding of the world were worth it.

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