Lauren Tetenbaum, one of our Inspiring the Future volunteers, writes about her career and the women who have inspired her.
Sometimes when I meet people from an older generation and tell them I am a lawyer, they ask me if my father works for a law firm – as if having a masculine influence is the only way I would be interested or successful in the field of law. I tend to respond: “My father’s job has nothing to do with law, but my mother is a social worker.”
Though my mother is not an attorney herself, her passion for social justice and her personal experiences have inspired me throughout my life and led me on my own career path. My mother was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States as a child. This story taught me the importance of being able to use the legal system for a better life for one’s family. My grandfather didn’t think his daughters should attend university and wanted my mother to just stay in the area and get married; so, she left her family to study in New York, working various jobs to pay for her undergraduate and Master’s in Business tuitions herself. This story taught me about feminism, that women still struggle to be treated equally to men (in the 1970s, when this took place, and still today, when I get asked that question about my father). When I was a teenager, my mother went back to school to get her Master’s in Social Work. This taught me that a woman could indeed have both a loving family and a successful career, but that it takes ambition, strength, and support to do so.
My mother works now as the Director of Advocacy and Community Resources of a large non-profit organization in New York City, where she regularly meets with politicians and community leaders to improve the lives of her clients. She continues to inspire me every day. Beyond her professional choices, my mother taught me at a young age the importance of giving back and of speaking for those who may not have a voice. I chose to become a lawyer and a social worker myself because I was inspired by these values.
Today I work as an immigration lawyer, a role through which I have helped clients ranging from survivors of human trafficking or domestic violence obtain legal status in the United States to entrepreneurs aiming to set up businesses in the US or the UK. At 28 years old, I am young in my career, yet my list of role models is already quite long. It includes both clients and colleagues, family and friends.
For example, I have been inspired by former clients like a 15-year-old girl from Mexico, who had been effectively abandoned by her parents and sent to the US to work in a factory. She wanted to ultimately apply for citizenship in the US so that she could study and then work legally, in part to be able to send money to her siblings back home. I have been inspired by my former professor, an immigration lawyer by day, and a teacher, pro bono service provider, and mother in her “spare” time. I have been inspired by women I do not know personally but whom I admire from afar, like Hillary Clinton.
None of this is to indicate that men cannot be inspiring – and my dear (non-lawyer) dad, who taught me that kindness and intelligence should always be my most valuable assets, is just one male role model I have. Yet I have learned as a young professional woman that it is important to surround myself with other determined women so that we can all learn from each other.
Since moving to London in 2012, I have been very fortunate to meet and work with many successful women. Three of the four partners of my former law firm are women. I now work for NNU Immigration, a small but growing practice started by a woman. I serve as the Secretary of American Women Lawyers in London, a social and professional networking group made up of over 100 female members who practice in over 10 different areas of law. I volunteer for a local domestic violence charity, where I’ve met women who are younger or older than I am, some of whom are mothers, some students, some professionals, some advocates, some former victims – all of whom are inspiring.
I know that I will continue to learn from these women, including my mother. I hope that collectively we can make an impact so that when we tell people what we do, there will no longer be assumptions made about male inspirations. Instead we will be met with the respect that we as women deserve.