Published: Jun 27, 2011
Nearly ten years ago, Paula Edgar’s life was forever changed when her mother became a victim of the September 11th attacks. Then living in California and working for a software company, Edgar threw herself into her family and took the lead working with attorneys on her mother’s will and victims' compensation matters. It was those attorneys who recognized Edgar’s skills and suggested she consider law school.
Five years later, Edgar graduated from the City University of New York School of Law, which attracted her because of its public interest offerings. To Edgar, CUNY Law was “much more like family than an actual institution.” From the start of her legal career, Edgar was on a nontraditional career path. She had no plans of working in a BigLaw firm or burning the midnight oil. “Family was very important to me,” says Edgar, and she was determined to pursue a meaningful career that allowed her time for her family.
Edgar began her career as a law clerk with the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings in New York and then moved to a position with the New York City Human Rights Commission. After six months, Edgar realized legal practice was not be the right path for her. “I thought I needed to do a 'legal job' because that’s what everyone expected,” she says. But Edgar was always “more about being a support system, being an advocate, helping people,” she says.
Through her volunteer work with the Practicing Attorneys for Law Students Program, Inc. (“PALS”)—an organization focused on minority law students and lawyers—she learned about an opening to assist the Board Chair. Edgar jumped on the opportunity, and eventually, she was named Executive Director of PALS. The was a “perfect . . . combination of all the things I did well,” she says, which included her legal training, flair for connecting with people, fundraising abilities and leadership skills.
Not one to settle for just one challenge, Edgar also launched her own company, PGE LLC, to combine all of her unique skills and build her brand. PGE LLC is “a consulting firm that specializes in non-profit management, fund-raising strategies, and devising tactics to increase diversity within the legal profession.”
After four years at PALS, Edgar took her passions for connecting to the academic grounds: she became a career counselor at Seton Hall Law, where she now serves as associate director of career services. While at PALS, she had heard law students complain that they weren’t getting support from career services and “realized it wasn’t that they weren’t getting it—[it was] that they weren’t reaching out for it,” she says. Edgar took on the challenge to change this perception. While she is a generalist advisor, she also focuses on employer outreach and counseling students on alternative careers. “There is no box—you can do whatever you want,” says Edgar—who is a perfect example of this herself.
But when it comes to venturing on an alternative career path, lawyers shouldn’t rush forward without exploring first. “When I made the decision to not practice anymore, I had something already planned . . . a lot of folks jump without looking, and that’s not the right thing to do.” Lawyers should discuss their options with career counselors or their law schools' career services offices and plan their exits. And lawyers and law students must put the work in: “If you want to pursue a nontraditional career, you need to reach out to people doing that nontraditional career,” which includes informational interviews and researching.
When it comes to tips for law students’ job searches, Edgar has two main pieces of advice: pay attention to detail and network. Some of the biggest job-search mistakes that Edgar sees with law students are “mistakes on their resumes and cover letters . . . . That first look may be the only look you get.” Another mistake is that law students “don’t go beyond the walls of law school to develop their profession.” To Edgar, networking is “now like another job . . . you have to do it or else you’ll be behind.” Law students should take advantage of opportunities like connecting with alumni or getting involved with events that attorneys will attend.
And if you have dreams of pursuing a career as ambitious and diverse as Edgar’s, you can learn a lot from her realistic outlook. “I don’t believe in balance . . . I believe you can do some things sometimes and other things other times.” For Edgar, “I have to do all of these things to make myself 100 percent Paula.” And that means going beyond professional endeavors: “I also pursue my loves,” she says, which range from pop culture to recently taking a class on television reporting. People “should not make the job the only thing that defines them,” says Edgar.
PGE LLC site
More About Paula Edgar
Paula Edgar is the owner and principal of consulting firm PGE LLC, an associate director of career services at Seton Hall University School of Law, and frequent speaker and panelist on topics including diversity, networking and mentoring law students and attorneys. Her prior experience includes working as executive director for Practicing Attorneys for Law Students Program, Inc. and as an attorney for the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Paula received her JD from City University of New York School of Law and her BA in Anthropology from California State University (Fullerton). Connect with Paula on Twitter or through her website.
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