This week, I’m really excited to share my conversation with Amber Haggins with you. Amber is a former lawyer who now sits as Prophet’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As you’ll hear from her story, she has lots of great advice for people who are thinking about an alternative career in DEI. But, her story is useful to anyone looking to leave their job as a lawyer.
Keep reading to learn more about Amber and to hear her advice for finding an alternative career after leaving your job as a lawyer and how you can potentially find your next career in DEI.
Amber’s Journey As A Lawyer
Many of us had dreams of being a lawyer when we were kids. What started the journey for Amber was playing The Game Of Life™. If you can remember playing, you’ll know that in the game, you are assigned a career.
Amber’s top pick was the lawyer since it has the highest salary. At the time she didn’t really know what it meant to be a lawyer. She just wanted the salary. But as she learned more, it became aligned with her view of justice and helping people.
At law school, she blended in perfectly with the rest of the Type A personalities. She still didn’t know what she would do with her passion and what she was learning. But as she was introduced to how law firms work, she started to see a direction in private law.
Practicing As A Lawyer
Like almost everyone who becomes a lawyer, Amber quickly found out that practicing as a lawyer was nothing like being in law school. She practiced for two years, before meeting two partners who introduced her to Labor and Employment Law.
This acted as an entryway into helping with people’s issues at work. In Labor and Employment Law, there was an element of personal strategy development that Amber was really drawn to. After this experience, she wanted to do more, really help people in their own workplace.
After that, Amber moved to federal government law, where she focused on discrimination cases. There, she had the opportunity to dive head-first and get a lot of hands-on experience in a hybrid role of attorney and DEI professional.
The Shift From Practicing As A Lawyer To DEI
After six years and being promoted to deputy director of that office, Amber made another change. This was because of an administrative change that did not prioritize diversity and inclusion.
She knew that she had to start looking for her next steps. She needed to find a place where her skills would be of value while allowing her to pursue her passion for helping others.
In her recent hybrid role, she had really enjoyed the DEI side of her work. This fit all the things that she needed to carve out a worthy alternative career path. Amber moved around a little bit, to find an environment to best bring forth her skills and approach. Now, she is the Vice President of DEI at Prophet.
Finding An Alternative Career In DEI
One thing about DEI is that it’s definitely not a cookie-cutter type of profession. Everyone has their own approach to how they progress in this space.
For those people who are interested in DEI, Amber recommends doing the work to know yourself before getting into leading organizations on this front. DEI is deeply tied to identity, experiences, and having the ability to be empathetic.
If DEI feels like the right alternative career path for you, Amber also encourages you to get involved in DEI initiatives. A lot of this work remains voluntary, but there are a lot of opportunities there.
Amber also raved about her fantastic experience participating in Georgetown’s Executive Certificate in Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion course. However, she really suggests getting started with DEI in your organization.
Want To Find An Alternative Career? Here’s Some Advice:
Whether you’re looking to find an alternative career in DEI or another field, Amber’s biggest piece of advice for you is self-reflection work. It really helps you to make that decision to leave your job as a lawyer and untangle that from your identity.
It takes a lot of time and effort, not to mention help from mentors and other support systems. If you are interested in DEI, follow some thought leaders in the industry on LinkedIn and try to get connected into the community as you consider an alternative career path.
And, if you’re looking to leave your job as a lawyer, but you don’t know how to make that jump, I’ve created a free guide called First Steps to Leaving the Law for anyone out there who is just like, “Ugh! This job is the worst. I need out. Where do I start?”
When you grab that guide, you get on my email list, which is how you can stay up to date about everything that’s happening with Former Lawyer and get in touch with me. If you are ready to figure out what’s next for you, download the free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law, and get started today.
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Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.
I'm really excited to share my conversation with Amber Haggins with you this week. Amber is a DEI practitioner and I know a lot of you are considering moving in that direction. As you all hear from her story, she has lots of great advice for people who are thinking about that, then just really helpful observations no matter what path you're thinking about pursuing about how to start working on untangling your identity as a lawyer from yourself so that you can make a move that really works for you.
