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I Can Practice Law, but It’s Not Like I’m Getting Married, Right?

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But if you are getting married, whose last name is being taken?

On April 27, 2015, at 4:57 PM, I, along with 3,996 others, received an email from the New York State Board of Law Examiners with information on how I fared on the February New York State Bar Exam.

“Dear Candidate,” it read, “The State Board of Law Examiners congratulates you on passing the New York State Bar Examination held on February 24-25, 2015.” The letter went on, but I immediately stopped reading after “congratulates” and cried into my parents’ arms. I passed the bar. I could be a real lawyer.

Throughout my many weeks of preparation, friends would say, “The bar exam is just a test,” but it’s not just a test. It’s a barrier in front of a job that thousands of people have spent years studying for, eradication of massive student debt, and lifelong goals. It requires isolation during months of studying and heroic stress management skills. And even after all of that preparation, 57% of exam takers failed this past February’s New York exam.

Despite the impact passing has on my career, I was tentative about celebrating my bar exam success because at my age — 27, weddings, bachelorette parties, and wedding showers still seem to be the events in women’s lives that merit the most celebration and schedule rearranging.

This suspicion was confirmed when a close friend told me she would not be able to make my bar exam celebration, a casual stop-by-when-you-can-happy-hour, because she had to “prepare” for another friend’s wedding shower the following day. Although completely unintentional on her part, much of my excitement to celebrate this next step in my life was extinguished. I passed the bar, but it’s not like I’m getting married, right?

A 2011 Catalyst Report titled “The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All the Right Things Really Get Women Ahead?” found that the most effective strategy for woman to get ahead in the workplace was to make their achievements known, whether by ensuring their managers were aware of their accomplishments or asking for a deserved raise. The report found that this self-promotion was the only strategy associated with compensation growth for women.

But, how can women make their accomplishments known in the workplace when we’re told by those closest to us that the events we should celebrate loudly and proudly have nothing to do with our careers? It’s no wonder women downplay their career successes when the biggest parties thrown for women by women don’t center on the new promotion; they focus on the new ring or hyphenated last name.

This is not to say that engagements and weddings don’t deserve the adulation they currently receive, but they shouldn’t be the only events in a woman’s life that get special treatment. Women need to celebrate their friends’ career achievements with the same fervor and excitement that they celebrate their friends’ weddings and baby showers. We should rearrange our schedules to fit in our friend’s promotion party because the promotion is just as crucial as a marriage is to creating her happy, fulfilling life.

So buy that bottle of champagne for your friend’s engagement, yes, but if she gets placed into her first choice medical residency program, send flowers for that, too. She may have dated the guy she’s marrying for two years, but she’s been working on becoming a doctor for much, much longer.

Illustrations by Autumn Kimball

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