The road to become a lawyer is a long one. First things first: you need to decide you want to be an attorney. As young womxn of color, our exposure to fellow womxn of color attorneys is sorely lacking. This isn’t surprising considering that there are only 34.4% of womxn attorneys, including white womxn. Let’s not get started on how few womxn of color attorneys actually exist! Secondly, if you’re lucky enough to decide early on you want to be an attorney, you need to go to college, do well, and take the LSAT! Then, you have to apply to law school and “learn the law” for three years. Are we finally ready to be an attorney now that we’ve graduated? Nope! Now, you need to pass the bar exam. Once you pass the hazing ritual, you are now officially a practicing attorney. But for womxn of color, our struggle continues in the lack of representation at the partnership level and in leadership. Sonja, Trinh, and Kirsten are all at different stages of this long and arduous journey.
Sonja Chen (pronounced SONE-ya), originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, is a third generation Chinese-Norwegain American who is the Director of Programming & Events for NWOCC, a position that marries her love for building community with her professional experience managing events and facilities.
Sonja has always enjoyed the concept of law because she likes rules: learning about rules, thinking about rules, and understanding how rules work. After transferring from Foothill College and graduating from UC San Diego with a degree in SocioCultural Anthropology, in early 2020 her life was at a crossroads. The COVID pandemic graced Sonja with space to reflect critically on her life’s journey and what she has to offer the world.
In a time when so much of the world slowed down, the possibility of meaningfully impacting her community through policy change and advocacy cultivated an urgency to pursue law. With a lot of newfound free time on her hands, Sonja started self-studying for the LSAT by reading The LSAT Trainer, the Powerscore Trilogy, and The Loophole. At community college, she had taken online classes while working and while that did involve an immense amount of personal accountability and motivation, she had never taught herself something from scratch completely on her own.
Without a doubt, this LSAT journey has been the most humbling academic experience Sonja has had thus far (and she is certain there are more humbling times in law school). Besides learning about sufficient conditions and formal logic, she has learned about her personal learning style, how to be patient with herself, and the importance of taking breaks even when one feels guilty about doing so. As a first generation law student, Sonja does not have anyone in her family who can relate to this experience and being able to talk with other womxn of color about what she’s experiencing has made her feel like she is part of something bigger than herself and encouraged her to push through doubts and frustrations–of which there are many.
For anyone who plans on or is currently studying for the LSAT, Sonja’s advice is to be honest with yourself about your personal learning style and find a LSAT or pre-law community. She says, “Understanding how you learn empowers you to set achievable goals and understand what areas you need support in early on. Whether you plug yourself into a pre-law society or join a Facebook LSAT group, having a community that you can observe and take pointers from reminds you that there are others experiencing the exact same frustrations and it’s normal to not understand logic games at first. No matter what: keep going because the world needs YOU!”
Trinh Truong is a first-generation Vietnamese American. She is from Westminster, California, a.k.a. “Little Saigon,” the largest Vietnamese refugee community in the world. In high school, she created the first Mock Trial team in her school district, which sparked her interest in law. However, it would take years for Trinh to seriously pursue law school. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a degree in Economics and a minor in Political Science, and worked at several law firms while studying for the LSAT. Her hard work paid off when she accepted her admission to USC Gould School of Law.
If you didn’t know, law school is tough. School had always been easy for Trinh, but law school pushed her out of her comfort zone. Because English was not her first language, Trinh always hated speaking in class. Getting cold-called was her worst nightmare (literally!), while her classmates spoke clearly, willingly, and often. Trinh had a serious case of imposter syndrome, along with actual stress-induced health problems, and she wondered many times whether she was on the right path. However, it was through USC’s newly founded Womxn of Color Collective that Trinh found friends and mentors who shared similar stories and feelings that made her feel less alone. This sisterhood is what pushed Trinh forward to conquer her self doubts, and to give back through National WOCC!
Now, Trinh is in her last year of law school and has accepted a job offer from K&L Gates. She won’t pretend she knows how to conquer law school, but she can tell you that you aren’t alone and that you will get through this!
Kirsten’s legal journey has included many different experiences and locations. From her undergraduate experience near family in her native Philadelphia – at the University of Pennsylvania, to a completely new adventure in the University of California at Berkeley for law school. During law school, Kirsten worked with groups that sought to uplift and empower women and girls. As the Project Coordinator for the Graduate Women’s Project, she organized the yearly Women of Color Conference, Kirsten served on the Berkeley Women’s Law Journal and was a founding member of the Women of Color in Public Interest in the San Francisco Bay area. These law school experiences shaped her interests in both advocacy and leadership.
Seeking even more adventure, Kirsten moved from Northern California to St. Croix in the United States Virgin Islands. Although she spent many days exploring the beaches, and learning about Caribbean food, her primary purpose was to work with the Federal Public Defender. With fascinating cases and compelling clients, this work refined her focus and pointed her toward a career in advocacy for the unheard and the underrepresented. Yet, this adventure was not without exciting detours in diversity recruiting at the Department of Justice and fundraising at Smith College. Eventually Kirsten’s journey led her to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. Her daily roles include strategy developer, community stakeholder, policy leader, recruiter, faculty trainer, and program developer. Kirsten’s escapades range from training new attorneys and administrative staff, to the planning and negotiation of office renovations – and everything in between. Kirsten’s legal career has taken her in many directions. Yet, with each experience, Kirsten was able to add a diversity of skills and professional connections.