Below is the from the Ohio Women's Bar Association Network Newsletter, President's Message by Michelle Proia Roe. It appeared in the Winter 2013 issue.
Recently, Ohio admitted new attorneys into our profession. Almost 18 years ago, I remember being in the same seat, very uncertain about my future prospects. I sat for two bar exams in an attempt to increase my job chances. While most of my classmates at Pitt Law School finished up with Day 2 (and the final day) of their Pennsylvania Bar Exam, I headed with two classmates to New Jersey to sit for a third day for the New Jersey Bar Exam.
I worked two jobs after graduating from law school while I was waiting for my bar exam results. During the day, I handled wire transfers at Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh. I’d transfer huge sums of money internationally for lucrative bank customers. My 8-5 job would end, and then I’d race by foot across town to work my evening job starting at 5:30 p.m. I worked at Macy’s at night and collected on past due accounts. My shift would end at 9 p.m. and again I would rush to take the bus back to my apartment for an hour long, stop-and-go ride home. I could not afford my own car yet. Macy’s was also my weekend job, as I worked seven days a week.
I remember sitting in my apartment often worried about how I was going to pay next month’s rent. I was debating about whether I should move back to my hometown in upstate New York, and I know my parents were probably growing quite anxious with my situation. I always tried to hide my fear when I spoke with them. No one was really interested in interviewing you for a real legal job unless and until you passed the bar. When I ripped open that envelope from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in late November, I was so happy to get the good news.
Unfortunately, many firms were not hiring over the holiday season, but interviews picked up a bit in January. Attorney Fred Mercer gave me a chance and hired me as a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in his small office, and I was proud even though I made far less as a new attorney than our office secretary. I worked until at least 8 p.m. every week night and showed up to the office every Saturday so Fred and I could review case updates from the week. I was still relying on the city bus system, and I just dreaded snowstorms since that meant I could be waiting at least two hours for a bus to appear. That job gave me client contact and put me in court almost every day of the week, which I now know was priceless.
I was offered an opportunity to go in-house only a few years out of school after I decided to speak with a recruiter. Being a business lawyer was my dream. The position was in Wheeling, West Virginia, which meant a 90-minute commute each way on a good traffic day from my Pittsburgh apartment. Luckily, I was able to afford a used car by then. I took the job, even though they would only initially hire me as a temporary attorney on a three-month probationary period. I would not have benefits, and I would not be guaranteed a permanent position. I trusted my gut, accepted the challenge and transformed into a corporate lawyer.
My struggles did not end then, nor do I expect them to completely dissipate during the remainder of my career. I am where I am today not in spite of what I went through, but because of what I went through. I worked hard and always did more than what was expected of me. I believed in myself and, when I started to doubt, I relied on the love of my family to get me through. The same stands true today.