If you are interested specifically in DEI, I did want to mention that Amber was on a panel that we had inside of the Collaborative with other practitioners of DEI who are former lawyers, one who works at a law school, one at a law firm, one at a corporation, and one who does consulting, talking about how they made those moves and advice for people wanting to move in that direction. That's just an example of one of the many resources that we have for you inside the Collab. If you're interested, go to formerlawyer.com/collab to learn more about that program. Okay, let's get to my conversation with Amber.
Hi, Amber. Welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.
Amber Haggins: Hello, Sarah. So happy to be here.
Sarah Cottrell: I am so excited to hear your story. Let's start with introducing yourself to the listeners.
Amber Haggins: Perfect. Hello, listeners. My name is Amber Haggins. My pronouns are she/her and my day job is currently at Prophet brand strategy as the Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. That means that I am deeply passionate about helping my organization learn and engage as a community, especially when we think about how we connect around issues of identity, equity, and inclusion.
Sarah Cottrell: I am really excited about this conversation, Amber, because I know that there are a lot of lawyers who are considering moving in the direction of some DEI work and they have lots of questions about what that looks like, and how they can think about getting there, so we're going to start where we start most of the time on this podcast, then we will go from there. Tell me how you decided to become a lawyer.
Amber Haggins: Yes. I will be honest here. I was a little kid playing The Game of Life. If you remember The Game, you're assigned different careers. Initially, my interest was driven to law because the lawyer profession got the biggest salary in the game. I was intrigued. I was like, “I don't really know what that means but that's what I want because I want the biggest salary,” and of course, wanted the Twins and all of that too but that was really initially where my interest came from. I don't come from a family who had folks who were in the corporate space so I wasn't familiar with that route.
I was raised in a military family. My father was in the army my entire life and my mother was an army wife. The Game of Life was my first introduction into it. As I grew and began to research some of the trailblazers and some of my personal heroes in this work, it really became aligned to my view on the world, especially when you think about justice and helping people in the community. That's really what continued to draw me to this line of work. I think about the Thurgood Marshalls and the Pauli Murrays in the world who really came to this work because they saw a need in their community.
Sarah Cottrell: It's so interesting, Amber, because of course, like you're talking about being a kid and playing The Game of Life, and how that gave you an idea of what it was to be a lawyer but honestly, I've heard so many stories doing this podcast that are so similar and also many people who even as young adults are making the decision to go to law school basically based on similar criteria like, “Oh, I know this is a job that people will think is impressive and I can make a good living.” These kinds of things are often some of the things that drive the initial decision to go to law school, especially if someone also, like you said, has an interest in justice, helping people side of things. It's a really common story even if not everyone can literally say like, “Well, I was playing The Game of Life at age eight. This is what the rules meant. This is what it meant to be a lawyer.”
Amber Haggins: Absolutely. Even being a child, I can remember as a young kid when I would let people, like the grown-ups, know that that's what I wanted to be, it was so affirming because they were so impressed. Like you said, the recognition and that really sounds like an important role to play, and of course, like I said, the money aspect of it.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, 100%. Like you said, getting that positive reaction, that is a big part of what draws people off into law, then makes it hard for them to leave because everyone wants to be affirmed, approved of, and belong and I just think that often, we're trying to achieve that with the job that we have, even if we don't realize that's what we're doing. It really can be very complex to untangle that when, for example, if you were to decide that you no longer wanted to be a lawyer, there are a lot of layers to that decision.
Amber Haggins: It's so true, Sarah. I think it's something that I struggled with like, “Do I lose a part of my identity if I can no longer say that I'm a practicing attorney? What does that mean for me? Am I still successful?” That's such a great point that you raise.
Sarah Cottrell: I'm excited to talk about that part of your story, so let's talk about you got to law school and you went partially because of this idea of like, “It's a great way to make a living and it's a very prestigious career,” but also you had these interests in justice and you were looking to these people as examples. When you got to law school and you were going through law school, were you like, “Yes, I'm on the path. This is exactly where I need to be. I love everything about it”? Or were you like, “I'm not so sure about this”? What was that experience like for you?
