Gap years can benefit your career — especially women lawyers
Experiencing life as a goat farmer and a restaurant dishwasher helped Courtney Bowie realise that a career in law as a female doesn’t have to be “soul-crushing”.
Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, Her Lawyer founder and principal Courtney Bowie (pictured) said she struggled with burnout, anxiety and depression very early on in her legal career, which prompted her to walk away from the profession.
“I saw my career as my problem. It was causing me distress to the point of being physically unwell, and so it was important for me to step away. And I did decide to walk away from the law,” she reflected.
“It wasn’t until I had, had my gypsy years overseas, doing everything from being a goat farmer to a restaurant dishwasher, and coming back to Australia and then being... trying my hand at management consulting, that I realised that there was a different way of doing things, and maybe there could be a practice of law that wasn’t soul-crushing.
“And I do think that there would be other young lawyers, particularly women, in a similar situation, who would benefit from either working in or setting up their own practice in this new way.”
Working as a goat farmer and then as a dishwasher, she explained, helped offer a certain perspective on the practice of law.
“I think it’s just so interesting to learn from other industries and just see how things are done in different parts of the world, and in different businesses, and to learn about how people are tackling challenges in a lot of different ways. And I think that, that can inform the practice of law.”
For female practitioners, it can also help one get a broader appreciation for what they’re willing to tolerate or not in legal practice, Ms Bowie said. When hiring staff, experience outside of the law is something she always looks for, she added.
“[I look for] someone who can bring something else to the table other than experiences learnt from a traditional law firm, because then we have to unlearn all those things, which take some time. But if you can bring something that is unique and different, I think that, that can really add value to a firm,” she said.
She ceded that not every female lawyer will want to take a gap year, as they will have their own ideas about what constitutes the best vocational path forward. This will all depend, Ms Bowie mused, on the type of workplace one sits within.
“I think if they’re in a modern workplace, I think that they should be demanding... maybe not demanding, but maybe seeking out opportunities for flexibility, and looking for workplaces where wellness is truly valued and not just given lip service, but demonstrated commitment to flexibility and wellness,” she said.
“It is harder if you are in a more traditional workplace, because I think there is still some stigma, and I think that those workplaces are moving more slowly, and it can still be a difficult ride if you are going to push for yourself in those workplaces.”
But, ultimately, she said it is important for female lawyers in particular to experience time away from the profession, in the form of a gap year or something similar, so as to “never forget there is a life outside of the law”.
“Never forget your family, and your friends, and your passions outside of your everyday work. Do not let it own you, do not let it dominate you. And if you can manage it, try to get some experience outside of the law, whether that be volunteer opportunities or hobbies or other work,” she said.
“Try to get some balance, so that you can see that if you are in a workplace where you are facing the boys club, that it’s not like that everywhere, and it’s not always going to be like that.”
And, for those wanting a similar experience getting dirt under the fingernails, Ms Bowie concluded with: “I can recommend a great goat farm.”
Lawyers Weekly previously reported, following the podcast episode with Ms Bowie, that boutique law environments can better cater to certain needs and wants of women practitioners.
Earlier this year, law graduate Mardi Grivas wrote that lawyers should take gap years once they’ve completed their studies, prior to commencing their careers.
To listen to Courtney's full episode with Jerome, click below: