Brenke_028_crop“So are you ever going to use your law degree?” I am asked this every day, multiple times. What people do not realize is that while I’m not in a structured law firm (as I sit here in yoga pants with my little ones running circles) I have gained more my first year out of law school than the majority of my counterparts.

Gained more independence.

Why are people questioning my “non” use of my law degree? I’m also a photographer, which is what everyone seems to think is the only thing I do. To understand why I didn’t give up my business at graduation for a firm job there is some backstory.

During my 1L year, I was pregnant with a 3-year-old son in tow and a husband gone with the Army. I needed something to fulfill me creatively; along came photography. That same year, I combined my experience as a mother/business owner with my legal education and MBA to open up a business-consulting firm. This firm was aimed at helping those in the creative industry, specifically photographers.

During 2L year, my husband deployed, and I clung to consulting and photography as a way to retain myself as a mother, business owner and individual. I’m sure there are a few of you rolling eyes and thinking that my identity should be with my kids or with the law school relationships I gained. But that wasn’t enough for me. I needed something that was my own.

During 3L year my husband returned from Iraq but was across country. As many spouses reading this will understand, I found myself packing up the children and leaving my school and established photography and consulting market to complete my degree at a school closer to my husband. Closer meant I still had to drive 2.5 hours one way while pregnant with our third child. But it was worth it. To be a family. For the means. For the passion. The knowing that completing the degree would only further my consulting business. Further my identity. Further allow me the flexibility to have employment with a newborn while taking the bar despite a PCS move right after graduation.

There was no break in employment for me. I didn’t have to suffer the long waits and biting of nails of trying to gain a job. I had one waiting for me. And while I didn’t care for the boss too much (kidding!) it was comforting.

None of this could have been accomplished without first being groomed by the military. Surviving three 12-18 month deployments definitely prepared me for the challenges of being a business owner and “single mother” during law school. Even more, it prepared me to be a business owner thrown in new environment with lack of child-care, family support and no sense of home. The entire idea to “keep trucking” kept me going through the whole process.

I now work from home with both businesses and am proud to earn way more (financially and intrinsically) than many of my counterparts working in firms. Do I miss interaction with other legal minds? Sure! I probably will enter back into the firm life one day. Until then I’m going to focus on being a military spouse, attorney, mother and doing it all on my own time and dime.

If I can impress anything upon law students and other military spouse attorneys it is this: don’t feel you have to fit the mold of what is expected. It’s hard enough achieving a professional degree and certification of this stature. It’s even harder to do so while many of us are being moms and military spouses. Make your own mold. Fill it. Bake it. Find a way to make it happen.

Rachel Brenke is a lawyer, business consultant and mother who combines all of this to deliver The Law Tog. This site is dedicated to providing legal, marketing and biz advice to photography businesses with maximum efficiency and results. She recently published the book “The Laundry List: A Mom’s Guide to Running a Successful Business and Home