Amber Haggins: Definitely felt like I had found my people in law school, even in the competitive environment and the type A folks. I really enjoyed law school. I will say I still didn't know what I would do with it all. I didn't know what I would do with the passion. I didn't know what I would do with what I was learning. I didn't really have a lot of visibility into law firms and how they worked, so I was still naive; that thought that it would be more obvious I guess, like the next steps, so I spent a lot of time navigating what I wanted to do with all the knowledge and the passion that I had. But again, money came up. Someone who comes from a working-class background, as I was introduced to law firms who, of course, wanted to increase their representation, I found myself going in a direction that I didn't intend to sit out on in going to practice in private law. It was still a bit of a journey where I was still trying to figure out really who I was in this work and taking on this identity of becoming a lawyer.
Sarah Cottrell: Oh yeah, I mean 1M%, that story, we've talked about on the podcast so many times; and one of the ways that people often refer to it is it's almost like a conveyor belt. Especially if you come into law school, it sounds like you were in a similar position to me in the sense of like—and I've said this in the podcast many times—I didn't know what lawyers made. I had no concept that big law was a thing. I knew so little that looking back, it's embarrassing but it was what it was, then it's like, “Hey, there's this thing, it’s called OCI and these people want to hire you.” It's so easy, even if you go into law school with maybe some more high-minded ideals, which I certainly had that experience and I know many people who I've interviewed for the podcast did as well. You end up like, “Oh well, this is the obvious direction to go,” then there you are. It sounds like that was very much your experience as well.
Amber Haggins: Absolutely my experience, yes, which made the transition into the private practice of law really hard. We'll get to this in my story, but really I had to take time to, like I said, really understand who I was and not be influenced by the conveyor belt as you—and I love that—explained it because for some people, that was just the expectation, that that should be your next step. But what I love about being a lawyer is that you don't actually have to practice law. The skills and the experience can really open up a wide range of opportunities that I just don't think you can find in other career paths. I won't speak to that, but the range of opportunities are just so great because you're really learning a way of thinking, a way of really exercising judgment and being able to create successful solutions for your client in a way that can really be leveraged in a wide range of ways.
Sarah Cottrell: I love that you mentioned the fact that at some point, you had to get to know yourself because it's so interesting. Of course, that's something I talk about a lot but there is sometimes a little bit of surprise, even on the part of lawyers who are starting to explore, like what they might want to do next and if that is actually practicing law or something else because there can almost be this sense of shame like, “I'm an adult person. I'm 38 years old, do I really not know myself?” I think the reality is that for many people who end up in law school, that is part of their reality because often, they were the type of kid who worked hard in school, did well in school, got the gold stars and the A's, and just adopted that as who they were and a high achiever, then law school just fits into that same persona. You can end up, many years down the road, trying to figure out what's next and feeling like you're flailing. I think it can be hard to believe that this is happening because I don't necessarily know myself that well.
Amber Haggins: You described it perfectly. It's because we get so caught up in doing the things and checking off the boxes versus really understanding who we are and letting that drive us. Because once I ended up at the law firm, I was like, “Okay, well, the next step is partnership. Now, what are all the boxes that I need to check off to get to partnership?” I think we all really fall into that bucket, just the way you describe because we're used to being high achievers, excelling. What helped me to pause and just really reflect on where I was is that I wasn't excelling at the law firm. It was not going that well. I wasn't enjoying myself. Reality wasn't meeting the expectations of the dream. The practice of law is so different from law school where you get to learn and have dialogue. It really was your billing, your time, and 0.6 increments and you just need to do what needs to be done for the client. That was rubbing against my ability to really feel that I was making an impact in a meaningful way.
Sarah Cottrell: It's so true that the experience of law school is nothing like practicing law. You can have loved law school and been great at law school, and practicing law can feel completely off. Also, there are people who I've talked to who didn't like law school, then practicing law actually fit them much better, but the reality is that, especially if you're in a big firm, I had this image in my mind as you were talking about the billing of just like you're just supposed to be a machine, like you're just part of the machine—we've talked about this on the podcast before—there's this expectation that you just need to keep the machine moving with as little friction as possible. It makes it such that anyone who's a human being, which is everyone, but anyone who experiences human needs, those things are seen as not like, “Oh, that's part of you because you're a whole person,” but like, “Oh, that's very inconvenient.” You're gumming up the works with your being a human being.
Amber Haggins: For me, that just wasn't where I was finding my joy in the work. Like you said, there are some people whom that is the right fit, their passion is aligned to some of those goals. For me, I was finding more and more that I just didn't find meaning for myself. That needed to be a big part of any type of work that I took on, just feeling like I was having an impact. I think that really went back to my initial feelings around justice and being able to help the community. I was very fortunate in my practice to begin working with a labor and employment group that worked on what they called the time diversity audits. That experience opened me up into partnering with clients to really understand what the challenges were that were impacting their representation, their attrition, and their retention. I just really fell in love with the work because I was able to connect with people on a level that my other legal work just didn't allow.
Sarah Cottrell: That's so interesting because a conversation we've been having a lot lately in the Collaborative is that there are so many people who go into law because they care about other people and they want to help other people, and work with other people, then often, practice can feel very removed from being involved with people. There are a lot of lawyers who ultimately decide to stop practicing and do something else, and many people who I'm working with right now, because they really want more of that experience of actually working with people and seeing tangible results, and just having more of that human element in their work. This just comes up over and over, and over, so I'm not surprised to hear you say that because it seems to be true that a large percentage of the people who go to law school, that that's something that they're looking for. You don't necessarily get that in the practice of law.
Can I just go back quickly? How soon, after you started practicing, did you have this realization of like, was it immediately like, “This is not for me,” or was there some period of time where you were like, “Maybe I can make this work”? How did that work for you?
Amber Haggins: I definitely gave it my best shot and tried to make it work. I'd say I was probably two, two and a half years in, and that's when I met these partners who specialize in labor and employment. I really actually fell in love with Labor and Employment Law. I think it's because I was getting closer to the people. We were giving advice and counsel on all aspects of the employer-employee relationship, mostly on the management side but it was still an entryway into helping with people's issues at work. I was just drawn to that work. I will say when I did the work, it was more on the compliance side, so helping organizations develop their affirmative action plans, but even in that, there was some element of developing people strategies that I was really drawn to. It was at that moment that I said, “I want to do this more. I don't want to only advise clients when employees are ready to sue the organizations. I want to be on the proactive side, really helping organizations meet their commitment to creating a workplace that works for everyone and where everyone can really thrive.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, totally. You are not the first person who I have heard have that experience, working in that area of law where they realize like, “Oh, I actually want to be more on the proactive side. I really want to be part of building something.” Can you tell me a little bit about the process from there? You were two and a half-ish years in, and you connected with this group that was doing that work, then at what point did you end up moving to something else?
Amber Haggins: I stayed in private practice for about four years total. From there, I made the move to the federal government to continue practicing law. In that role, I had more of a focus on discrimination cases, so representing the government agency that I worked in. But I'm one of those people where I guess my career path stumbled upon me in many ways because I joined the federal government at a time where the president issued an executive order on diversity and inclusion, requiring the cabinet agencies to stand up in office. I don't know if you've worked in government but if you express interest or raise your hand, you are typically given the project. They're like, “It's all yours.”
Sarah Cottrell: I worked for a state court of appeals that I may or may not have basically ended up in charge of the intern program for some period of time.
Amber Haggins: You know how it works. You're like, “Oh, what is this about?” They're just like, “Guess what, you're in charge.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, totally.
Amber Haggins: I was this eager attorney, really driven by my passion around the work. I couldn't tell you what diversity, equity, and inclusion were back in those days but I, at least, had the foundation of coming to organizations from the perspective of employer-employee law. At least, coming to it from that compliance perspective was really helpful. Of course, like I said, I had the discrimination caseload, so I knew that employees were not happy and that we saw differences in how employees were experiencing the organization across different demographics.
I was given this project to help stand up the office of diversity, inclusion at this government agency and I knew nothing. Many thanks to the many mentors across the federal government that helped to just sit down with me and share their best practices, and guide me in organizational development, how to really listen to people, to hold space for folks who share their stories with you, how to develop a strategic plan, and how to engage leaders. But I just had the opportunity, a rare opportunity where I knew nothing and I was able to roll up my sleeves, just dive in head first, and get a lot of hands-on experience.
Sarah Cottrell: How long were you doing that work before you decided to move on to something else?
Amber Haggins: I stayed with that federal agency for about six years, helped to launch the first office. By the time that I left that agency, I was promoted to the deputy director role for that office that I helped stand up, so that was really exciting to launch the first strategy and do a lot of work with our affinity groups, or employee resource groups as some organizations refer to them. I had some success there. What really made me make a decision and shift is that there was an administration change that really was not prioritizing diversity and inclusion. I knew it was probably time to start exploring my next steps. This is really where our earlier discussion around fear came into place because either I was going to go on and look for a new role as an attorney or I was ready to actually make the jump to continue my career as a DEI practitioner, which was really scary like, “Do I let go of my my title? What about my license, do I keep that up? What does this mean? Do I look like I'm running from the law?” All of those thoughts came into play and I took a leap.
I decided to take on a full-time DEI role because when I was at the government, I still had a hybrid role, so I was still an attorney, had attorney responsibilities but also had the DEI responsibility attached to that. I made the jump and I went into the private sector, took a step down because it was a new role for me. I went into more of a manager role. I wasn't leading an office but I was able to get a different lens and insight into what it meant to lead diversity and inclusion for a very large organization and in an organization that had been doing the DEI work for many years. I had that opportunity to look at a really mature program and really sharpen my tools around what it means to enhance, how can we continue to add value to a program that's existed for many years.
Hey, it's Sarah. I'm popping in here to remind you that I have created a free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law for anyone out there who is just like, “Ugh! This job is the worst. I need out. Where do I start?” Which is exactly where I was when I realized that I didn't want to be a lawyer. You can go to formerlawyer.com/guide, sign up, and get the guide in your inbox today. When you grab that guide, you get on my email list, which is the way I keep everyone the most up to date about everything that's happening with Former Lawyer. It's also the best way to get in contact with me because I read and respond to every email. If you are ready to figure out what's next for you, go to formerlawyer.com/guide, download the free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law, and get started today.
Sarah Cottrell: Let's talk a little bit about you mentioned that process of having to figure out like, “Where is my identity located?” and those sorts of things. Because I'm sure there are many, many, many lawyers who are listening who are like, “Yes, I have this feeling of if I'm not practicing law, what does that mean? What am I letting go of?” Can you talk a little bit about how you worked through that process?
Amber Haggins: For me, because I had been doing the work in the federal agency, I was really able to tap into what really—and this is going to get deep—but what really am I trying to put out into the world, what impact, like what will be my contribution to society and what is the means to that end? When you do DEI work, so much of it is holding space for others and really honoring the fact that they're even sharing their experiences, whether it's in the workplace, in their life outside of work. Really to honor so much that was given to me, shared with me, I had to make a choice to choose the career path that was really in alignment with my purpose and my passion because so much even more important to me than having a prestigious title is really the impact that I'm able to have on people, on organizations, on broader society. I really had to sit with that.
So many people had shared with me and just holding space and doing this work. For me, it was doing the pro-con; what outweighed even the prestigious title or even frankly being unsure like, “Is this even a career that I can count on?” because what does it even mean to be a DEI practitioner? The uncertainty was outweighed by my need to really be able to make an impact in a way that I'm really proud of.
Sarah Cottrell: That's really helpful. Thank you for sharing that. Another thing you mentioned earlier, which connects to when you decided to make this full leap from doing the lawyer work but also doing the DEI work, you mentioned earlier that there are so many things that you can do as a lawyer that are not practicing law. The reason it stuck out to me is that one of the most pervasive myths that I see lawyers believing and people will come to me, and they'll say, “I'm not qualified to do anything other than practice law.” Whether you're two years into being a lawyer or 30 years in, regardless, I totally understand why people think that way because I also had that thought when I was practicing law. But the reality is, like you said, there are so many things that you bring to the table, so I'd love for you to talk about that a little bit, that shift into doing DEI work full time because I know there are so many people listening who truly feel like, “I don't have anything to bring other than the actual things that I can do in the practice of law.”
