Q&A with Alex Wagner-Jakubiak

Alexandria Wagner-Jakubiak joined Tonkon Torp's Business Department in the Fall of 2021. We recently sat down and spoke with Alexandria to learn more about her life and her journey in becoming an attorney. You can read our Q&A below.

Can you share a bit of your background?

Alex: My background is pretty fun, it's very eclectic. I moved from Ohio to Florida to work at Disney World, and that was an extremely fun experience! I didn't come from a very diverse place in Ohio and getting tossed into Florida's eclectic group of Disney employees was pretty cool. I spent some years doing that and definitely developed Disney-related hobbies and a love of watching Disney movies. I even went to film school while I was down there for eight months, so I also really enjoy the background of movies and things like that.

From Disney to the law! How did that happen?

Alex: I'm not just a first generation lawyer, I’m the first of anyone in my family to work a profession that requires higher education. So a legal career never really seemed on the table. I do remember when I was a kid people would always tell me I was going to be a lawyer, probably because I was good at debating and arguing!

When I was living in Florida, I hit a point where there was just no upward movement in my current jobs and I couldn't see where my life was going. My wife told me I might make a really good lawyer, and I hadn't heard that in many years. I thought people like me don't become lawyers, but she encouraged me to take the L-SAT.

The first time I bombed it and the dream seemed shot, but my wife convinced me to take it one more time since there were extenuating circumstances surrounding the first test that really affected how I performed. The second time, I did pretty well and ended up with offers for full scholarships. That is really what changed my path. It seemed like being a lawyer was attainable, and that really sparked my interest to pursue it. I'm very thankful for a wife who really pushes me to be my best.

You have worked for Tonkon Torp as a 1L Diversity Fellow, a 2L summer associate, and you joined us in September as an associate. What drew you to the firm in the first place?

Alex: I interviewed here before all of my other 1L diversity candidate interviews and I just connected with every single person I met. I walked away feeling like, wow!, I can really see myself not just working here, but walking down the hallway and saying hello to people and being supported in my life. For example, you don't always associate being a lawyer with being a parent and building a family, because those two things seem really hard to balance. When I walked into Tonkon Torp, I saw tons of parents and people who had priorities outside of being a lawyer. And they were able to come into work, love their job, work really hard at being a lawyer, and be supported by the firm for their other priorities too.

Another thing that drew me in was that as a gay woman I could come in here and talk about my wife and not feel ostracized or weird. I had a really good phone conversation with a gay partner at the firm before I accepted the 1L position. That was a huge inspiration learning that the firm culture was not a front for the interview, it goes deep.

Also on the list of things that drew me in was seeing some of the work being done, the clients that attorneys work with, and the firm’s reputation amongst the professors and the staff at Willamette University. I talked to a lot of people because this was a really big deal, and I was excited.

What were you hoping to learn about life at a law firm during your summer associate experience?

Alex: I asked many people about the billable hours’ requirement during my summers. One of my fears about being a lawyer is that I am going to feel measured by the time that I bill versus the work that I do. Is it going to make me feel less fulfilled?

Billable hours are very important to a business. And I was really excited to learn how Tonkon combats the pressure of billable hours and how it fits into the firm culture. I have friends and acquaintances that feel extremely pressured by the need to meet billing requirements. I’ve never gotten that feeling from the associates at Tonkon Torp. Associates meet the goals, and if they really struggle meeting them then there is help and support before it's too late. So I was kind of excited to feel that support, and experience the workload for myself.

What stood out during your experience integrating with Tonkon's culture as a summer associate?

Alex: During my 1L summer, I started feeling imposter syndrome, but not the type of imposter syndrome that all lawyers feel. It was more that I felt like an imposter coming from a poor background. I’d never had an office job and the first paycheck I got at Tonkon made me question my value and worth.

I worked minimum wage jobs on my feet with very heavy manual labor. I had never had that “sit in a chair, get your work done, go to a meeting, go back to your office” experience and I had a really hard time adapting to that workstyle. It took a couple weeks, and I honestly couldn't tell you how many different people made me feel like that feeling was okay, and that I could work through it. No one ever judged me for my feelings, no one ever made me feel “less than” just because it was my first office job. A huge part of my ability to overcome that quickly was because of my amazing legal assistant. She just really reminded me of my worth on a daily basis.

Slowly, steadily, I let myself integrate with the culture that was welcoming me. And once I did that, I had a blast and the summer ended too quickly! I liked this life a lot, and I could see myself working here. I was sad because I had to go back to school for two years.

During my 2L year, we had a virtual workplace due to COVID-19. It was harder, because you had to be much more proactive to develop relationships. The firm went above and beyond to try to make you feel you had the social interactions because part of the summers is getting to know people you're going to work with. But Zoom fatigue on top of just trying to exist in a world of COVID and everything else that was going on was real. You just had to recognize that this is a temporary thing, and we're all in this together to get through it. I’m really excited to come back in person and have the social component back.

Tonkon Torp places a significant emphasis on Community involvement. How did you think your interests will be received?

Alex: I learned that I could come in and pitch any sort of community involvement and it would be listened to. It's not a guaranteed yes, but I know for sure that no door is closed. I haven’t really had time to think about the kind of pro bono work I want to get involved in, but I don't feel like there's anything in the spectrum of my interests that the firm will say no to off the bat. In that way, I feel like the opportunities are going to be endless and it's just a matter of bringing together my imagination, creativity, and the kind of work I do. I feel like everything's a conversation and that is a really comforting place to be.

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