By Tonya Graser Smith and Kate Kovats
We recently spoke to a group of about 40 pre-kindergartners during career week at their child development center. Yes, you read that right. 40 pre-K kiddos. It should be noted that the real heroes here are their teachers; we spent just a half hour with these little people. It was a thrill.
We couldn’t wait to talk with the children about what attorneys do all day – tell people’s stories– and what we have always liked to do, which is read, write and … well, talk. We love being lawyers! Of course, we followed folks like a personal trainer and pizza restaurant owner with far more interesting careers as far as a bunch of four- and five-year-olds are concerned. We were a bit nervous knowing we would not be bringing in pizza dough for the kids to play with, but we were undeterred. We were excited.
It was important to us to show the children that there are a wide variety of careers out there and ways to contribute to the community and the world. It’s not like there are tons of books for the preschool set that explain what lawyers do. Teachers, doctors, nurses, athletes, firefighters, presidents – yes. Lawyers – not so much. (Tonya checked.)
Here’s the thing, while we explained to the children the job of being a lawyer and the important role we play in the community, we ended up learning some things, too – from them.
These children, just by their sweet nature of being kids, reminded us of the importance of childhood. Specifically, they reminded us that when you’re trying to explain what you do and why you do it you should reflect on your childhood. Childhood holds the answers to who we grow up to be. And, after all, many believe, and rightly so, that whatever you enjoyed doing growing up is what you should be doing right now.
If art class was your favorite, then you might be an art teacher, museum curator, graphic designer or fine artist. We happen to know a very successful writer, who got her first typewriter in kindergarten! For that matter, the children reminded us that they should be taken seriously. They have hopes and dreams and an innate sense of who they are far earlier than many might give them credit.
So what made us want to be attorneys? When did we know we were destined to practice law?
Kate: I first wanted to be a ballerina. But by fifth grade or so, I felt like I wanted to be a lawyer. I grew up watching a lot of law shows like “Perry Mason” and “Law and Order” with my mom. I even remember being in middle school and taking classes that I felt would one day help me in my legal career. It’s pretty cool to be living out my childhood dream. And I will tell any child who will listen to me that you can be whatever you set out to be.
Tonya: I grew up watching a lot of “Perry Mason” and “Matlock,” too. I always knew I wanted to help people, though I didn’t know at a young age exactly how. I didn’t feel the connection to the law until I was in college. I realized then I wanted to be a lawyer, because it has a real-world application. It’s both a trade and a profession. The law has given me tools to understand how the world works, which is fascinating. I will tell my children, their friends and any child who will listen to me to be curious about the world, to follow that curiosity, and to find work that sparks that curiosity.
So if you’re feeling like you can’t remember why you do what you do or you’re looking to change careers, reflect on your childhood or talk to some children. If nothing else, you’ll have fun, and we bet the time spent with a bunch of little ones will be the highlight of any given day or week.
PS: We’re pretty sure we spotted a future lawyer in the front row. She was taking it all in.
Tonya Graser Smith is a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law, licensed North Carolina attorney and founder of GraserSmith, PLLC. Kate Kovats is an attorney at GraserSmith, PLLC; she is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and Florida.