Amber Haggins: I think the number one thing that I think about is that being a lawyer, it's a profession that is so rooted in client service. I absolutely leverage that in my work. I may call them stakeholders or have other names, but really understanding and being able to effectively listen to what your client or stakeholder is telling you is a critical skill of a lawyer because your job is to help get to the solution that that client needs. That's true in the work that I do for DEI. I'm always emphasizing that we have to center the voices of those who we serve much like the client and being able to tap into my skills of research, and coming up with creative solutions. Everyone knows that especially on the corporate side, being able to back up what you say—like I'm not doing, oh I don't even remember, an issue, law. I don't even remember because I've tried to get rid of bad memories from law school—but being able to, when I'm engaging with leadership, to be able to communicate a position and back it through the research in a way that you're trained in law school. There are so many skills that I feel you really can leverage in many aspects of the workplace. In the way that we communicate and the way that we demonstrate our position, all of that is critical, especially as you advance in your career.
Sarah Cottrell: It's so true. I think one of the reasons it's hard for people to see is, especially if you are working in a law firm or just another organization where you are working with other lawyers, you don't see those things as skills because you're just like, “Well, doesn't everyone do this? Doesn't everyone work this way?”
Amber Haggins: Let me tell you, no.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, then you get out of the lawyer bubble as I call it. It's like, “Oh, yeah no, no.” These are skills that I'm bringing to the table and they are really applicable in so many different circumstances. Amber, can you tell me, are you still at the place that you went after you left the federal government or have you moved on since then? Can you talk a little bit about that progression?
Amber Haggins: I've jumped around a bit. Again, going back to really understanding who I am and aligning to the value that I want to bring to the world, I knew that I needed to be in a smaller organization. I gained so many skills and learnings being in a really large organization, over 90,000 employees, but for me, what was still missing was being able to really feel the impact that I was making in such a large place. From there, I moved to a couple of places but wound up now in a small management consulting firm where I do really have that good sense of community. I know most of the people. When we identify opportunities for improvement, there's a real tangible strategy that I can really see the impact that we can make with our people.
I went back to the law firm industry for a little bit and I led DEI efforts at a law firm, which was great for me. It was a full-circle moment. I always tell people I was just so grateful to go back specifically to the legal industry to be the person that I needed when I was the only black woman associate in my office when I started off many moons ago. I've moved around a little bit, mainly just making sure that I can find an environment to best bring my skills and my approach to this work. That's one thing with DEI. It's not a cookie-cutter profession. Everyone has their own approach to how we progress in this space. For those people who are interested in DEI, I do recommend you really do that work. You have to know who you are as you lead organizations forward in this work because it's all tied up in identity, lived experience, and having the ability to be empathetic, but you have to know who you are because you're the most important tool in being a DEI leader.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's so important. I will circle back to a theme that has come up on the podcast a lot, especially recently, which is one, this is why I recommend that all lawyers go to therapy and two, this is why I think we need to be so aware of the fact that so many people, including ourselves, are carrying around both big and small t trauma because, especially if you're going into this type of work, the capacity for harm and for re-traumatizing people is so huge, so this is just another PSA from The Former Lawyer Podcast that you should go to therapy. All lawyers need to be more aware of the impact that trauma has on us and on other people regardless of whether you're ultimately interested in doing and working DEI or something else because otherwise, you're just working at your trauma on other people.
Amber Haggins: It's so true. What's tricky about this role too, especially over the last two years with 2020 being the, I don't think I can cuss, po*p shows.
Sarah Cottrell: We all know and we all agree.
Amber Haggins: The tricky part of being in this role and what I would really advise folks to think through, especially if you're a person of color really considering DEI, is so many organizations are eager to bring someone in this role, especially if they happen to be a person of color or etc., you really have to do a good gut check to make sure that you're not being brought in to further harm, like to do further harm. Whether the organizations intended or not, I see the harm that happens to the DEI practitioner, the talent that is underrepresented, so as you consider a role in this space, that is something definitely that you want to interrogate in any interview; to really try to get a good sense of the intentions of that organization.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes. I think to your point, like being aware that well-intentioned organizations and well-intentioned people are still able to do harm if they aren't appropriately educated, resourced, approaching the situation. Here's the thing: I'm imagining people listening, someone who's a lawyer who's interested in moving in the direction of DEI and they hear your story. They're like, “Oh well, she was working in this federal agency. Essentially, this opportunity just appeared and that hasn't happened for me, so that's not an option for me. Going in the direction of working at DEI isn't an option because I haven't had that happen.” What would you say to someone who is listening, who is interested in moving in this direction but is thinking something along those lines?
