Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Krista Bordatto to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
In law school, the resounding theme of being a successful lawyer meant scoring internships at big name firms and riding off into the sunset as a first-year associate in Biglaw. But I’ve never been one to follow the easy path.
My career trajectory to JAG started years before law school when I joined the National Guard. I never considered joining a law firm, I completed the JAG internship the summer before 3L year and received my selection letter soon after. I had achieved my dream. But after getting married in the spring of 3L year and buying a house in Miami, the idea of moving every few years was scary. More than that, I fell in love with the idea of teaching law students. My favorite professor once asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be like him. But how? I had no idea how or when I could possibly do that.
Without a plan or a prospective job, I turned down the U.S. Army. Who gets their dream job and says no thanks? Luckily, I was offered the first firm job I applied for, albeit with a much lower salary than I had anticipated in a field I wasn’t interested in. Nonetheless, I went to work and quickly made a name for myself. I took over the civil and employment divisions, I wrote appellate briefs, and provided coverage in the other divisions. But I hated it. The two-hour commute to go 15 miles in Miami traffic every day, coupled with 10-hour workdays not including court prep when I got home, was not sustainable. We wanted to have kids, but how? After multiple miscarriages, we had to make a change.
On a whim, my husband applied for a transfer to North Carolina. Within a whirlwind three weeks, I was pregnant again and my husband was living in a hotel in North Carolina. I was licensed in Florida and the prospect of taking another bar exam, especially while pregnant and sick, felt impossible. I stayed at my firm for another month before packing my things and heading north with our three dogs. I applied for every job under the sun. I was overqualified or under qualified, but either way there were no job prospects. Law schools would not even consider me to teach. I hadn’t graduated from a top law school or clerked. Even with a publication under my belt, I wasn’t competitive. While job searching, I turned my law school graduation paper requirement into a publication in hopes it would help one day.
Fortuitously, when I transferred to the North Carolina National Guard, I was able to secure temporary active-duty orders to pay the bills. Those temporary orders became permanent and before I knew it, six years had passed outside of traditional legal practice. You see, I wasn’t a JAG officer. There is only one active-duty JAG position in the North Carolina National Guard and that guy wasn’t set to retire for several years. I was a logistics officer, often tagged with doing legal work. Not ideal considering my career aspirations. With two kids by this time, the constant travel and inability to control my life was taking its toll. My kids needed more from me.
Although the Army was no longer my dream job, I was good at it and steadily making my way up the ladder. I was one of the only senior female active-duty officers in the state with stellar evaluations; the promotion path was clear. But, in a strange turn of events, a woman texting and driving course-corrected my life and career. I never really thought that surviving a car accident would turn out to hold a blessing in disguise. After undergoing C4 disc replacement in my spine, I was allowed to medically retire from the Army. Again, I was jobless without a plan. My kids were so happy to have me home more and I promised them I would figure out how to be more present.
I wanted to teach, but in my mind, I had not added anything worthwhile to my resume during my break from traditional practice. Could I successfully teach a law course? I knew I could. Whether prospective law schools would agree, I had no idea. But I fixed my resume and applied anyway. I applied for full-time positions and an adjunct position teaching legal writing. I landed the adjunct position and even talked my way into teaching two sections that first year. I secured a full-time legal writing position my second year and now teach other courses as well.
More importantly, I’ve found a way to have a legal career where I can drop my kids off at school and make them dinner at night. If I had suggested my path to career services a decade ago, they would have laughed. I likely would have laughed. It is the most nontraditional way to academia, but I would not change a thing. I’m an involved mom of two amazing boys and I have the privilege of sharing with students that a nontraditional path is OK too.
Krista Bordatto teaches Legal Research and Writing and Workplace Law at Campbell Law. Bordatto began her legal career as a litigator, focused on labor and employment, civil, and appellate cases. She earned her law degree from St. Thomas University College of Law (magna cum laude), a Master of Science in Couples and Family Counseling from St. Thomas University and B.S. in psychology with a minor in English from the University of Oregon. Krista’s scholarship primarily focuses on the disparities that exist within the armed forces legal justice system and their relation to the civilian sector.