Amber Haggins: I think definitely, I would encourage folks to get involved in the DEI initiatives. You have to be careful because when you raise your hand, of course.
Sarah Cottrell: You may end up running the intern program, just as an example.
Amber Haggins: A lot of this work remains to be relying on a voluntary cohort of folks but I think that there's a lot of opportunity, especially these days, to really be engaged in a DEI role. There are so many workshops and modules, like on LinkedIn these days as well, just because of the visibility of this work. I would definitely try to be part of those online communities. I know I sit in on them from time to time, really trying to connect with folks, I mean I can't tell you the number of coffee chats that I have with people. Then if the route that you're going is really to invest in this, I had a fantastic experience participating in Georgetown, Executive Certificate in Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion course many years ago. I found that to be really transformational quite frankly in the way that I approach this work. If you're really ready to make that type of investment, I would definitely encourage folks to look into that. But I think the immediate opportunity is always within your organization to look for opportunities and how you can either take on a lead role or just get more engaged in this work.
Sarah Cottrell: That's really helpful. I just want to point out for people who are listening that it sounds like you ultimately ended up doing that course or program at Georgetown because you knew this was the direction that you wanted to go. The reason I say that is that sometimes, lawyers because, of course, again, most of us are like school is a thing that we were into and more school is like, “Oh, maybe I should do more school,” but some people are like, “Oh, I need to do more school in order to change careers. I don't want to take on more loans, blah-blah-blah.”
The reality is what you really want to do is move in the direction and figure out if it's what you want to be doing before you're investing the time, and the resources in getting more education and another certification, etc. because I have seen people who see the getting of the certification or the education, the additional education as the first piece before they have actually done some of the hands-on work. The thing that can be tricky about that is often, for many of us, that's what we did with law school. We went, then we did, then we were like, “Maybe this was not so much the thing that I want to be doing.” I think you would agree, Amber, that getting some experience really gives you the clarity to know whether you even want to pursue that additional education.
Amber Haggins: Absolutely, I 100% agree. I didn't even participate until I had been in the role in the federal government for three years. I was doing it in parallel in that way. I absolutely agree. When most organizations are hiring, they're looking for hands-on experience because of the need. The need is so great. I absolutely agree, if you can get some hands-on experience within your organization, that's really where you want to be.
Sarah Cottrell: That's super helpful. Okay, Amber, as we're getting to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you would like to share that we haven't had a chance to talk about yet?
Amber Haggins: Oh boy, I think I've shared everything. I just really want to emphasize the quiet self-reflection work that is really going to benefit anyone thinking about making a pivot from the practice of law. I think my story sounds like it just all came together easily but it was a lot of years, a lot of going back and forth, a lot of conversations with mentors, with people in this space, with mentors in the legal practice like, “Am I giving up a potential avenue where I'll be financially stable for something I just don't know about?” I would definitely encourage folks to follow some of the DEI thought leaders on LinkedIn and really try to get even connected into the community as you consider a potential career change.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's so helpful because often, I think when people hear someone share their story on this podcast, it can sound like you knew exactly what you were doing at every step. There were no question marks, there were no, “What am I doing?” there were no moments of like, “Have I made a terrible mistake?” I think it's important for everyone to know, I am very sure that everyone who shares their story, there were definitely some moments like that and they weren't looking forward to this perfect map where they knew exactly where they were going to be at each stage but it really just is taking action towards whatever is the right next step.
Amber Haggins: Absolutely.
Sarah Cottrell: Thank you so much, Amber, for sharing your story. If people want to connect with you, where can they find you online?
Amber Haggins: You can find me on LinkedIn, Amber Haggins, and again, Vice President at Prophet. Happy to connect with folks there.
Sarah Cottrell: Awesome. Thank you so much, Amber. I really appreciate you sharing your story today.
Amber Haggins: Thank you so much. It was so great to talk to you today and share a little bit of my story with your listeners.
Sarah Cottrell: Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.
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